What an athlete does on the field often reflects qualities of who he or she is as a person. Sometimes, athletes who encounter adversity while fiercely competing are better equipped to cope with real-life hardships, providing a stable backbone in their personal development.
Sometimes it's the other way around.
When Linfield's Brian Dundas was just 12 years old, he faced arguably the most psychologically intense and emotionally wrenching moment imaginable: the passing of his father.
Fast-forward just over a decade and the senior linebacker is at the crux of a NCAA Division III powerhouse that is the Linfield football program. Dundas has learned to channel the adversity he has faced in his life toward his contributions on the football field, making him a valuable asset to the program.
In addition to football, Dundas has a varied background in athletics, including time spent playing basketball, baseball, track and rugby. At Bellingham High School, he was a threat on both sides of the ball, contributing offensively as a running back and defensively as a linebacker and a safety.
During his original college search, Dundas notes he had difficulty finding a school with the right balance between athletics and academics. "I was weighing my options and Linfield had the most to offer academically and athletically. I decided it was the best all-around choice," he remembers.
In the fall of 2007, the 'Cats got just a taste of Dundas' ability, but a partially torn ligament in his ankle altered his collegiate career just as suddenly as it had begun. "I reinjured (my ankle) a week before the first game in a scrimmage and it ended my season," says Dundas. "I felt like I needed a fresh start, and I had opportunities to go to the Midwest and East Coast."
Within the fresh opportunities came the familiar struggle of locating a school with an athletic-academic balance similar to Linfield's.
Temporarily, Dundas wound up at Cabrillo Junior College in Aptos, Calif., near Santa Cruz. It was there he met current Linfield wide receiver Lucas Jepson. "He and I talked and I told him about my time at Linfield," Dundas recalls.
After spending two seasons in the Seahawks' program, Dundas pondered the features of Linfield, in the context of the college's complete package, that had initially sparked his interest. "I knew what Linfield had to offer and I had kept in contact with all the friends I made here," he says.
In the end, Dundas landed back where he began, this time with a new-found motivation and passion to compete on a team that is perennially in contention for a national championship.
His timing could not have been better. This season's team, now 9-0, has all the pieces to make a title run. The 2012 Wildcats could etch their names into the record books alongside the four other Linfield national championship teams (1982, '84, '86, and 2004) that turned in unblemished records.
"Brian brought much-needed experience to our group and immediately worked his way into our starting lineup," says linebackers coach Phil Rombach. "He has found a way to thrive and become an impact player for us and I expect great things from him throughout the playoffs."
While the prospect of attaining ultimate glory in the form of a national championship was enticing, there was a more significant force at work in his decision to transfer back to Linfield.
"Part of my decision to come back was so I could be closer to my mom," Dundas explains. "The way my mom has supported me on her own is a huge inspiration and coming back to the Northwest was my way of making her proud and repaying her for all she has done for me," he says with utmost sincerity.
As for the rest of the Wildcats, Dundas' return to McMinnville provided the team with an inspirational and motivational figure whose every action is reverberated throughout the squad.
"He is a leader by example and by what he does on the field at practice," fellow senior Stephen Nasca says. "Through his work ethic, he exemplifies what we are as a team."
Echoing Nasca's comments, Rombach explains the importance of having the presence of a player such as Dundas. "His work ethic and enthusiasm for the game are contagious." The sixth-year coach also notes "Brian is all business. He is never satisfied with his performance and is always seeking to improve."
"Our main goal is to win a national championship," says Dundas. "This is what brings us together as a team. Having more experience, I try to push the younger guys and influence them in a way to step up as leaders and better their play."
Defensive standout Brynnan Hyland spoke to Dundas' maturity and ability to stay poised throughout trying moments. "As the only senior linebacker, he uses his experience to stay calm in pressure situations," Hyland says, adding, "It rubs off on everyone else and allows us to stay level-headed and battle through adversity."
From Day 1, Linfield players are exposed to the four pillars of the football program: Team, Excellence, Attitude, and Class.
"The program is based around concepts I value in my own life already," says Dundas. "The biggest thing is the application of those values into everyday life and using them to positively influence the people around you."
Dundas says those same values will continue to define and shape who he is as a person. "I plan to coach football and I want to get into counseling."
Considering his background, the wealth of knowledge he has come to possess as well as the respect and heroism he garners from his teammates, Dundas appears ready to not only succeed, but to thrive in whatever encounters he may embark upon.
Playing with the spirit of his father and with his mother watching from the stands, the path Dundas has walked and continues to travel consists of the highest character a person can display.
His journey is unique, heart-felt and full of adversity. But the end result is a genuine, sincere and level-headed role model we all can look up to.
– Evan O'Kelly '13