Jared Dorsa won the starter’s job as the Bobcats’ middle linebacker once.
Then he did it again a week later.
Now? Until further notice, it’s his to keep.
Dorsa, a fourth-year junior is properly ensconced now as Ohio’s MLB. He picked up his first Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Week award of his career on Monday after recording seven tackles, half a sack, and a quarterback hurry during the Bobcats’ 41-20 season opening win over Rhode Island on Saturday.
“He’s blossoming right now,” said Ohio linebackers coach Nate Faanes.
“He’s always putting in the extra work. Why he fits what we do at middle linebacker is because of that, and how smart he is.”
But a year ago, Dorsa faced a dilemma. He was the starter at MLB in the 2018 season opener. But a week later, against Virginia, Ohio changed the lineup. Dorsa was out, and a new — faster — linebacker trio was on the field.
It didn’t take. The Cavaliers poured in a handful of big plays early, and Ohio turned back to Dorsa.
After that week two setback in 2018, Dorsa kept getting better and better. The momentary disappointment of a lineup change — much like the change itself — didn’t stick.
“That was definitely motivating,” Dorsa said. “I’m a team guy. Whatever the team wanted right? I was disappointed, but whatever helps us win.
“When they called my number again in that game, it definitely kind of fed that fire a little bit. I didn’t play well in the first game, hands down, so I knew I had to get better,” he continued. “I had to go in there and prove myself again.”
Dorsa did just that throughout the rest of 2018. He played at an all-conference level over the last half of the season. He finished third on the team with 59 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and even blocked a punt.
Dorsa, tentative and halting in the 2018 opener, was instinctual and decisive by the time November rolled around.
“If you look at that, you can see how much better he improved with the more reps he got,” Faanes said. “He kept getting better and better and better.
“Building off that, I think there’s more confidence there now. It comes back to the reps you get in games and how you prepare.”
And few prepare as well, or better, than Dorsa. Extra conditioning? You’ll see Dorsa doing it after practice. What about flexibility and stretching routines, and eating habits, to make sure you’re always available? That’s something else Dorsa excels at. Faanes said he once found the linebacker watching film, by himself, as he was touring Peden with a recruit.
“He’s going to put in the time. He and (Ohio QB) Nathan Rourke are kind of wired the same way that way,” Faanes said.
Playing behind Quentin Poling for two years, Dorsa never had much of an opportunity to make an impact. He appeared in 13 games in 2017, but had just eight tackles. Then he was a first-time starter in 2018.
But once Dorsa got settled in, the defense as a whole improved. And maybe it was always just going to be a matter of time before the two melded.
Dorsa had a monstrously productive career as a prep standout at Kings Mills Kings HS in southwestern Ohio. He logged 396 tackles in three varsity seasons, including a whopping 142 as a senior.
There was the week 2 setback against Virginia, sure, but even that made Dorsa hungrier and better on down the line.
“He’s very much a team player and an unselfish player. He gives you everything he’s got every snap,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said. “That’s a perfect combination for what a coach looks for.
“He handled that very well just like I expect he’ll handle anything very well. He’s just got that kind of personality. He doesn’t let things upset him and he keeps pushing himself forward,” the coach added. “He will not get upset when something doesn’t go his way. That’s not his style.”
Dorsa’s style is much like his teammates’ — at least in the linebacker group — on the field. It’s decidedly no-nonsense, blue-collar, with an eye on his classwork and a dedication to all facets of being a football player at the Division I level. Dorsa was an Academic All-MAC pick in 2018, and as a group, the linebackers top three units missed a combined two practices during fall camp.
Besides a curly new beard in 2019, Dorsa remains in step with his 2018 approach. Be available. Play smart. Play hard. Be decisive. The early results have been positive, but it’s the end of the year that drives Dorsa and so many players on the OU roster.
“The MAC Championship is what we’re after,” Dorsa said. “Just like before, whatever the team needs me to do, whatever the coaches need me to do, I’m going to do that to get us where we need to be.”