DURANT, Iowa – Nolan DeLong was nervous the entire week leading up to the season opener for the Durant football team.
In the hours leading up to last Friday’s game against Wilton, DeLong admitted to suffering from stomach cramps due to nerves. However, that quickly went away once the Durant freshman stepped on the field.
“The first kick-off I laid someone out,” DeLong recalls. “I was like “OK, this is just football.”
Not long after, the first touch of his high school career went for a 26-yard touchdown on a screen pass, setting the tone for a dominant night for both DeLong and the Wildcats. DeLong rushed 14 times for 159 yards and played a large role in Durant’s 24-0 win over Wilton, its first victory over its rival since 1999.
Not bad for a 14-year old freshman in his first game under the Friday night lights.
“He hit the holes really hard, and they couldn’t bring him down with one arm tackle,” Durant coach Joel Diederichs said. “You better get to his legs, and even that isn’t guaranteed.”
DeLong showed both power and speed on his way to averaging 11.4 yards per carry, the fourth-highest number in Class A among running backs with 10 or more carries. The freshman is quick to give the credit to the offensive line, which is led by South Dakota State commit Joe Lilienthal, and his brother and fellow running back Drew DeLong, who rushed for 95 yards on 22 carries.
“I have to give it all to our line,” Nolan said. “That was the reason I ran so many yards. I might have to get them something, buy them dinner or something.
“All the misdirection worked really well because they were keying on my brother (Drew).”
The opportunity to play next to his brother is one Nolan doesn’t take for granted, because of what Drew does for him on the field and the bond they share off of it.
“They’re just having fun out there together,” Diederichs said. “I think (Nolan) sees it as an honor to play with his older brother.”
It also helps that the Wildcats (1-0) have ample weapons in the passing game to discourage defenses from stacking the box against the DeLong brothers, whom Diederichs called “a heck of a one-two punch.”
It wasn’t just on offense where Nolan made an impact last Friday, however. The freshman totaled six tackles and four tackles for loss from his linebacker position.
“He’s got really good instincts, you can’t teach that,” Diederichs said of Nolan. “He’s got one idea on his mind, and that’s to go take out and disrupt the play.”
Before Durant’s first practice of the season, Diederichs identified Drew as his lead back and Nolan as somebody who would get opportunities to carry the ball this year and would improve as the season progresses. The third-year coach admits both players are ahead of where he thought they would be at this point.
As it turns out, not even Nolan could have predicted 185 total yards, one touchdown and 12.3 yards per touch in his debut as a varsity football player against the program’s arch-rival.
“No way, I didn’t expect that at all,” Nolan said with a laugh. “It just came out nowhere, I guess.”
For as much potential as the 5-foot-11 running back showed in his first high school game, Diederichs is adamant that Week 1 can’t be the ceiling for Nolan’s season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with North Cedar, Tipton and Wapello rounding out Durant’s pre-district schedule.
Still, with Nolan’s emergence and Drew’s steadiness behind a formidable offensive line, Diederichs is plenty confident in his football team.
“I think (Nolan) is going to keep getting stronger and our team is going to get stronger with him,” Diederichs said. “If they stay healthy both Drew and Nolan could get 1,000 yards plus. That’s really attainable.
“Teams are going to come after us now, so we’re going to have to keep working hard.”