Since signing scholarship papers with Southern Illinois University this past spring, Harrisburg's Dakota Upchurch has had to take a lot of things in stride.
First was the realization that football is now a job.
Maybe the biggest realization is that Upchurch's start to the Salukis is off to a slower start than he might have expected.
The pace however, is completely fine with Upchurch.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound freshman defensive lineman with the Salukis has been redshirtted this year, giving him an extra year of eligibility at SIU.
"All that means is that I have an extra year to get bigger, stronger and faster. I completely intend to make the most of my opportunity" Upchurch said at SIU's Fan Fest at Saluki Stadium in late August.
Upchurch's battles through training camp and in preseason didn't go unnoticed. He was one spot away from making the squad as a full-time player, however, playing time would have likely been minimum for the former Bulldog that was an All-State selection as a senior on Harrisburg's semifinal 4A playoff team.
The redshirt decision by head coach Dale Lennon hasn't deterred Upchurch's determination.
Instead, in stride, he's making the most of his time at SIU.
"The greatest lesson I have learned is time management," Upchurch said. "Week 1, that is the first thing you figure out. You have to figure out to manage your time. You have class, football, meetings and film. Film is just as long as practice sometimes and you have to fit all of that in with homework, make sure you eat and the stuff you don't normally worry about in high school, because it's provided for you."
On the field, Upchurch — in jest — said all the fun is now out of football.
"It's more like a job, like work," he said. "Don't get me wrong, we still have fun every once in a while, but it's a lot different."
Part of that fun has been the friendships and bonds Upchurch has formed with new players.
"It's college," he said. "It's kind of cool hanging out on your own, or hanging out with new friends. We're all in the same position, so it's like we're all in it together. We're a band of brothers."
The biggest realization for the two-time River-to-River All-Conference selection and All-South selection as defensive line as a senior is that he's no longer the best on the team.
Admittedly, the 97 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and the interception he returned for a touchdown as a senior at Harrisburg means very little at SIU.
"In high school, you get used to being the best guy on the team, but when you get to college, you quickly find out everyone on the team was the best on their high school team.
Page 2 of 2 - "Competition is a lot different. It's weird fighting for a spot when in high school, you were 'that guy'. Now here, you're back to being a freshman."
Michael Dann can be reached at mdann@dailyregister.