By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
When the University of Illinois took on Northwestern University at Wrigley Field two years ago, stand-out kicker and former Rockford Boylan Titans player Derek Dimke decided to have a little fun in pregame warm-ups with the placement of the uprights.
They decided to set up at home plate and try to kick a home run. So, when the Fighting Illini were in San Francisco for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a camera crew followed them over to AT&T Park as they tried another feat.
“This year, we had to carry on the tradition, and we kicked one into the bay at McCovey Cove in San Francisco,” Dimke said. “The news thought it was funny. The coverage you can get for being a kicker is funny.”
Dimke is getting noticed as more than just a novelty act, however. As one of only seven kickers invited to the NFL Scouting Combine that starts this week, Dimke is being noticed as one of the best at his position, with a great shot of playing on Sundays.
That wasn’t always the plan when Dimke left Boylan as a highly-rated recruit. While he looked forward to Big Ten football, he valued the time more for education than for a chance to make it to the NFL.
“My goal starting out wasn’t to use Illinois as a stepping stone to the next level,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to get on the field. I’ve been surrounded by great role models and great people throughout high school and college.”
After hardly playing his freshman year, his fortunes would change with opportunity.
His sophomore year, Dimke handled kickoff duties as well as making all five of his field goal attempts. Over his last two years, he made 39 of 46 field goal attempts and possessed one of the biggest legs in college.
Against Missouri in 2010, he nailed a career-long 52-yard field goal and was named a Lou Groza Award semifinalist at the end of the season as one of the top kickers in the country. He was all-Big Ten second team that year and followed it up with honorable mention in 2011.
All of which has led Dimke to the combine. While his initial goal was not to play in the NFL, after four years, he hopes to show teams over the next few months that playing in the NFL is exactly what he should be doing.
“I want to hopefully be given a chance on a team and make a positive impact on a team’s future,” he said. “Not too many kickers get drafted. If that were to happen, that would be awesome. If it doesn’t, hopefully a team will give you an opportunity to go to training camp and have some preseason games.”
It’s a badge of honor for Dimke to be getting this opportunity. After having success in the 1960s and 1970s in the NFL, Rockford has not had an NFL player since Carlos Polk, who played at Guilford in the mid-’90s.
Dimke said that fact drives him to make the league. Making the league would be a great personal accomplishment for him, but he also wants to be able to represent the city of Rockford on a grand stage.
“I love Rockford, and still love going back to Rockford and hanging out with all my friends,” Dimke said. “My Dad has a lot of co-workers and friends that are very supportive, and the same with my Mom. It would really be an honor to represent them and do the best I can. When people ask where you are from, I can say Rockford, Illinois, and say it with pride.”
Dimke also beamed with pride when talking about his Titans and their two state championships. Boylan won those titles on the same field Dimke played on in Champaign, Ill.
Dimke said he missed the second championship because the Illini were in Minnesota, but he said watching the first one in person was unreal. He also noticed a familiar sight when watching current Boylan kicker Sean Slattery.
“He was way ahead of where I was at that age,” Dimke said of the Titans’ kicker. “I’m hoping when I have more time to come back and he would be more than welcome to work with me. I’m looking forward to maybe giving him some advice.”
But all that will have to wait. Classes two days a week, the combine, workouts in Arizona, Ohio and wherever else he is needed will be all Dimke knows for the next few months.
“I hope to show teams that I have the ability both mentally and physically to help their team next year,” Dimke said. “That will pretty much be taking up my time up until the draft and maybe even after the draft.”
From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue