Morris native Marc DesLauriers and the North Central College football team had a lot in common this season. Both did something they had never done before.
A 2011 graduate of Morris Community High School, DesLauriers has been an offensive lineman throughout his football career. Meanwhile, the Cardinals football team has traditionally been a regional power after winning the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship for an eighth straight season this fall.
What was different this season for both of them is that DesLauriers found himself the starting center for a Cardinals team that went 13-1 this season, falling one game short of playing in the Division III championship, the furthest the team has played in the playoffs.
Moving to center
With the Redskins, DesLauriers played guard his junior year and tackle his senior season.
“Center is more of a thinking position. You have to know how to call out and switch protections,” DesLauriers said. “College is a lot more technical-oriented and playing the position involves more mental stress, but I am glad I did it.”
DesLauriers said he had gotten some playing time at center last season but it wasn’t until this year that he became a starter.
“Last year I played like six games at center and this year in the fourth game I started and ended up playing there the rest of the year,” DesLauriers said. “Going into that game, I was supposed to be the starting guard, but the center got hurt and that injury lingered for the rest of the year. That’s when I moved from left guard to center. It was unfortunate for [the center], but it ended up giving me the opportunity to step up and I did.”
North Central coach John Thorne said the center position is key for his team that rarely operates with the quarterback under center.
“Marc is a vital part of the team and he had a fabulous season,” Thorne said. “As a center, you are responsible to make all the line calls before each play can begin. Marc became very good at making the correct calls.”
Deep playoff run
While North Central had been “building up to this level,” according to DesLauriers, the Cardinals had never advanced within one game of playing for a national championship.
The team suffered a heartbreaking loss to Mt. Union in the semifinals by a 41-40 score but ended up being ranked as the No. 5 Division III team in the nation.
“Going in, we knew they had won 70 games in a row and we knew they were going to be tough,” DesLauriers said. “People were not expecting us to win. They were a great opponent.”
North Central actually had a 40-35 lead with just 1:38 left in the game before Mt. Union marched downfield and scored the game winner.
“It was disheartening. Our defense had shut them down in the second half and we led with 1:30 left,” DesLauriers said. “I was excited at the time, but it turned out to be disheartening. It was sad to see it end that way.”
In the quarterfinals, North Central defeated Minnesota Bethel 41-17 in what would be the first of two straight games in wintery weather conditions.
Braving the elements
DesLauriers said the game in Minnesota against Bethel wasn’t anything like anyone could have envisioned beforehand.
“We played against Minnesota Bethel, I think they were No. 5 at the time, and they normally play at the Mall of America Field but there was a monster truck rally that day,” he said. “We had to play outdoors on the grass that day and it was like playing in a parking lot.
“The wind chill was something like negative-17 degrees at game time. That was crazy. Then against Mount Union it was not as cold but there was a lot of snow. Every time there was a timeout, people had to come out and shovel off the lines. The referee couldn’t even find the hash mark to know where to spot the ball.”
DesLauriers anchored an offensive line that set North Central records for points (639), touchdowns (82) and total yards (6,958) this year and he credits the togetherness of the offensive line in helping make the offense run.
“I would say that we were really a close group. We hung out together as a group all year,” he said. “We were together a lot and our confidence grew. We played well. We trusted each other a lot.”
Another teammate that DesLauirers had was a former teammate from the Redskins in Andrew Bordner. Bordner was a backup linebacker and special teams player this year who recorded nine tackles as a freshman.
“It was cool to have someone you played with in high school transfer to the team. It was cool to see him again,” DesLauriers said. “He’s a freshman on the field but that doesn’t show because he has football smarts. He is really mature for a 21-year-old. For a freshman he had a lot to do with the team’s success on special teams. Special teams put us in great position all year to score and he was a big part of that success.”
A junior, DesLauriers is expected back next year as the Cardinals try to repeat their successes of 2013.
“We have three returning starters [next year] … three guys that played all year and a fourth one that also got some playing time, so four overall,” DesLauriers said. “We also have our running back and our quarterback next year started when I was a freshman … so we will have some weapons coming back.”
“Marc is a very physical played and just a wonderful person and teammate,” Thorne said. “We have four returning offensive linemen back for next season and that will give next year’s team a chance to be very good.”