Figuring out how to break through Valparaiso High’s defensive front line has become somewhat of a mystery for opposing offensive coordinators.
That’s mainly because senior standouts Cooper Jones and Dylan Dingman have been causing havoc and providing road blocks and nightmares for them.
“My goal is to make the night very long for the opposing team,” Dingman said.
Since becoming fixtures up front as freshmen, the one-two punch of Jones and Dingman have helped the Vikings to a three-year mark of 31-6 with a trio of Duneland Athletic Conference titles, two sectional and regional crowns, and a Class 5A state runner-up finish last fall.
“I would attribute the defensive success to Coach (Sam) Bernardi and the whole defensive staff,” said the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Jones, who registered over 100 tackles during the last three campaigns. “They do an outstanding job every week getting us prepared for our opponent. They watch more film then is probably healthy, but they always have a great game plan.
“The other success factor is just our cohesiveness. The defense prides itself on working as a unit. We just make sure we are always full speed, always talking, always physical, and always running to the football. We know if we all do these things, we will be in good shape.”
His counterpart in the trenches has been just as impressive with the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Dingman also having over 100 stops and more than 20 quarterback sacks.
“The coaches’ knowledge of where each player fits to make the best 11 to play to their strengths on Friday night has been a big factor,” Dingman added. “Not to mention Coach Bernardi is one of the most intelligent coaches I’ve played for.”
Off to a 3-0 start in 2020, there has been no letdown for either player so far as Dingman has tallied 32 tackles with Jones chipping in 28 stops.
“Cooper and Dylan both have set a new standard for defensive line play at Valparaiso High School,” said Valparaiso head coach Bill Marshall. “In my 15 years coaching at the high school, they are the best one-two punch that we have had in a defensive line. We have had great defensive fronts in the past, but typically there has been one person who outshines all the rest.
“The case with Cooper and Dylan is how well they complement each other and how well they communicate. The flexibility we have with moving them around and ultimately putting them side by side is what makes this a very unique and hard to scheme for tandem.”
Over the past three plus campaigns, the Vikings have allowed eight or fewer points 23 times and currently have a 20-game regular season winning streak.
“As a defense, we playing as a unit,” Jones said. “It’s not just planning to stop me or Dylan. It’s planning to stop all 11 of us. Communication is a key. Me and Dylan are constantly talking to each other in games. What is this guy doing? What kind of move works on that guy? We are able to share notes basically and it helps us make in game adjustments. Dylan is an amazing athlete and just continues to wreak havoc in backfields.”
“We have learned to work as a team and have healthy competition with each other,” Dingman explained. “After a possession, we talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the team’s offensive line. We are always talking and finding out ways to best expose the offense.”
Now in his third full season at the controls, Marshall has watched the talented duo grow up both on and off the field.
“Cooper Jones is the type of student-athlete that every coach hopes for,” Marshall explained. “He is the complete package of an exemplary student and tenacious, coachable athlete. He brings a blue collar work ethic to the field every day. He leads by example but also by being the vocal leader of our team. His versatility in the trenches between playing tackle and end never give our opponents a sense of where he is going to be or line up on the field. This year, his ability to play tight end (one catch for two yards) has also helped with our depth and more specifically helping a young offensive line in the run game.
“Dylan Dingman brings a game-time motor that never stops. He has both size and speed to beat opposing tackles in the run and pass game. His hand fighting skills are outstanding as well in the pass rush. Dylan plays with a chip on his shoulder because he has been told by some larger schools that he is undersized, but luckily he plays for us like a prototypical MAC (Mid-American Conference) defensive end. He is a hard worker that gives opponents fits.”
Having the chance to compete for Marshall has also been enjoyable for both parties as well.
“Coach Marshall has just been able to unite everyone,” Jones said. “He preaches playing for the guy next to you and it shows on the field. He will tell us that football is the ultimate team sport because unlike other sports, in football every role is important. And this year especially, he’s done a great job uniting us. With Covid-19 and all the craziness, he’s just preached control what you can control.”
“Coach Marshall always preaches effort and attitude,” Dingman said. “From the moment he took over, he turned the place around and he wants us to continue on the winning tradition as a Viking. The biggest message he gives us is to not rest on the previous year’s success and make your own destiny.”
One of the perks for Cooper is getting an opportunity to compete with his younger brother, 6-foot-6, 210 sophomore defensive lineman Mason Jones.
“I mean it is special for my mom, but just double the stress for my dad,” Cooper Jones said. “I love playing with my brother. We have been working our whole lives to get to this moment. To both be starters and be having a blast on both the field and the hardwood together, it’s something I cherish very deeply.”
Although his dad, former Portage High star Eric Jones, had a chance to play at Notre Dame for Lou Holtz in the early 1990’s, Cooper is headed to Bloomington, Indiana to compete for the Hoosiers.
“I chose Indiana for multiple reasons,” Cooper Jones explained. “One was (Indiana head) Coach (Tom) Allen. The culture he has established there is something I love and cannot wait to be a part of. Love each other is something I can agree with. Coach Allen is just so genuine and I trust him with my next four years.
“Then there is the defensive line coach, Coach (Kevin) Peoples. I have been in contact with him ever since he had taken the job earlier this year. He knows so much about the defensive line and I cannot wait for him to be able to truly start teaching me.
“Finally, the strength program is a big plus for me. They just signed the (New York) Giants head strength coach, Coach (Aaron) Wellman. The amount of knowledge he has about strength and conditioning is insane and I truly believe he will transform me into the best athlete I can be.”
While Cooper has his future plans all mapped out, Dylan is still weighing all of his options.
“I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of great schools and great coaches,” Dingman said. “I have yet to receive any college offers; however, I still remain in regular contact with multiple great schools and coaches.”
Having already lost two games because of the pandemic, no one is taking anything for granted.
“The thing that makes us special is the fact that we have been together through thick and thin,” Dingman said. “With this Covid-19 that is going on, we all had to fall back on each other to keep grinding when we didn’t even know if we were going to have a season.
“We also have a lot of kids who have never played at the varsity level before, but we have a great coaching staff and leaders on this team that can help and mentor the kids who haven’t played at the level we are playing at before. Not many teams can say they have that type of brotherhood that we have.”