Teammates and coaches of Dylan Axelson often call him a “throwback” and a “character.” When they hear that the outstanding young linebacker will be featured in the Woodinville Weekly, they break out in smiles. And then they start telling you stories.
“Dylan is a real smart guy academically, but he’s your classic meathead linebacker persona,” said former teammate Alek Kacmarcik. “One day during off-season workouts, he was in the locker room and all of a sudden there’s this awful smell. We’re looking around and then ask, ‘Oh, Dylan, what is that?’ He’s got a can opener and a can of tuna, and right before we’re going to work out, he opens the can and eats the tuna straight from the can with his bare hands. It stunk up the whole locker room. It was awful.”
“I heard something about that,” Woodinville head coach Wayne Maxwell said. “I don’t think I was there that day. I’m not sure what the folklore on that one was. We’re always talking to the kids about getting good nutrition at different times of the day and having a snack after school before workouts. So I guess Dylan took his pre-workout snack to a whole other level.”
A quick Google search reveals videos of Axelson breaking baseball bats over his leg (a la Bo Jackson) and doing daredevil waterskiing stunts. But he’s much more than a beloved character on the team. He’s also a talented inside linebacker with a potentially big upside. Last year as a sophomore, he led the team with 59 tackles and was named First Team All-KingCo 4A. He moves well to the ball with fluidity, and has a hard-charging motor. “Dylan is definitely the heart and soul of our defense,” Maxwell said.
Now heading into his junior season, he’ll be expected to shoulder more of a leadership role. He’ll be playing both ways, as coaches plan on giving him plenty of carries at running back too.
“What I appreciate about him most is his intensity and how he is a tremendous competitor,” Maxwell said. “In practice he takes a lot of pride in executing, and when he doesn’t execute at a high level he gets upset with himself. Obviously coaches are there coaching him along the way. But he has his own self expectations that he holds in high regard, and he is one of the first to get on himself and acknowledge when he’s not performing at a high level.
“And he’s got great drive and the other kids see that and it sets a great example in a sport that is a long, hard grind,” Maxwell said. “Throughout the season, with all those practices, you have to get yourself up to run around and hit people. It’s great to have somebody like Dylan on your team that guys can feed off of.”
At a recent youth camp, Axelson served as a volunteer coach. Out on the field in the hot July sun, he was clearly the boss hog and having a blast. Active and vocal, he jabbered with the young kids — all of whom clearly looked up to him.
At 5’11” and 194 pounds, Axelson’s a bit undersized as a linebacker — a fact that influences his own role models.
“Earl Thomas is someone I look up to now,” Axelson said of the All-Pro safety from the Seahawks. “By his style of play and his being undersized for his position and being able to tackle in kind of a ridiculous way. I’m definitely working on my speed so I can have the possibility of playing safety [in college]. I’m trying to play linebacker all the way through. But strong safety is where I am looking to play if I’m needed. It’s whatever falls into my lap.”
Axelson credits wrestling for his tackling style, which is predicated upon coming in low and immobilizing ball carriers at their legs. He wrestled for Woodinville High School last year.
“That’s definitely something I believe in,” Axelson said. “That’s mostly the reason why I still wrestle. Just staying low. And that’s why I look up to Earl Thomas, because he stays low and wraps up. For me that comes from years of wrestling. So what I’ve started to implement with the football team, is that we made an agreement with the wrestling coach that a bunch of the football players can come in and work on take downs and whatnot. After weights once or twice a week, some guys have gone in there and I think they’ve enjoyed it and it will help the team.”
One person who helped Axelson become a better tackler was Ryan Christensen, the two-time state champion wrestler from Woodinville who’s now headed for the University of Wisconsin. Christensen was ranked #2 in the nation for prep wrestlers.
“Ryan helped me so much,” Axelson said. “He was so good he could teach me everything he knew. I rolled around with him every day, so there was a lot of inspiration and technique that I learned from him that I will never learn from anyone else. He taught me a lot of fakes and a lot of how to get lower and up and through an opponent, so you can take him down more effectively. We just drilled that. He kicked my butt every day and it just kind of made me tougher and drilled those techniques into me.”
With fall camp starting soon, preparation will begin for the season opener, when Woodinville travels to play Mount Si on Sept. 5.
As for personal goals, Axelson has his sights set on the school record for career tackles. Former linebacker Henry Hippely, a 2007 Woodinville graduate, had 188.5 in his time as a Falcon.
“Since the beginning of last year, Coach Maxwell wanted me to look Henry up and implement a lot of things he did from studying the film,” Axelson said. “And I have always had that record in my head, so I would like to beat that. And on offense, I was talking with Coach [Brandon] Baker about this the other day. I would like to rush for 1,500 yards this year. To average 5-10 yards per carry, that would be big.
“As for team goals, I think about this a lot,” Axelson said. “When Henry Hippely spoke to us the other day [at the youth camp] he said how his defense played so much as a unit and they were great friends. I think it’s a similar way with us. I would like to see our defense come together and stop some of these huge teams we’re playing like Skyline and Bothell. One of my biggest goals this year is to beat Bothell, because they are such a powerhouse. I think it would be so game changing for us to beat a team like that.”
And as the season progresses, will teammates continue to be leery of Axelson’s straight-from-the-tuna-can cuisine?
“I still get crap for that one,” he said. “I don’t do that anymore. I mix it with something so people won’t give me crap for it anymore.”