The Richmond Register

Sports

January 15, 2014

Madison Southern’s Casey Dionne to play football at West Point

BEREA — Madison Southern senior Casey Dionne is proof that with a lot of hard work and determination, dreams can come true.

Like most high school football players, Dionne dreamed of playing football at the next level.

He put in the long hours of training and practices over the years and became one of the best players on his team the past two seasons.

He was rewarded for all that hard work on Dec. 16 when he was offered the chance to play football at one of the nation’s most storied institutions, the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“Coach (Tucker) Waugh came down to Kentucky after the Army/Navy game and talked to me and asked me how I like Coach Monken (New Army coach), I told him that I love him and this is the one thing I’ve wanted more than anything in my life,” Dionne said. “He said, ‘That’s what I wanted to hear. We’re offering you right now.’”

Dionne verbally committed to play for Army, but can’t officially sign a letter of intent until the spring signing period in April.

Southern coach Jon Clark called Army a perfect fit for Dionne.

“On the field, he is an extremely physical kid with the speed to play at a very high level. West Point is the best place for him to continue his journey and to maximize his abilities,” Clark said.

December’s offer was the culmination of a relationship between Waugh and Dionne which began last March.

Waugh came to Berea to watch Southern’s spring football game and afterward told Dionne the Army coaching staff was interested and would be keeping in touch with him.

From that day, Dionne said, he starting working to try to secure an offer.

“Coach Waugh said he was interested and would keep in touch. He ended up calling me about once a week during the periods they are allowed to contact recruits,” Dionne said. “During one of those calls over the summer he told me he wanted to come up for a visit.”

So, during the Eagles’ bye week in September, Dionne and his family went to West Point for a visit, and what he saw and experienced blew him away, he said.

“It was beautiful. The barracks is such an old-school classic stone building. It was like living in a castle,” Dionne said. “Before every game they have a March on the Plain. The Plain is a sacred ground in front of the barracks. They explain the history of the Army and how George Washington helped create the military and how it grew and why it is such a huge tradition.”

Dionne said that following that night he knew he had found where he belonged.

“When I saw that I thought, Oh, my gosh. This is perfect. This is beautiful,” he said. “I had originally wanted to go into the military after college. But being able to go through college for a military school and play football, are two of the best things that I could think of doing. When I left, I said, ‘I’ve got to do everything I can possibly do to get in.’”

After returning to Berea, Dionne wasted no time in getting down to the business of getting in to West Point. He had taken the ACT in his junior year but was three points shy of the West Point requirement, so he dedicated himself into preparing to take it again in October.

Dionne said he spent every available hour he had studying for the test because he had never wanted anything as badly.

He also found a mentor at Eastern Kentucky University who helped him get ready for the ACT. Dr. Gene Palka, the director of the Bratzke Center for Academic Excellence, himself a West Point graduate, worked with Dionne weekly as he prepped for the ACT.

Prior to taking the test in October and then when he was waiting on the results afterward, the stress began taking its toll on him, Dionne said, and it was during that time that Palka’s friendship helped him cope.

“I tortured myself because I was so stressed about getting this grade on the ACT. My coaches noticed the change because I was more aggressive, I was antsy, I was fidgety, I was short tempered,” he said. “Col. Palka is a very, very wise man. He talked to me weekly about being able to control the emotions I had about taking the test and waiting for the results. I called him the day before the test and he helped calm me down so that I focused just on the test. Him doing that ultimately helped me in getting the score that score and succeeding.”

After almost a month, the “torturous” wait for the test results finally ended on Dec. 6 when his mother woke him up to tell him the news.

“My Mom ran into my room and jumped on me and said, ‘Casey, guess what you got?’ She told me the scores and I had gotten two points higher than what I need to get accepted. I just started crying because I was so happy and I was so excited,” Dionne said. “I was so relieved, because I had never wanted anything more in my entire life than I wanted to get that score so that I could get into the Academy. I had never worked that hard in sports or academics before. I had bought into this as much as I could possibly buy into it and it paid off.”

Ten days later, Coach Waugh extended the offer during his visit to Madison Southern. Signing his official letter is just the first step in getting accepted into West Point.

All potential students must also be recommended for admission by one of their state’s congressional delegates.

Dionne already has a nomination from Congressman Andy Barr, thanks to the help of another military friend, Staff Sgt. Michael Oliver of the Kentucky Army National Guard.

“I met Sgt. Oliver and became friends with him my sophomore year at team camp. He and I have the same barber and talk at the barbershop a lot. Without me even asking him to, he called Congressman Barr and scheduled an appointment for me to get my approval after hearing me telling the barber while he was cutting my hair,” Dionne said.

There are only two more steps remaining and they should pose no problems, he said.

“I’m almost there. I still have to go through a medical exam and I have to go through a physical test that I will ace with flying colors. Then I can be a Cadet,” he said.

Dionne is great example for younger players because he wasn’t always the dedicated individual he has become, but because of making the right changes in his life, he now has the opportunity of a lifetime at West Point.

“Casey is an example of how every young man will come to a crossroads in life as the person they want to become,” Clark said. “Casey struggled with authority and discipline early on in high school. But after some mentoring, he made the decision to get his life together and do whatever he needed to do to get the most out of his abilities, physically and as a person. It’s been awesome watching this young man grow as an athlete and as a man.”

Border Bowl

After Southern’s season ended with a regional final loss to Pulaski County, Dionne had one last chance to play in a high school game after being selected to the Kentucky Border Bowl team.

The Kentucky All-Stars take on an all-star team from Tennessee each year in a game at the University of the Cumberlands.

Dionne said the chance to represent his home state was awesome and something he has wanted to do since eighth grade.

“It was a once in a lifetime chance for me. I saw Rico Brown play in the Border Bowl when I was in eighth grade and I said then that I wanted to do it,” he said. “It was just one of those things that you never think will happen and it became a reality. It was just a huge blessing to be a part of that group of top athletes and represent Kentucky.”

Dionne played well in the game and scored Kentucky’s first points while playing defense when he stripped the ball free from a Tennessee running back, scooped it up and ran it back for a touchdown.

It was something he said was that made the experience even better.

“On the play they blocked the corner and blocked the linebacker but left me a lane to the ball carrier. When I hit him I punched the ball out of his hands,” Dionne said. “I picked it up at about the 25-yard line and took off as fast as I could. I got to about the 10-yard line and saw a Tennessee player in front of me so I slowed down. Then I saw a silver helmet fly by me and block and I cut on the inside and ended up scoring. That was just an added bonus to an awesome experience.”

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