During football season, an old red Dodge Ram truck would come to a daycare in Door County, Wis., to pick up 3-year-old Derrick LeCaptain.
Pat McCarty had Derrick, his own son, and Derrick’s brother, Nick McDonald, piled on for a quick visit and then off to university practice at Sturgeon Bay High School. McCarty was the head coach, and the team’s defensive coordinator, LeCaptains’ father, Mark, would meet him there.
Derrick and Nick were not allowed to tackle dummy tackles or toss the ball during practice. He trapped his father behind the action and was instructed to say “run” or “pass” as plays developed.
“They never really let us screw up on the side or anything,” Derrick said. “We always had to watch.”
Derrick Lecapton fell in love with the game and left Southern Door High School with the most yards in Wisconsin history, including 5,119 rushing yards. With a Division I offer (South Dakota), LeCaptain took a favorite walk-on spot in Minnesota. The third-year player contributed to four special teams units and earned scholarships during presidency camp.
Lecapton is also the current holder of the Gophers’ Stakes Trophy, a giant T-bone-like cut of wood that goes to the U of the Complete Scout Team player of the week. It is a tradition that head coach PJ Fleck started as a receivers coach more than a decade ago.
“That’s a giant steak”, mocking offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., would envy “Manny or (JD) Hoyts”.
When the Gophers prepare for an upcoming opponent, they need new ones and backup to run the other team’s plays. It’s an anonymous but important role, especially needed when facing a new opponent like Colorado. Minnesota (1-1) plays the Buffalo (1-1) on Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field in Boulder.
Success in the Scout team can be a harbinger of success on Saturday. Lecaptain, a linebacker, was the Scout Team Player of the Year in 2019. Following the Big Ten’s reign of the year, Mo Ibrahim, was Scout Team Player of the Year in 2017.
Lecapton and running back Preston Jaylen are the 18th and 19th walk-on players from Minnesota under Fleck to earn scholarships since 2017. The most successful example is Blake Cashman, a fifth-round NFL draft pick in his third year with the Jets.
“He’s earned everything he’s got,” said Gophers defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joe Rossi. “I have two young (sons), so if they can end up like Derrick, I’ll be a proud father.”
Mark Lecapton played at Wisconsin-Whitewater and has coached high school and youth football for more than 30 years. He has earned Division I and II scholarships to 24 players, and four have gone on to the NFL.
“People ask me and say you should be proud,” said Mark LeCaptain. “I won’t say proud because expectations are set at a very young age. The word that comes to mind is ‘fair’. I have given a lot to both the boys.”
Mark grew up on a 240-acre, 60-cow dairy farm opposite Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, where Derrick’s grandfather had two reasons why his kids could leave the farm: to play sports or hunt deer.
“I really didn’t have anyone to groom me, and yet I still played in Division III, one of the top events in the country,” Mark said. I always said that I would not let this happen to other players.
Mark learned that NFL legends Jerry Rice and Walter Peyton would run up hills to gain their competitive edge, so he raced Derrick and Nick up a 30-yard hill behind the family farm. Derrick embraced it so much that he would run it 10 times in one session, and sometimes three sessions a day, his father said.
LeCaptain was a four-year standout in football, basketball, and baseball for a middle-tier Division 3-class school that has an enrollment of just over 300 students. Despite the success, LeCaptain’s recruitment was slow. Badgers head coach Paul Crist visited the south gate, but only offered a preferred walk-on spot.
“It was extremely disappointing,” Mark said.
When in western Michigan, Fleck and assistant coach Matt Simon recruited Luxembourg (Wis.) offensive lineman Spencer Kanze while Mark Lecapton was on staff there.
As for Derrick, Bryce Poup was the first U assistant to recruit him, but then Poup left the staff. “There was a void, but Matt, to his credit, kept in touch with me,” Mark said.
Derik LeCaptain was sold to U after several trips to Dinkytown. He was at the U when they beat Purdue in the cold in 2018 and later told Mark, “I’m coming here.”
LeCaptain was sold on the culture and energy of the program. He played four games on special teams in 2019, all seven in 2020 and both games so far this season. But this is what academics does out of the all-Big Ten respected field that has been most influential. A prolific note-taker in film sessions, he used to run special teams during summer captains’ practice and is often doing extra work before and after practice and in the load room.
“He’s a tremendous example,” Rossi said. “I love coaching him. Happiness to coach, great man, great family. We’re really proud of him, and I can always go to him as an example, ‘Look at Derrick.’ ”
Asked why he prepared so much, knowing that he was almost certainly not going to see the field as a linebacker, Lecaptain said: “You’re doing it for yourself, and you’re doing it for yourself.” Doing it for the comrades too.”
When LeCaptain left the outdoor patio at Athletes Village after a 10-minute interview last week, he walked up to the Larsen Football Performance Center in the courtyard. He was going to see another movie.