Dan Lester and Nic Rummell Are Back For, And In, the Playoffs
With playoff football comes repeat guests on The Red Zone, and both Dan Lester and Nic Rummell have certainly done enough this season to merit another day in the studio spotlights. Having been freshmen when the Cardinals won their first football national championship in 2019 and returned to the Stagg Bowl last year, both Lester and Rummell have plenty of playoff experience. With the first game in the rearview after a 50-0 win over Lake Forest, they’re in a familiar and comfortable position.
“It’s an exciting time once we get that playoff bracket and to see who we’re matched up with first round and then get that first win under the belt,” said Rummell. “Both of us have played in plenty of playoff games before so it helps with being able to bring those young guys who might be new to a playoff run together and to relax them.”
“The playoffs are one of the most exciting parts of football,” added Lester. “We kind of treat the first ten weeks of the year in CCIW play as a way to get you ready for the playoffs. No playoff run is going to be the same; last year we went through our bumps and bruises and you’ve just gotta accept what comes with playoffs.”
The Cardinals defense set a program record with just 64 yards allowed, as the Foresters never crossed midfield. For Lester, the historic performance was a result of good preparation and star players giving their best.
“We were all really excited for the week of practice,” Lester said of the group’s preparation. “I think Sam Taviani had a great game, and I think Tyler Rich and Dan Gilroy were monumental not just in the pass rush but also in the run box making my job easier. And then the back seven played lights out, so it was pretty cool to see all that happen.”
Positional Versatility and Excellence
On offense, this was Rummell’s third week back at wide receiver after playing the better part of two seasons at cornerback and recovering from a hand injury earlier in the season. But he’s not totally new to the position, and said that the transition has really been as easy as he’s making it look with his play.
“I was able to play receiver here as a freshman in 2019, so having learned the offense and gone through that season with all the older guys we had made coming back and relearning it this season a lot smoother and a lot quicker,” said Rummell.
On what he says his position is, Rummell just said “whatever he’s playing that week” and that he’s “going to give it my best ability and play the was I know how” no matter what role he’s in.
Lester, meanwhile, is a defensive tackle through-and-through and an outstanding one, having been named as CCIW Co-Defensive Player of the Year. His stats certainly support the honor, but he credits the players around him as much as himself.
“It means a lot, but I think it’s a testament to the overall defensive play this year,” Lester said. “It’s pretty easy to do what I do when you play with the guys [I do]. Tyler Rich and Dan Gilroy are two of the best, if not the two best, defensive ends in the country. Brandon Greifelt is an outstanding defensive tackle. And we play with the best back seven in the country. So it’s pretty easy to do what I do on a Saturday when everyone else is doing their job.”
A total of 19 Cardinals were selected to the all-conference teams, with senior running back Ethan Greenfield named Offensive Player of the Year and sophomore lineman Jeske Maples named Offensive Lineman of the Year. It’s a testament not just to those individuals, but what they (and all their teammates who weren’t selected) have done together.
“I think as team it just shows all the effort and the hard work our guys have put in,” said Rummell, who was more or less ineligible for all-conference consideration due to switching positions. “I’m super proud of Dan for the type of season he’s had as well as all those other guys who deservingly got those awards. I think anybody on our team would tell you though that they would trade that award for a national championship, that’s the ultimate goal.”
“I think it’s pretty cool to have all that and get the appreciation for what we did the first ten weeks, but the real season started this week,” added Lester. “Greeny I’m super proud of, he deserved it 1000%. Jeske Maples winning offensive lineman of the year was really cool. I kind of knew it was coming, it was getting tossed around by him all spring ball. He’s an un-talked-about hero of our team so it’s really cool to see him get the recognition he deserves.”
While they don’t want to spend too much time celebrating awards, they’ve got plenty of time for moments like the touchdowns on Saturday by Matt Robinson (his first this year) and Alec Wolff (his first ever as a fifth-year senior). The love the team has for each other was obvious in how they greeted the two tight ends in their moments of triumph.
“Love is what makes our team,” said Rummell. “Regardless of who’s making the play, we all care about each other and are brothers outside of football. The full team celebrating in the end zone, I can’t remember ever doing that at least not for a few years. Those are two guys who deserve and that a lot of us turn to for a lot of different reasons.”
“Both those dudes have been through a lot,” continued Lester, specifically referencing last year’s Wheaton game in which Wolff suffered a serious injury and Robinson was out due to contact tracing. “They’re not talked about a whole lot because they just run block, so it’s cool to see them go out there and actually catch a pass.”
Awaiting the Cardinals this week are the Carnegie Mellon Tartans, who make the trip from Pittsburgh to Naperville for the second year in a row but hopefully will not be disqualified by a slew of positive COVID-19 tests like last year. Both teams played well in their opening games, but you wouldn’t bet against the number one team in the country the way they’re playing and feeling right now.
“I think confidence across the board is pretty high,” said Rummell. “I think that 50-0 shutout was what we needed to do to send a statement not just to the country but to ourselves. We didn’t get a chance at these guys last year… so just excited to get the opportunity to go out there and play Cardinal football.”
“Other than a national championship week, this was my favorite week last year,” Lester said of Thanksgiving week in the playoffs. “Once Tuesday hits classes are over, so we go from being college players to practically being like NFL players where we’re only worried about the game. So I’m pretty excited to get to just relax and watch some film and actually dive into the gameplan more this week because we don’t have anything else to worry about.”