Covington-Douglas' Fleeson, Kroll built themselves into playmaking leaders

Covington-Douglas junior linebacker James Kroll (left) and senior safety Dalton Fleeson (right) protect the red-zone against Waukomis during passing camp on June 20 at Covington-Douglas. (Tim Godfrey/Enid News & Eagle)

COVINGTON, Okla. — Once senior Dalton Fleeson and junior James Kroll took the field for Covington-Douglas, they were not coming off of it.

In the last two seasons, the Wildcats have benefited from Fleeson and Kroll lining up on both sides of the ball. Last season, both Fleeson and Kroll were the top three producers in most offensive and defensive statistical categories and helped lead their team to back to the postseason after missing the playoffs in 2017.

Both lead Covington-Douglas into a new football season as the unquestioned leaders of the team.

“Some kids know how to lead and some kids don’t,” head coach Brian Smith said. “These kids know how to work hard, and the kids around them see it. The hard work has gotten them on the field and got them to where they are … in our program.”

‘A good start’

Fleeson is known as an “aggressive” tackler. Sometimes a bit too aggressive.

At strong safety, Fleeson is the last line of defense. But sometimes he moves that line upfield.

“We don’t really want him leading us in tackles,” Smith said. “But he has a knack for getting to the football and making plays.”

Fleeson led the team with 142 tackles last season and more than 90 his sophomore year. He also led the team in rushing yards (754), rushing touchdowns (13) and all-purpose yards (1,658) last season as a utility playmaker on the offense.

As one of the Wildcats’ top playmakers, Fleeson holds the attitude of wanting to be “that guy,” the one who gives all he has and then some.

But that attitude wasn’t always present, especially as a 130-pound freshman who had little hope of playing time unless it was a blowout game. However, an injury to a starter opened the door for Fleeson to take the field as the new safety late in the 2016 season.

As nervous as he was, Fleeson didn’t hesitate to make his first play. On a run to Pond Creek-Hunter’s “big ol’ running back,” Fleeson ran upfield to meet the ballcarrier. Despite the clear weight disadvantage, Fleeson brought him down.

“It was a good start,” Fleeson said.

That one tackle led to 246 more over the next two and a half seasons

As Covington-Douglas’ middle linebacker, Kroll knows Fleeson will have his back.

“If I make a mistake,” he said. “I know (Fleeson) is right there to cover up.”

Kroll was second on the team in tackles last season with 123 and like Fleeson, he got onto the field as a freshman.

He saw immediate playing time and recorded 57 tackles, eight tackles for loss and finished second on the team with five sacks. After a senior graduated, Kroll stepped into the middle linebacker spot and became the “quarterback of the defense.”

“You know what you’re getting from him,” Smith said. “You know that he’s going to be there every day and be one of the top players.”

But Kroll’s start truly came on the offensive side of the ball. During a game against Bluejacket, Kroll was called on to to be a fullback and said he had one of best games.

“I not only proved to the coaches but I proved to myself that I can play with these guys,” Kroll said. “They might be a couple of years older than me, but I still feel like I can hold my ground.”

Common goals

Fleeson and Kroll have been playing together since elementary school. Except back then, they were playing on the playground. That familiarity and friendship led to better chemistry and trust on the field.

“We’ve shared the same goals since we were younger,” Kroll said. “We know how we want to play.”

“When you know these people,” Fleeson said, 'you can rely on them to do their part. It makes your job a lot easier.”

It’s Fleeson’s final season of high school football, a fact that seems all too surreal. The goal for him and other seniors is to go out on top as a Class C state champion.

Fleeson will have plenty of help on that mission from teammates like Kroll.

“I hope they all think the same that I do and that I know we have the potential to go that far,” Fleeson said of his teammates. “It’s just putting the games together and doing it.”

“I feel like we all share that one goal and that’s to wear a state ring and putting Covington on the map,” Kroll said. “We have a chance of making it this year … “I feel like we need to show everybody how Covington football actually is.”

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Godfrey is sports writer for the Enid News & Eagle.
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