SIOUX CITY | Dustin Saia has seen both extremes.
The Sioux City West senior has been part of Wolverine teams that have won just two games total the previous three seasons. Now, West is off to a 2-0 start under the direction of first-year coach Joe Schmitz.
“It is just the atmosphere we have around the whole program,” said Saia of the difference. “Everyone is so hyped and ready to play. It is just amazing the feel we have right now.
“It is so much easier (to play) because it makes you so motivated to go out there and know your hard work is being paid off.”
West opened its season with a 20-point rally to defeat North 29-20 before dominating Des Moines North 44-6.
The 17-year-old son of Dawn Carney hauled in a touchdown on a 37-yard pass from quarterback Adien Belt and recorded his second interception of the season against the Polar Bears. That effort earned Saia the Journal’s Metro Athlete of the Week honor.
More than his numbers, it is what Saia brings to the field that is most important according to his coach.
“I told the team at our Heelan scrimmage 'at some point the coaching staff has to turn the team over to the players and they are in charge,'” Schmitz said. “He has really been the model for what we want them to do.
“He is a strong personality and you realize that right away, but he is still kind of that quiet almost laid-back kind of kid. Deep down there is a lot of fire to him. He has to be a leader and it didn’t take much and he ran with it.”
Those traits have helped Saia flourish early in his switch from linebacker to free safety.
“I feel like it gives me more space to make plays,” he said. “It is always pass first and I always feel like I do a good job of reading the quarterback. That is what coach told me when he put me back there and that is why I have been so successful.”
Saia said that even when his team was down against Sioux City North there was no turning against each other on the sideline or pointing of fingers. It just brought them closer which hasn’t been the case in recent seasons.
The two interceptions are the first since he picked off a pair of passes as a sophomore.
“It is so exciting because it is just a big play for our team, a huge play in the whole game,” he said.
Last season Saia was the Wolverines' leading rusher with 250 yards and two touchdowns. He was also involved in the pass game with 12 receptions for 137 yards and a score while finishing third on the team in tackles with 40.5.
Schmitz said that West doesn’t necessarily have a go-to player rather it has several key contributors the Wolverines look to get the ball to in a variety of ways.
“He has really embraced the idea that he is going to do a bunch of different things,” Schmitz said. “We don’t have a feature role for any of our guys and because he is such a talented kid he could be the guy we give the ball to all the time or defensively scheme him up a little bit. Early in camp we moved him to free safety and he has really excelled.
“He is a super smart kid in the classroom and on the field and he gets what we are trying to do. He is a kid we can do whatever we want him to do on the field and he is smart enough to get what we are doing so he does it well. If we get the ball near him he is going to make a play.”
Saia, like his teammates, is enjoying the fast start to the season, but no matter what happens the rest of the of the way he knows playing on the gridiron for the Wolverines was the right decision.
“I love football and I love West,” he said. “The community and all the people we have involved, it has been brewing for awhile.”
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