FROM DEMON TO SAINT
Former Glenwood star thrives at NAIA power
Dakota Stonehouse was a Demon, and now he’s a Saint.
Five years ago, Stonehouse led the Glenwood Springs Demons to high school football’s promised land.
Now, as a Saint, he hopes to lead a Montana college to an NAIA national championship.
Back in 2008, Stonehouse and the Demons had one of the greatest seasons in school history, going 14-0 and winning the Class 3A championship.
The do-it-all quarterback ran coach Rocky Whitworth’s diverse shotgun spread offense to near perfection.
The lore of the great high school team and athlete, especially the ones that win the elusive and coveted state championship, have their place in small-town history.
“That was a special year for us and the whole town,” Stonehouse said. “The community was behind us so much. That was the coolest part.”
Stonehouse now plays quarterback for Carroll College in Helena, Mont. The team is 9-1 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.
Stonehouse led the Saints to a 37-35 last-second win over No. 7 Rocky Mountain College on Saturday to claim the Frontier Conference title.
Stonehouse now has the chance to add to his legend. How many quarterbacks win championships in high school and college? Not many.
After going 24-1 in his final two seasons at Glenwood, the athletic but too small high school player had zero Division I offers.
That was more irritating than finding a lump of coal under the Christmas tree.
For Carroll College head coach Mike Van Diest, grabbing Dakota Stonehouse was the perfect gift for his program.
“I could care less that he was 6-4 or 5-10, we got ourselves a great quarterback,” he said.
Stonehouse, a fifth-year senior, has been on the field for the past four seasons for the Saints.
A perfect fit
But it still was frustrating that no Division I teams were interested.
“Every kid out of high school wants to go to that D-I school,” Stonehouse says. “That’s what every kid dreams of doing.”
Carroll College called, and Stonehouse answered.
But the quarterback position would have to wait.
“He was just too good of an athlete to just have him as a backup (quarterback),” Van Diest says.
As a freshman, Stonehouse played receiver, kick returner and “played all over the place.” As a sophomore he was more of a runner. For the past two seasons, he’s been the starting quarterback.
This season, Stonehouse has emerged as a great player. The past three weeks, Stonehouse has thrown for 660 yards and nine touchdowns. He only has three interceptions on the season.
Stonehouse suffered a devastating knee injury as a freshman after he caught a pass in the flat and a defender’s helmet turned his knee into ground beef.
“That’s probably the most adversity I’ve ever been through. It took a lot of work to get back to where I am now,” he said.
The Saints run the spread offense, and that was a big reason why Van Diest wanted Stonehouse. The veteran coach heaps high praise on his senior quarterback — the highest praise possible.
“With all due respect to Johnny Manziel, but our guy is the same. Dakota Stonehouse is Johnny Football for us,” he said, referring to the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M.
The win over Rocky Mountain College was the perfect demonstration that the abilities Stonehouse refined with the Demons have continued to serve him well as a Saint. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown, threw for another two TDs and led the Saints down the field for the winning field goal with four seconds remaining.
Carroll College has been in the national title game twice since Stonehouse arrived. They won in 2010 and lost by four in 2011.
For Stonehouse, 23, Carroll College fits like spandex. He is cruising toward a degree in finance, and the football team is sailing toward the playoffs.
Waiting his turn
He always knew his turn would come to lead the Saints’ offense.
“You wait your turn and prove that you can play and work your way up,” he said. “It’s nice to be the guy because you know you’ve earned it.”
Grooming QBs is the Carroll College way, and it’s a successful formula. The school has won six national championships, all since 2002.
“There was never a doubt that he was going to be our quarterback,” Van Diest said. “That’s why we recruited him, and we knew he was going to be a great quarterback for us.”
Like any athlete, Stonehouse has changed. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and more mature.
“I look at some of the pictures of me in high school, and I say, ‘Jeez, I was tiny,’ ” he said with a laugh.
Longtime Glenwood assistant coach Joe Luetke, who watched Stonehouse play in person earlier this season, has seen Stonehouse go from a great high school player to a great college player.
“It was literally like watching him when he was 18 and playing for Glenwood. His game has not changed,” he said. “He’s bigger and more mature, but he has the same determination and same tenacity.”
Luetke said Stonehouse has become the “big man on campus” at football-crazy Carroll College, and the QB is even featured on a huge billboard.
Stonehouse agrees he’s become a better college QB.
“I’m a lot more mature in the pocket. I understand the game a lot more, and that just comes with experience,” he said.
Van Diest uses words like “mature, polished and confidence” as things he now sees in Stonehouse.
He left Glenwood weighing about 185 pounds, and he’s now a muscular 205 pounds. Working with the track coach has improved his speed (he said the school doesn’t time the players in the 40-yard dash), and playing QB as a junior prepared him for this year’s possible run at a national title.
“Last year was a big step for me, seeing everything from a starting standpoint, being the guy in there,” he said.
In his first year as a starter, the Saints went 7-4, a down year for Carroll College.
As he finds success at the college level, he still thinks about that powerful 2008 Glenwood team.
“It’s no easy task to win a state championship, that’s for sure,” he said.
Glenwood is the last Class 3A Western Slope Conference team to win it all, even though three WSC teams have made it to the finals in the past four years.
This year, the Demons are back in the playoffs, and Stonehouse is keeping an eye on the team as it prepares for Saturday’s game against Delta.
Stonehouse said the Carroll College team has the same feel as the Glenwood team: a lot of chemistry and camaraderie.
In high school, the players grew up together since they were in elementary school. Friends for life.
“In college, it’s a lot more business-like, and the ego game can come into play more,” Stonehouse said with a small chuckle.
In high school, his team was No. 1. Later this year, he hopes to lead his college team to the top spot.
He dreamed of playing big college football. Instead he settled for playing big at a small college.
Dakota Stonehouse has always played big on the football field.
Now, he has his sights set on another football promised land.
He hopes to win his last game as a Saint for Carroll College, just like he did as a Demon for Glenwood Springs.