So a year ago January, he transferred to WSU. There was no scholarship awaiting him. And the staff that had tutored him at summer camps and offered him that late scholie was gone.
But the kid from Spokane had a dream.
He remembers Jason Gesser hobbling on one leg in the memorable WSU win at UCLA that clinched the Pac-10 title and a berth in the 2003 Rose Bowl against Oklahoma.
A chance to help return the Cougs to glory was like a siren call.
"Well, I'm paying for it now," Dahl chuckles about his original decision to bypass the WSU scholarship offer. "But coaches have told me I'm on the right track to gain a scholarship, so I'm just going to keep fighting."
By all accounts, he's doing a bang up job of it.
Dahl has taken a majority of the first-team snaps at left guard this spring. And that's no casual achievement, because he's battling three-year offensive line starter John Fullington for the job.
"Joe Dahl has been a pleasant surprise with what he's been able to do," head coach Mike Leach said on Saturday.
Cougar offensive line coach Clay McGuire alluded to Dahl's potential last fall, when Dahl was on the scout team but unable to play in games due to NCAA transfer rules.
"If it wasn't for redshirts, that kid Dahl might be starting," said McGuire. "We've only got six or seven guys right now, but (Dahl)… would be competing for a spot if he could right now. He's been very good."
AS A REDSHIRTING FRESHMAN IN MISSOULA
Today Dahl carries a tad less than 300 pounds on his 6-4 frame, but back then he was about 240 and mostly off the radar of FBS schools.
Montana put a full-court recruiting press on him -- so much so that he couldn't see himself decommitting from the Grizzlies even when WSU came in late.
"Honestly, in today's recruiting, your word means almost nothing," Dahl said. "I wanted my word to mean something, so I stuck with Coach (Robin) Pflugrad and went to Montana."
Dahl emphasizes that he enjoyed his time at Montana. But he couldn't shake the feelings he'd had for the Cougs.
AND NOW HE'S PUT HIMSELF IN position to affect the Cougars' fortunes each Saturday in the fall.
Consistency is his calling card.
"His bad plays aren't bad plays," Leach said of Dahl's work this spring. "His good plays are good and his bad plays are below average, but he always gets a piece of the guy. The bad plays aren't disastrous."
Dahl said there's no secret to his emergence.
"I attribute it to the coaches and a lot of work in the weight room," he said. "Film study, practicing hard, just taking the game in has been really important."
If Dahl wins the left guard spot in fall camp, three-fifths of WSU's offensive line will be manned by one-time walk-ons, with returning starters Gunnar Eklund at left tackle and Elliott Bosch at center. Both Eklund, a third-year sophomore from Lake Stevens, and Bosch, a fifth-year senior from Spokane, are on scholarship now.
At the rate he's going, Dahl figures to be there soon.
The annual Crimson and Gray Game will kick off this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium. Admission is free. WSU expecting a crowd of 15,000. The game also will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. Festivities for fans, including an autograph session with players, will begin at 11 a.m. The parking lot opens at 8 a.m.
60 POUNDS AGO, DAHL WAS AN AWARD WINNER AT JASON GESSER'S 2010 ELITE CAMP. HE'S PICTURED HERE WITH GESSER AND THEN-WSU DEFENSIVE LINE COACH MALIK ROBERSON.