Eric Peterson, Published September 27 2012
MSUM's DeJong averages 12 tackles per game despite small frame
Shea DeJong initially had Nico Caramella fooled. The two first met at a meeting prior to the start of Minnesota State Moorhead fall football camp.
At 5-foot-8, 170 pounds with shaggy, dark hair, the fresh-faced DeJong wasn’t physically imposing.
“I saw him walk up and I said, ‘Is this kid in college?’ ” said Caramella, who – like DeJong – is a true freshman for the Dragons. “He’s small and he’s got that baby face.”
It didn’t take long for Caramella to realize that, despite the boyish looks, DeJong played more like a man.
“We got there on the field a couple days later, and the kid was just running around like he just got shot out of a cannon,” said Caramella, who starts at one of the two safety spots next to DeJong.
DeJong ranks among the top tacklers in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this fall. The former Sioux Falls (S.D.) Roosevelt standout is tied for third in the NSIC, averaging 12 tackles per game through four games.
The Dragons (0-4, 0-4 NISC) host Northern State at 2 p.m. Saturday for homecoming. DeJong is coming off a 17-tackle effort at Minnesota State-Mankato last Saturday.
“He always has a smile on his face, but he loves to tackle,” Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said. “He’s kind of a heat-seeking missile.”
DeJong likes to use his size as a motivator. He relishes when people doubt his ability. That only drives him to perform better.
During a game earlier this season, an opposing player told DeJong, “This is a man’s game.”
“I didn’t say anything,” DeJong said. “I wanted to. I just tried to use it. … That’s kind of why I like it. People just see my size. I feel like it’s a good way to earn people’s respect.”
Laqua said DeJong “doesn’t back down from anyone,” on the field – whether it’s taking on a 300-pound offensive lineman or 6-foot-5 tight end on his way to making a tackle.
“That is the only way I can do it,” DeJong said. “I have to throw everything at them that I got. I’m only 170 pounds.”
NFL strong safety Bob Sanders, who is currently a free agent, is one of DeJong’s favorite players to watch. DeJong likes Sanders, in part, because Sanders (5-8, 205 pounds) is considered undersized.
Brian Dawkins, a former NFL safety, is another player who inspires DeJong. DeJong likes to watch Dawkins’ “Weapon X” video on YouTube during pregame to get him prepared to play.
Caramella has learned to respect DeJong in their short time as teammates.
“The kid plays intense and his size doesn’t matter to him,” Caramella said. “When you look at him he looks small, but to him he feels like a giant out there.”
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