Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
When the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) FCS National Player of the Year Trophy watch list came out, there was a familiar name on that list.
It was the name Dillon Buechel. The redshirt senior was the first quarterback to lead the Duquesne Dukes football program to an outright NEC conference championship and the first quarterback to guide the Red & Blue to an appearance in the FCS Playoffs.
“It was definitely a cool experience to see your name up there with some of the other best players in the FCS,” Buechel said. “It makes you feel like all the hard work, all the dedication that you put in, just to get recognized like that — it’s a real cool thing.”
Buechel was named to the All-NEC Second Team a season ago, propelling the Dukes to an 8-4 record, which included a perfect 5-0 record at Arthur J. Rooney Field and a 5-1 mark within conference play. Additionally, Buechel was selected to the preseason NEC All-Conference team.
On the biggest stage of his life, Buechel had a game to remember. His performance in the FCS Playoffs alone last season was likely enough to solidify himself as one of the 40 players to watch in the FCS this season.
“That’s probably the thing I am most proud about being here, playing for Duquesne,” Buechel said. “When I got here, that was the whole team goal, you know, win the NEC Conference and get in the playoffs. And to be the first team that actually experienced that feeling, it was a cool thing.”
On that afternoon, Buechel threw for 423 yards and tied a school record with six touchdown passes. Although the Dukes came up short against the William and Mary Tribe, falling by a final score of 52-49, it has inspired them to get back in 2016.
“Everybody has come back after working hard in the offseason,” Buechel said. “If we are fortunate enough to get another chance to play in the playoffs, everybody is hungry to try to make some damage this year. We want to see how far we can take it.”
This game capped off a brilliant junior season for Buechel in which he completed 228 passes for 2,871 yards and 24 touchdowns. All three of those statistics marked career highs for Buechel. His previous career high in touchdown passes was 14, which shows the significant strides that Buechel has made in his three years under center.
The signal caller has a chance to put himself in elite company in 2016. Entering his final season, Buechel sits second in the Duquesne record books in completions (593), completion percentage (.583) and passing yards (7,465). He also currently ranks fourth in touchdown passes at 52.
Through the highs and lows of his collegiate career, one thing that cannot be questioned about Buechel is his leadership. This 2016 campaign marks his third season as a team captain and the unquestionable chief of the offense.
“I try to be a calming influence, try to always be under control, kind of be the halfway midpoint between the coaching staff and the team,” Buechel said. “Because you’re kind of in a coaching role playing quarterback, but also guys look to you for leadership and to make plays.”
Combine that leadership, his arm strength and his decision-making and it’s a real possibility that Buechel could be named FCS Player of the Year at season’s end. But it’s going to take a special senior season from him if he hopes to bring home the hardware.
As they enter their fifth season together, Buechel and head coach Jerry Schmitt have developed a significant player-coach bond that is evident every game day. Schmitt trusts Buechel to make the right throws in the proper moments to lead his team to victory — most times Buechel doesn’t let him down.
Schmitt has a tremendous amount of faith in No. 5 and knows how important he is in fulfilling the team’s aspirations in 2016.
“It’s awesome to have a four-year starter, a veteran, a leader, a team captain. In general it’s just awesome to have that,” Schmitt said. “But to have a young man like Dillon who is so competitive, studies the game, you know, and is a good old-fashioned football player and who loves the game — it’s just icing on the cake for us.”