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Former 'Skin to play in college playoffs

November 21, 2012

Cale Tabler (29) assists on a tackle. Tabler is the starting free safety for the St. Francis Cougars. Tabler played football for the Wapakoneta Redskins before signing last winter to play for the Fort Wayne-based college team. Photo courtesy of Cale Tabler

We all love our Redskins. And every so often, a hometown favorite or a high school standout makes his way to the next level athletically. While he may not being wearing the Red and White of Wapakoneta, one collegiate football player has made his way onto the starting squad of a playoff team.

And he credits a lot of his success to his hometown in Auglaize county.

Some of you may remember him, but if not, meet Cale Tabler, now a sophomore at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Now a Cougar, Tabler and his squad put together a regular season of 8-2, and are now in round two of the NAIA football playoffs.

Tabler, who redshirted his freshman year, is now the starting free safety for the Cougars, and said he is happy to be making a difference on the squad. But Tabler thinks back to the time when he was a senior in high school, and pointed to his team and his coaches who pushed him to pursue his goal of playing football at the next level.

“My senior year was coach Doug Frye’s first year coming to Wapak, when he first got there, I didn’t really know what to expect, but after a year of football, the lessons that he taught me, the work ethic, really paid off in the long run,” Tabler said.

Tabler said the biggest difference between high school football and college football is the speed of play, and the extra work you need to put into making yourself better.

“When I got to college, I was ready, I was prepared for the extra work that it takes to become successful. The extra work and the desire to give it your all 100 percent of the time,” Tabler said.

Tabler said Frye helped him not only on the football field, but helped him through the recruiting process, finding the perfect match for him at the next level.

“Having Frye as my coach my senior year of high school was really helpful in the recruiting process. He had a lot of contacts and helped me decide what school is best for me athletically and academically,” Tabler said. “He was really looking out for my interests.”

One aspect of collegiate sports that is often masked by TV deals, fanhood and money is the academic side of things. Tabler says he knows he is a student-athlete. And that student is the first part of that.

“Coach Frye’s policy in high school was that he was a big supporter of academics. There were severe consequences if you missed school, didn’t go to class or didn’t make your grades. You got to be responsible for getting your work done,” Tabler said.

Now a nursing major at St. Francis, Tabler knows that academics come first, and that if it wasn’t for academics, there would never be the opportunity to strap on his shoulder pads at all.

“Your main priority is to take care of things academically before you can ever even step on the field,” Tabler said. “Going into college, that academic first focus really helped. It is more of a lax setting in college, not as much guidance, so you have to be more responsible for your own academic success.”

Tabler said he has weekly academic progress reports that he has to pass, because the biggest fear is becoming academically ineligible.

Like previously mentioned, the Cougars have had a successful season thus far, and might face their biggest challenge this weekend: a rematch with Marian University.

In the sixth game of the season, the Cougars lost to Marian by one touchdown. Marian, at the time was ranked No. 1 in the country. The week before that, St. Francis defeated the then-No. 1 team in St. Xavier, the defending national champions out of Chicago.

On this conference champion team, Tabler said he does not take his time on the field for granted.

This season of successes is not over for Tabler and the rest of the St. Francis squad.

“We’ve overcame a lot of obstacles. We’ve had goals set, and I’d say we’ve accomplished those,” Tabler said. “Our next goal is, of course, a national championship.”

“Getting that ring.”

Tabler’s former coach, Frye said he is not surprised Tabler has made this impact at the collegiate level, and that he is proud of his accomplishments on and off the field.

“Cale Tabler is an outstanding young man, we’re really proud of him for what he’s done. Not only football-wise, but academically.”

Frye said for a sophomore to step up like that at take a leadership role on a team like that really impresses him.

“He’s made an immediate impact on that football team, and our whole community is extremely proud of him.”

Tabler talked about his time as a redshirt freshman, and how he was able to make that transition as a scout-team player to the starting lineup.

“When you redshirt, you don’t have too much interaction with the seniors and juniors, because most of the time you are on the scout team, the transformation to this year, actually starting with a bunch of seniors and juniors, you kind of have to show them that you want to be involved, get to know them better, because that’s your team,” Tabler said.

In high school, Tabler was a two-way player, playing cornerback on defense and wing-back on offense, and said making the transition to the free safety position has been good.

“Becoming a free safety at the college level makes you the last line of defense. It’s almost like we’re the captains of the defense. We have to know everyone’s responsibility on every play. We’re the one directing the play calls, calling out the coverages... Everything is in front of us. We’re the last line of defense.”

“And we need to keep it that way. Keeping everything in front of us.”

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