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Football Tab 2018: After an MCL tear in 2017, DiPatre is back as Wildcats’ undisputed leader

Warren County's lineman Jake DiPatre runs through a drill during a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – There was only about a minute left on the clock during last season’s late-September home game against Clarke County when Warren County defensive tackle Jake DiPatre saw his junior season come to an end.

It was a case of bad luck that DiPatre, who had just been involved in a stop on one of many Clarke County running plays, had a player fall on his right leg, causing a tear of the MCL in his knee. DiPatre recalled recently that after making it to the sideline he did some high-knee exercises, and though he felt an unusual sensation in his knee, he wanted to return to the game during what was a critical moment.

Instead, DiPatre could only watch as a Clarke County ball carrier picked up a game-clinching first down on fourth-and-6 to preserve the Eagles’ 29-21 win.

DiPatre would spend Warren County’s final seven games of 2017 on the sideline due to his injury, and it wouldn’t be until April – about 6 ½ months later – that he was fully cleared to return to athletic activities.

Most high school athletes feel an extra dose of motivation entering their senior year, but given DiPatre’s misfortunes last fall, he might have a little more juice than most.

“I’ve been working, and I’m extremely excited to get back out there,” DiPatre said earlier this month. “Saturday (Aug. 4) was the first time I was in full pads since Sept. 29. I was all ready for it. I was ready to pop and hit somebody. Yeah, I’m ready. I feel like my knee’s healthy, and everything’s gonna go smoothly, hopefully, this year.”

DiPatre’s presence on the field for a full season would certainly be a boost for a Warren County team looking to keep building in year two under head coach Brian Bush, following a 2017 season in which the Wildcats posted their first winning season in four years and made the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Beginning last season as a one-way starter at defensive tackle, DiPatre also became the Wildcats’ starting right guard on the offensive line a couple of games into the season. His return gives Warren County two returning starters on an O-line that paved the way last season for workhorse running back Ronnie Dodson, who carried 278 times for 1,539 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017.

The 6-foot, 260-pound DiPatre enters his senior season as far more than a two-way starter, however. He’s also the Wildcats’ undisputed leader.

Following last season, Bush asked the Wildcats to make a list of the returning players they felt would make good team captains in 2018, players that Bush could hold accountable for team activities through the offseason months and the upcoming season. DiPatre’s name was on every list.

“Not a single person left him off their ballot. He was unanimous,” Bush said. “It’s pretty special because he could’ve sort of got down on himself after last year’s injury and not cared anymore and taken the easy way out. But he didn’t. He fought back, and he went through everything he needed to get through to sort of get to where he is now. And right now he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in because he put forth that effort.”

Asked what it is about DiPatre that made the Wildcats feel so strongly about his leadership qualities, Dodson replied, “He’s a big, scary guy.”

“I mean everyone looks up to him,” Dodson said. “He’s the captain out there, always talking, always yelling. I still tell people what to do here and there, but he’s always yelling, telling people what to do, this and that, always on people’s cases. He’s a big help to the team.”

The responsibilities that come with the captain status are not lost on DiPatre, who said he still attended every practice when his rehab schedule allowed and “talked up” the offensive line during games last season.

“In that role I’ve gotta be here every day to lead the team,” he said, “and I’ve gotta be the one stepping up to tell them like ‘let’s go, hustle on and off the field,’ and just show them how the new Warren County culture is gonna be and leave something behind for them.”

DiPatre has already proven to be a good role model through his actions on the field, and Bush said the senior possesses the attitude that’s required to thrive in the trenches along the offensive and defensive lines.

“He has that mentality that you can’t coach, that you can’t teach,” Bush said. “As a coach, you always get on guys for effort and guys for ‘hey, let me see your potential, let me see this come out of you’ or ‘let me see that dog come out of you.’ Well, you don’t have to ask Jake. It’s automatically there and when that ball’s snapped, he goes, his motor gets going, and he’s hard to handle.”

DiPatre said he’s working on becoming more technique-driven from his defensive tackle position, as he’s trying to use his hands more frequently to shed blocks rather than relying on brute force on a straight bull rush.

He brings that same physicality to the offensive side of the ball, though the Wildcats have experimented using DiPatre in a more specialized role as the team’s H-back in preseason practice.

Bush said in early August that using DiPatre at H-back was something the Wildcats were simply “playing with,” though the senior showed he possesses the athleticism to play the position over the summer during 7-on-7 competition, a format devoid of linemen.

“This summer at 7-on-7s he always wanted to show up and go, so we put him at middle linebacker, and we always put him at our Z, or slot receiver, and just let him play,” Bush said. “So we were able to evaluate how good of an athlete he was this summer. But it’s always fun to see him rolling around. He goes 100 miles per hour, no matter what.”

Regardless of what his role ends up being this season, DiPatre simply hopes he’s on the field for its entirety.

“Everybody on the team, they all want the ring season. That’s what they all want,” he said. “But personal goals is just a healthy season, getting through and going as far as we can.”