Dalton Mendenhall flew across the country last weekend to find his future. The flight took longer than the discovery.
"I don't even know how to describe it,'' he said Monday evening from his home in Washington. "West Point was more than amazing. I had some visits lined up for other schools, but I'm not taking them anymore.
"This is definitely something I want to get into. (West Point) lets you know that it's a place where you're going to be given a chance to be a great leader of a nation, and that's something I've strived for and always dreamed of being. So how can I say no to that?''
Mendenhall, 6-foot-3, 225, runs a 4.41 40 as a defensive end/outside linebacker who would spend his first year at the prep school.
"Coach Ellerson was a very nice, respectable man. When we sat down to talk on Sunday I really liked what he said, that, 'Don't tell me you want to come here right now, go home and think about it for a couple of days and think about if this is what you really want.' I really respect him for saying that,'' Mendenhall said. "I don't think many coaches would be like that.
"He's funny, too. All the coaches are funny guys, especially (defensive tackles) coach (Clarence) Holmes. He's hilarious. I loved how everyone interacted with each other,'' he said. "Everyone makes West Point Cadets seem like robots, so I wasn't really sure how they would act. But the players, how they bonded, it was really good.''
Mendenhall played varsity three seasons at Rogers High School in the town of Puyallup (40 minutes directly south of Seattle). This past season (8-2) he made 35 tackles, 10 for loss, and six sacks.
His scholastic career wasn't just about defense. He also played fullback, running back, tackle, and even ran a little quarterback out of the wildcat.
Asked to evaluate himself, the 18 year-old said, "I guess I'd say relentless. I never give up. Just basically relentless, a hard-nosed player who gets down and dirty.''
A younger version perhaps of Josh McNary? "I watched their games over the second half of the season,'' Mendenhall said. "He never gives up. He's someone to be inspired by.''
The young man comes from s military background, including an older brother who is preparing to enlist in the Army. Their grandfather served in the Air Force, their father and an uncle in the Army, and a great-great uncle was a member of the famed 1st Special Service Force, also known as the Devils Brigade.
Mendenhall noted that the post-graduate military commitment was a factor in the overall package, but, he added, "The opportunity that West Point will give you, the chance to be a leader for your nation, that's something I want to be anywhere I set foot - in my high school, my football team. I want to be a leader, at the top of the stack.
"The military will be a great challenge, but that's something I want to put myself through. Most of my life I haven't had any discipline,'' he added, "and West Point gives me that opportunity to have that in my life. The military guarantees you so much. I want to be guaranteed a job in the future, and to provide for my family and kids.''
That of course is down the road, but all part of a future that came into focus on a cross-country trip. "This is a golden opportunity and I feel honored to be part of this,'' he said. "I'm going to take a couple of days, but it's definitely something I want to do, to go to school and get an education at West Point.
"I just want to let everyone know that I will definitely work hard when I get in there.''
With only one week remaining until national signing day, it seems rather apparent that he already is.
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