Football's Dan Pela: Strong on the Field and in the Classroom
Photos by Matt Thompson and Dean Hendrickson
Defensive lineman Dan Pela is the strongest student-athlete on the football team, an attribute that carries over on the football field. Strong can also describe his work in the classroom as well.
Pela has a 3.59 grade point average in health science with a public health promotion emphasis and will graduate this December. He recently was named to the Capital One Academic All-District first team, joining teammate Ben Bachelier and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck among the 24-player squad.
"It feels good," said Pela, who earned the distinction for the second consecutive season. "I was really happy to get it last year. I am just as blessed to get it year. I put the hard work in on the field and am doing what you need to do in the classroom."
First-team Academic All-District® honorees advance to the Capital One Academic All-America® Team ballot, where first-, second- and third-team All-America honorees will be selected later this month. District 8 includes schools in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Canada.
Pela, who came to NAU from Phoenix Horizon High School, originally was a walk-on to the program.
"I walked on originally and it was not like I had an offer here to come," said Pela. "I had been recruited by some smaller schools around the country, Division III schools. NAU contacted me and were not sure they had a spot for me. I did not really want to go far away from home so it was nice to come up here."
Pela, who is also a four-time Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete recipient and a two-time Big Sky All-Academic selection in 2009 and 2010, went to work right away. After a redshirt season and year on the scout team, he saw action in eight games as a redshirt freshman. He has played in every game since, making an impact on the defensive line. He recorded 19 tackles as a sophomore and 27 as a junior. In 2011, he has played in every game with seven starts and notched 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He also had a blocked extra-point attempt on potential game tying touchdown by Sacramento State with 4:53 left in the game, securing the road win for the Lumberjacks.
His success on the field can be attributed to his work in the weight room.
"His actions on the field mimic his actions in the weight room," said Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Cody Hodgeson. "Everything he does is 100 percent as hard as he can no matter what the play, call, exercise or warmup. He does it and does it right. He is an animal in the weight room."
Pela, who played in a heavy metal band in high school called Sabotage, can squat 525 pounds, clean 335 pounds and bench 415 pounds, the highest total currently in every category on the team.
"It is a big part of it," said Pela on how his training transitions to the football field. "You try to keep your strength up during the season. It is hard to do when you are hitting so much. You are going against big guys every day and your speed and strength playing is important on the defensive line."
Pela has come full circle and is currently playing on a full scholarship.
"I worked my way up to a full scholarship," said Pela. "It was a long time coming and it worked out. It made me realize how much work I had to put in. The work off the field really helped with that. Coach Souers always says the guys you do not have to worry about are the ones who get the work done off the field."
Pela will play his final game in a Lumberjack uniform Saturday against Southern Utah. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. He will be working on his EMT certification following graduation and plans to apply for a position with the Phoenix Fire Department.
"I have been playing this game for eight and half years now," said Pela. "It has been such a big part of my life and it is weird that it is ending. I am trying to make the best of every time I get to put the pads on."
No doubt he will go all out.