I am talking about Ball State and their 5th year senior starting MIKE Mike Dorulla. The player and the program have grown by leaps and bounds during the past five years, which happens to have also been the tenure of current Head Football Coach Brady Hoke.
The best way to look back at Mike Dorulla's football career at Ball State is to start prior to its beginning, way back when Dorulla was at the Indiana Class 5A powerhouse of Valparaiso. At that time, Dorulla was a starting safety for his Valparaiso High School football team. That was way back in 2002, that same year Ball State replaced then Head Coach Bill Lynch with alum and current coach Brady Hoke. Lynch had recruited Dorulla as a junior and senior, but things changed quickly as Hoke took over for Lynch's less than stellar program at the Muncie, IN school. With the introduction of Hoke as the new Cardinal coach, there was a sense of a new era downing on fans, but a sense of worry for a short time for Dorulla.
"I was originally recruited by Coach Lynch and I had no idea that the coaching change was going to be made," Dorulla said. "But when Coach Hoke came aboard he assured me that I still had a scholarship there for me. Since he is a Ball State grad, I really think Coach is committed to the players, staff and school. It puts your mind at ease that he isn't going anywhere."
This was just the beginning of things for Mike though as he came to Ball State as a true freshman looking for a spot in the Cardinals secondary, but that is not exactly how things went. Of course position changes are a normal thing for college football players – tight ends become defensive ends or offensive linemen, running backs become linebacker and even quarterback become wide receivers or, heck, just about anything given their athletic talent – but position changes to the level of Mike's case is a little out of the ordinary. After redshirting and practicing his entire freshman year as a safety, Hoke came to Dorulla with the idea of being a linebacker.
"Once winter rolled around [after my freshman year] I was moved to linebacker. I knew there was a better opportunity to play there." Mike said. "I played linebacker my first two years of high School football before switching to safety as a senior because that is where I thought I would play at Ball State. I was comfortable with the switch."
But moving up to linebacker was just the beginning. Throughout the next 3 years, Mike made position change after position change, not huge changes mind you, but changing from one linebacker spot to another. He has pretty much line up at 3 of the 4 linebacker spots for the Cardinals.
That leads us to our final switch. Mike made the move from WILL (weakside) to MIKE (middle) this fall after starting senior Wendell Brown was injured during summer weight lifting. The move was, of course, nothing new to Mike, but it gave him every opportunity to step up at a key spot on defense.
"Over the summer when Wendell Brown went down, I didn't know what would happen," Mike said. "At that time I was backing up Bryant Haines at WILL, but I kept working and kept doing my best. I had played the MIKE position in the past so that helped. It's just great to be able to contribute. It's great to help the guys on the field."
But contributing on the field and stepping up as a leader are two different things.
"Filling Wendell's shoes, those are big shoes to fill," Mike said. "Wendell is definitely a leader, especially a vocal leader; he has been that way since he was a sophomore. He is great guy to have in the huddle. I just try to do the best I can."
Over the past 5 years, Dorulla has been able to contribute because of the help of a great coaching staff at Ball State and also thanks to the dedication of Strength & Conditioning Coach Aaron Wellman. "Coach Wellman is one of the most loyal and committed guys I have ever been around," Dorulla said with a smile. "He wants us all to improve. It is hard for me to gain weight and it is hard for me to keep weight on. But he helps me every step of the way. He has the commitment like that with every player, he has a weight goal and he helps them achieve it. He helps pushing me to maintain and I can honestly say I have never been in better shape in my life. He really enjoys what he does."
In 5 years, Mike has seen a lot of change. Friends and teammates come and go, but with that he has also had a chance to be part of something special and to build a once mighty program from the Mid-American Conference back to respectability.
"The past years, when you look at playing games like Auburn and Iowa, that was tough going in there with so many guys missing because of the book thing," Mike said. "Last year we really picked it up and played tight with three Big Ten teams. I think that shows the country we can play with anybody and that we were coming around as a program."
And what about beating Navy, a game in which Dorulla led the Cardinals with a career high 14 tackles?
"Beating Navy was big for the program," he said. "It was a great win because we haven't had too many OOC wins in recent years against teams that were 1A.
It has taken us a while to get to this point and to play the way we have been coached. I think us having more and more commitment each year and with all the guys being here this summer, it instills a lot of accountability with each other and that helps on the field. Also with the [Scheumann] stadium upgrades and everything, things are moving in a great direction for the football program here at Ball State."
Up next for the Cardinals lies another daunting challenge – Nebraska in Lincoln.
"They are hard nosed," Mike said. "They have an enormous offensive line. Across the whole line they are huge. They will try to run the ball since we are a "mid major" vs. a Big 12 school. The key for us is to contain the run. We have to step up against he run. Marlon Lucky is a great back and they have a very good QB in [Sam] Keller. We have to play disciplined-scheme, fundamental football. We have to be consistent and we have to not give up the big plays like we have been. That is the big key."
Dorulla is a rare breed, the fifth year senior. It seems like Mike should feel like he has been at Ball State forever, but that isn't the case.
"When you first get here everyone says that it goes by so fast and as a freshman and sophomore, you just don't believe it," Mike said. "But, yeah, it goes by fast. It is great to have a group of guys like the ones we have that are 5th year seniors. My class was 20 guys and now we are down to just 9 left that are still playing. That says a lot of those guys and their commitment to the program."
And as for his life after Ball State?
"I may apply for grad school," Mike said with a smile. "I am a political science major but will take a look at consumer finance or insurance. The other option is going back home (Valpo) and going to work. But right now I am leaning towards grad school. I came in wanting to go to law school, but I decided against that."