When the Dutch Fork offense takes to the field at William-Brice Stadium on Saturday night in the Class 4A Division I state championship game against Sumter, Mark and Pam Olenchuk will be two of the proudest people in attendance.
Sons Derek and Kyle Olenchuk will take center stage of the Silver Foxes attack. Derek, the senior and three-year performer, will handle the quarterbacking duties as he has for nearly all of the past two seasons. Kyle, a sophomore, will make the third varsity start of his career at center.
That is a long way from the backyard of the Olenchuk’s Irmo home.
“Watching them play in the yard since they were little, and Kyle hiking the ball to Derek for years, and to see them in this situation is beyond my wildest dreams,” Pam Olenchuk said. “I’m excited but extremely nervous at the same time.”
The fact that both are starting in the biggest game of their career is something not many people expected, including the siblings. Coming into the season, Derek Olenchuk was entrenched as the starting quarterback after leading Dutch Fork to the state title game last year. Kyle was the starting center on the junior varsity and didn’t get his opportunity for much playing time on the varsity until halftime of the opening round of the playoffs.
Injuries led Kyle onto the field, and in 21/2 games he has performed well.
“I told him all along that his shot was going to come, he just needed to keep working hard and he was going to get an opportunity,” Derek Olenchuk said of his younger brother. “Our motto is, ’next man up.’ He got his shot to play, and he’s taken advantage of it.”
That the Olenchuks will both touch the ball on each offensive play is a rarity on such a big stage.
That fact is not lost on the family.
“I was the center for Derek in Pop Warner, and we talked about it as a family — if I was ever going to play center for my brother again,” Kyle said. “I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen. I was going to try my hardest, but I knew it was a long shot to start on varsity. I kept working and we had some injuries and I’m grateful the coaches gave me this opportunity. It’s sort of a unique situation.”
Pam Olenchuk said the oldest two of her four boys always have been close. They always have done things together, even when the results we’re positive.
“Since they were little, they were never normal boys,” Pam said. “They never could just ride a bike, they had to jump it over a ramp, over their brothers kind of thing.”
Derek has been the unquestioned leader of the Silver Foxes (11-3) attack for the past two seasons. He split time as a sophomore before becoming the full-time starter as a junior. He has thrown for more than 7,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in his career and hopes to cap his final season with the first football state championship in school history. They finished runner-up last year.
“It was always a goal to get back,” Derek said of the disappointment of last year. “You make it there and lose, and it makes you that much hungrier to get back and win. We’re eager and amped for Saturday.”
Kyle is undersized but has stepped into the starting role without much disruption for an offense that has averaged more than 42 points per game. He is 5-foot-11, 205 pounds but plays with great leverage. That allows him to hold his own despite, in many cases, giving up 70-80 pounds to the guy across the line from him.
“The main thing is all about who gets lower and who uses their hips and leg muscles better,” Kyle said. “The key is to strike first and hit them before they hit you and get under their pads before they can do anything.”
Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts would not be surprised if both ended up being coaches. They know the offense as well as he does, and that helps him on the field. He called Derek the leader of this group and expects Kyle to take on that type of leadership role next season.
But before that happens, the brothers want to take care of business on Saturday. They understand what is at stake and know this will be the last time they step on the field together as teammates.
“Just the feeling of me and my brother going to state and having a shot at winning a ring is something I never dreamed possible.” Kyle said. “The fact that I’m a sophomore with my senior brother as the quarterback is just crazy. It’s something I will always remember.”