By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
2020 Oxford High School graduate Dylan Rebtoy will continue his academic and football careers at Alma College, announcing his commitment to the Scots on June 13.
A versatile athlete who was also a member of Steve Laidlaw’s OHS basketball program, Rebtoy played both tight end and defensive end during his time on the gridiron as a Wildcat. As of now, the plan is for him to focus on the offensive side of the football at the collegiate level.
Rebtoy took his official visit to the campus last December, which is located just under two hours northwest of Oxford.
“What really caught my interest is the class size there,” he said, emphasizing the importance of the term “student-athlete,” a point stressed daily by former Wildcats head coach Bud Rowley.
“There’s only about 18-to-20 kids per class there, so you get to know your professors really well. That’s something I’ve always liked, having a smaller class, I feel I work better in that kind of environment.”
A National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III institution, Alma competes in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA). The MIAA is made up of nine member schools, with seven in Michigan. The other two, Saint Mary’s College and Trine University, are based in Indiana. Beginning in 2018, Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan joined the league as an affiliate member, competing exclusively in football.
“Coach Rowley helped me a lot throughout this process,” Rebtoy said. “There were many coaches who came in and talked to myself and a couple of my teammates, but Alma was the one that really caught my interest. I really hit it off with Coach (Mark) Merlo at Alma. He’s the one who recruited me, made it a great experience.”
Entering his 11th season as the Scots’ Director of Football Operations and linebackers coach, Merlo has extensive ties to the Oakland Activities Association (OAA). He spent 24 years coaching football and track for the Rochester Falcons, followed by one year with the Waterford Mott Corsairs.
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A two-year contributor at the varsity level for the Oxford football program, Rebtoy was a member of the 2018 squad that finished 8-3, including a playoff victory over the Davison Cardinals. While last season’s 1-8 mark was an obvious disappointment, the lessons he learned from the coaching staff and the memories he created helped prepare him for this next phase of his life.
“I’m going to miss playing in front of all my friends and the great fans in the community,” he said. “The Blue Turf, playing under the lights, Oxford was a just a great town to play in.”
Stepping down last November after 42 seasons piloting the Wildcat program, the last 38 of which consecutively, Rowley has produced dozens of prospects who have gone on to play football at the collegiate and professional levels, including Oxford’s new head coach, Zach Line.
“First of all, congrats to Dylan for getting the opportunity to play college football,” Rowley began. “The next thing is, he has that big frame and the opportunity to get a lot bigger and stronger, too. All Dylan needs to do is put that mouthpiece in, do what the coaches tell him, get in that weight room, and understand that college football consists of men, they’re not high school kids anymore, they’re men.”
True to form, Rowley’s largest piece of advice for Rebtoy focused on managing his time and excelling in the classroom.
“He must remember why he’s going to Alma. He’s going to Alma to get a degree, a college degree. When you’re playing college football, the coaches don’t care how many credit hours you’re carrying, they expect you to stay on top of those grades and bust your tail at practice.”
Preparing for an autumn without leading the Wildcats into battle for the first time since 1981, Rowley is still helping mold young men by joining his son, Kyle’s, staff as the offensive and defensive line coach for the Armada Tigers in the Blue Water Athletic Conference (BWAC).
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Alma finished 6-4 (4-3 MIAA) in 2019, the first time the program reached the six-win mark since 2016. Coincidentally, the Scots are coached by Jason Couch, who spent 15 seasons as the co-head coach at Romeo from 2003-17.
“The first thing that stood out about Dylan was his character, he’s a great young man,” Couch said.
The coach also echoed Rowley’s sentiment about Rebtoy, listed at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, adding some more size at the next level.
“He has nice size and moves his feet well, too. Once we introduce him to our cafeteria and our weight room, we can get add even more size to him,” he said with a laugh.
While the preliminary plan is for Rebtoy to play tight end for Alma, there is the chance he could contribute on defense, as well. Showing a knack for rushing the passer and making plays in the backfield during his time with Oxford, this would be a role he is certainly capable of filling.
“The thing is, we’re not a scholarship school,” Couch pointed out. “If we were a scholarship school, it would be a lot easier for us to have guys designated for a certain position entering camp.
“Most of the guys we recruit are guys who played on both sides of the football in high school. I’ll also never force a position on a kid. There might be an opportunity for a kid to see more playing time at a different position but if he doesn’t want to do it, I’ll tell him, ‘Here’s what you need to do and work on to see the field where you’re at.’
“On the flip side, some kids look at the depth and see the opportunity to see the field sooner at a different position and are willing to make the switch to a different position. It’s all about competing every day.”
Rebtoy’s first taste of collegiate action is scheduled to come on Saturday, September 5 when the Scots travel to the Buckeye State to square off with the Bluffton Beavers at Dwight Salzman Stadium. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has left all levels of football guessing as it pertains to the upcoming season, but Couch is confident his team will play this fall.
“I do think we’ll have a season,” he said. “How will it look? That, I don’t know. I think it’s going to look different in some respects, maybe it’s the number of fans at games, maybe it’s our opponents.
“Hopefully, our opponents won’t change but there is the possibility we could only play league games, that’s something we have discussed.”
Co-piloting the Bulldogs to the playoffs in each of his last 14 seasons at Romeo, Couch coached against Rowley’s Wildcats in four-straight seasons from 2014-17, with each program winning twice. He took a moment to reflect on the rivalry.
“Those were some great games,” he began. “Man, that was a lot of fun. Those are the things I miss about high school football. Being right down the street and having two very evenly matched programs. The series is close, and the games were competitive.”
2020 will serve as Oxford’s seventh consecutive season-opener against the Bulldogs. Romeo cruised to a 41-14 victory last fall, but the last time the two teams played at Wildcat Stadium, in 2018, the hometown boys hung on for a thrilling 24-21 win.