The honorable mention all-state defensive lineman chooses to stay close to home and play for Linfield College

After being slowed down and sidelined by injuries for much of his first three years of high school, Dakota Church had a banner senior year at Newberg High School.

Coaches, players and Church himself knew he had the potential to break out if healthy, so it was heartening to see him earn honorable mention all-state honors in football, place second at 220 pounds at the 6A state wrestling championships and set career-best marks in track and field. by: GARY ALLEN - Breakout season - Lineman Dakota Church busts through a banner during the Tigers 2013 season, for which the Newberg native earned honorable mention all-state as a defensive lineman.

As a result of his strong performances, Church has signed on to play football for Linfield College, giving him the chance to do something even he may not have thought was possible.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Church said. “I always grew up looking up to people playing college football and now I’m actually going to be playing some college ball, so it’s really exciting.”

Church’s progress in both football and wrestling were stunted by a series of setbacks, beginning with a back injury as a freshman. Torn ligaments in his arms scuttled much of his sophomore season and a broken hand kept him off the wrestling mat for much of his junior season, although he did return in time to qualify for state.

In the fall, Newberg football coach T.J. Tomlin made taking enough time to heal a priority for Church, whom he calls one of the toughest kids he’s ever coached.

“This will be my 12th or 13th year next year, so I’ve coached a lot of tough kids, but he tops the cake,” Tomlin said. “He’s just one of those kids that doesn’t want to bother and he did a great job for us, obviously. He’s a combination of a hard worker and he’s just tough as nails.”

Tomlin credited Church for anchoring a defensive line that was the key to Newberg’s much-improved defense in 2013. He praised his unselfishness in taking on the unsung role of engaging and disrupting the offensive line so that the team’s linebackers would be free to make tackles.

“He likes the physical part of the game,” Tomlin said. “You have to like that if you’re going to play in the trenches. That’s just a part of his nature and his personality.”

Church drew interest from several Division II and III schools and at one point thought he would end up at Southern Oregon University, but decided it was too far from home. After that, Linfield emerged as the perfect choice.

“It’s a phenomenal program,” Church said. “My dad really liked the school, plus it’s close enough that all my family can come down and see me and watch me, which is really important to me. It’s far enough away that I can get away but still be around.”

Church, who earned a 3.51 grade-point average and was named Newberg’s Most Outstanding Senior Athlete, received some interest from college wrestling programs and said he would try to do both if Linfield had a program, but that football is first love.

“It’s just a different atmosphere than high school football and I think it’s a place for him,” Tomlin said. “He’ll thrive because he’s been a hard worker and passionate about the game. He’ll find a lot of like-minded people in that sense.”

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