The expectations were high and the talent was there, but it was something former Mitchell High School defensive coordinator Travis Carpenter said that stuck with Cody Reichelt.
“It’s not going to come easy.”
That statement from Carpenter helped drive Reichelt and the Kernels to their first Class 11AA state championship in 2016. And that mantra is still serving the Dakota Wesleyan University senior as DWU's leading tackler this season.
The senior, who got an additional year of eligibility this year due to the NAIA's COVID-19 waiver last year, currently is fifth in tackles per game (11.8) and third in total sacks (six) in the NAIA.
“I was just kind of going through the motions, not really trying too hard. I wasn't really focused as much as I should have been,” Reichelt recalled. "Coach Carpenter, I hear him yelling at me. His voice stands out a lot. And I hear him yelling, ‘It's not going to be easy. You're going to have to work hard for it.’ and from then on, I was like, ‘You know, he's right.’”
Reichelt said he will set aside personal accomplishments for team success but the 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker set one goal heading into his final season for the Tigers: 100 tackles.
Through five games, Reichelt has 59 tackles thus far, an average of 11.8 per contest.
“You're looking at a guy that's extremely motivated. You're seeing a guy that really embraces the fact that ‘Hey, this is my last shot at it. This is my last chance to make an impact,’” DWU football coach Ross Cimpl said. “His impact isn't statistics oriented. The way he plays and how he elevates everybody else's game by how he does things and the plays that he's able to make is something that's fun to be a part of and to get to watch that every Saturday and really every day of the week.”
At MHS, Reichelt saw a lot of success as a part of that championship team. Leading the team in tackles with 102, 17.5 tackles for a loss and added 4.5 sacks, two interceptions two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He also led the Kernels in receiving with 11 catches for 251 yards and five touchdowns.
“As a sophomore (in high school), he probably lacked the necessary focus, as a 15-year-old. We felt like he had the tools and it was just all about trying to get him to understand what he needed to do.” Mitchell Football Coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “I give coach Carpenter really the credit for getting him focused and teaching him the things that he needed to do. Because it was a lot of fun as a senior to see Cody develop into not only the football player but the person that he was and the teammate that he really became.”
That passion on the field is what caught the eye of Cimpl and his recruitment of Reichelt.
“When you watch him in high school, he's playing tight and he's playing linebacker and you know it's not necessarily the positions that he was playing but it was more so of how he played,” Cimpl said. “If you really watched those guys play, there was never a time where you saw those guys taking a play off … you know really playing the game how it should be played.”
Cimpl said he often times will use Reichelt as an example of not only someone who puts his efforts into the team aspect of football, but also into putting in the hard work necessary to be successful and not just relying on athleticism to do his job well.
Joining Reichelt at DWU was his teammate since seventh grade Spencer Neugebauer, who closed out his career at DWU last season as an NAIA All-American at wide receiver. Neugebauer said getting to play his college career with his longtime teammate made his career that much more meaningful for him.
Reichelt and Neugebauer originally planned to finish out their football careers together before Reichelt suffered a knee injury in the first game of the season last year against Hastings College and left the remainder of his season in doubt.
Reichelt later received clearance to return in what was originally the Tigers' final game of the season at Jamestown, before COVID forced Concordia to move their game to the end of the season.
Reichelt and Neugebauer relished their opportunity to be on the field together one last time. And Cimpl, who transitioned to calling the offense in the second half of last season had the perfect opportunity for the pair.
Lined up in the ‘Wildcat’ formation at Concordia’s 1-year line, Neugebauer lined up behind center with Reichelt on the field on offense. Reichelt provided the lead block to score Neugebauer that saw the Tigers take the lead in the game in a game they went on to win 28-17.
“I knew Cody was going to do everything in his power and make sure that I find the end zone,” Neugebauer said.
“There's a lot of things that have to happen for us to be in that position just to call that play,” Cimpl said. “Having Cody lead blocking for Spencer, and the great pictures that were taken of that play, that's just something for those guys to that have their last experience together after playing and being on teams together their whole life was a pretty special thing that I think all of us are really excited about.”
As the Tigers have six games remaining on the schedule heading into today’s contest against Doane, Reichelt said he’s soaking up every practice and game he has left and has already gotten what he called “redemption” on Hastings College during Blue and White Days two weeks ago, a 27-16 win following the 45-7 loss last year.
With Cody comes Tayler, or “T” or “T-Man” as he’s most commonly referred to as.
Tayler Reichelt, who was born with Down syndrome, is Cody’s older brother who has been alongside him growing up together and being the same grade level throughout high school.
Having Down syndrome means he has an extra chromosome. It affects his speech, cognitive building and his fine motor skills, but according to his family, it hasn't slowed him down.
“It was such a fun time with Tayler,” VanOverschelde said. “It's pretty easy to welcome Tayler right into into my family's life and into our football program's life because his love is unconditional.”
In their senior year of high school, Tayler was also a member of the 2016 state football championship team, where he saw limited action in games. That didn’t mean he got to take it easy in practice, though.
“In high school, we practiced together every day and I would make him do conditioning with us and he never liked doing it but I was like, ‘T, if you're part of the team, you got to do everything just like everybody else,’ Cody said. “Sometimes, he didn't like it but that's just the way it had to be.”
Tayler’s commitment to the team didn’t get unnoticed by even the opposing teams. In the first round of the 2016 playoffs against Sturgis and the game in-hand for the Kernels, The Sturgis coach saw Tayler lined up in the backfield and called a timeout.
What came out of that timeout is Cody’s favorite football memory, a play where he was just a spectator on the sideline. Taylor rushed for a 58-yard touchdown.
“I was just completely clueless. I was like, ‘Well, we're going to win.’ So like, next week, we probably going to play Pierre. And that's all I was thinking about. And then all sudden, like, there's not much time left, and they call a timeout. I'm like, 'What? Why would they call timeout?,'” Cody said. “Then I realized what was going to happen. And he took that hand off. And I was standing and I just saw him go. And then I saw the the Sturgis players, you know, dive at his ankles, and he just couldn't stop smiling. It was awesome.”
Going to college, Cimpl made sure to welcome Tayler as a part of the family.
“We signed ‘T’ before we signed Cody,” Cimpl said of Tayler who took classes at DWU following high school. “When we did the Signing Day pictures, we made sure we did ‘T’ first. That was kind of a cool deal and had the paper, had him write his name down. I sent Cody a picture the other day of, five years ago of the signing day and the picture and all that type of stuff. He's been a part of it since Day One.”
While he doesn’t make it to every game, Tayler can usually be found along the sidelines at Joe Quintal Field with his usual smile and positive attitude, pumping up his brother and the rest of the Tigers.
“He's just (Cody’s) right-hand man and whether we won on the field or not, (Tayler) was going to be there and he was going to be the biggest emotional supporter and always there, helping all the other kids on the team too,” Neugebauer said. “I think a lot of people embrace that and uplifted ‘T’ as much as ‘T’ uplifted them”