ALLIANCE, Ohio — Charles Dieuseul is well aware that he may be the NFL’s longest longshot. He’s smiling all the way.
The former Mount Union linebacker also isn’t afraid to admit he celebrated his opportunity to sign with the New York Giants last weekend as an undrafted free agent by crying.
And crying. And then tweeting, and making calls to friends, and sending text messages to others. And then crying some more.
From rural Winter Haven, Fla., to the Alliance, Ohio school that’s become a Division III football dynasty, and now not just to the National Football League but to New York and the Giants, who won the Super Bowl 15 months ago. That’s been Dieuseul’s journey.
“It’s a pretty good story,” Dieuseul said. “Really good.”
It starts with his grandmother, Elizabeth Scaife, back in Winter Haven. She’s been Dieuseul’s parent and closest confidante since his mother passed away when he was 10. She’s the one who’s asked the tough questions and kept her grandson on the right path, even when that meant staying in Alliance year-round and not worrying too much about how she was doing, or what anybody else was doing back at home.
He’s been on a four-year business trip, playing football and working towards a degree in sports business while working and paying his way to keep both parts of that trip going. That he’s going to get to keep playing football in the NFL, he acknowledges, is both “really amazing” and only part of the story.
“I got an education. That’s the most important thing — especially to my grandma,” Dieuseul said.
Dieuseul will miss his Mount Union commencement ceremony next weekend because he’ll be busy working at the Giants rookie minicamp. When his classmates are walking across the stage on May 11, Dieuseul will be going through his second day as a professional linebacker.
Scaife had her plane ticket already booked for commencement. She told Dieuseul not only that she’s still coming, but that she’ll walk in his place and receive his diploma.
“And she’ll probably cry then, too.” Dieuseul said. “We’ve been doing that a lot.”
Here’s how Vince Kehres, Mount Union’s defensive coordinator and son of longtime head coach Larry Kehres, describes Dieuseul’s relationship with his grandmother: “He thinks he knows his way around the world and she thinks he doesn’t. He tells her he does. And either way, she worries about him.”
To go from Division III to even having a crack at the NFL, a player has to be dominant. Dieuseul was dominant enough at two positions, defensive end first and then linebacker, to help Mount Union play in four national championship games in his four years and win last year’s. He has the body — at 6 feet and 245 pounds with Hulk-like arms, “Diesel” is a pretty fitting and relatively easy nickname — and the athleticism to at least give the NFL a shot, and starting next weekend that’s exactly what he’ll do.
“It’s what any football player dreams about,” Dieuseul said. “I know it’s going to be faster, but I just have to go out and learn. Play the next play. I know I can play football, and that’s what I’m going there to do.”
Dieuseul is now an NFL player who doesn’t have a car. That won’t be a problem when he first arrives in New York — he’ll be shuttled to and from the Giants practice facility, and he won’t have much time for anything but work — and it was never really a problem in Alliance. He had more volunteers to give him a ride than he needed.
He made as much of an impression off the field at Mount Union as he did on it. To hear the stories of his friendly demeanor and the number of odd jobs he’s worked since arriving on campus four years ago — from babysitter to weight room supervisor to alumni office intern — it seems possible that all 2,200 or so students on Mount Union’s campus know Dieuseul.
“And maybe all 20,000 people in the city of Alliance, too,” Vince Kehres said. “He’s that kind of kid.”
Vince Kehres has employed Dieuseul as a babysitter for his two young sons on multiple occasions.
“His mother and grandmother raised a genuinely good person,” Kehres said. “A very loyal one, too. Friendly. Courteous. He likes to put those big hands on your shoulder.”
Dieuseul, like many other stars who have helped Mount Union win 11 Division III national titles since 1993, was overlooked by most D-I schools coming out of Lake Region High School and had no scholarship offers.
He had walk-on offers from Central Florida and South Florida and interest from Division II programs, but no interest he thought serious enough to reciprocate. When he started sorting through other offers that came after he attended a post-signing day convention of sorts for uncommitted prospects and smaller-division schools who covet them, he was hesitant when coaches tried to sell him on the chance to play right away, thinking that meant their team wasn’t any good.
He even acknowledged being hesitant when he came to Mount Union and saw both the snow and all the national championship banners.
“We don’t have many Division III schools in Florida,” he said, “and I was pretty sure I had just seen the University of Florida win the national championship. I had to do some research.”
When it came time to pick a college, he flipped a coin. Really. His best friend, Stephen Fox, was picking between Brown and Harvard, and Dieuseul flipped for Fox. Then Fox flipped for Dieuseul, who was picking between Mount Union and Jacksonville University. As hard as it was for Dieuseul to leave his grandmother, she supported the decision that was cemented by that coin flip.
She was able to attend the national championship game in Salem, Va., in each of the past two Decembers.
Over the past two months, Dieuseul worked out for several NFL teams — Mount Union is no longer just an occasional stop for NFL scouts — while answering their standard questions and sharing his phone number. In the first hour or so after the draft ended last Saturday, no one called. He had a previous invitation to try out for the Washington Redskins if nothing else worked, but then his agent’s phone started ringing.
“And he called me and me told me I was signing with the Giants,” Dieuseul said.
Dieuseul’s first instinct was to share the news with his grandmother in Florida. But Scaife had mistakenly believed the draft was on television on Saturday night, as it was the previous two nights, and had turned her phone off while she watched with her sister. Dieuseul kept leaving messages. Finally, she called back to see if he had any news.
“Granny,” he told her, “we made it to the Giants.”
And soon Granny was done talking to him, only partly because both were crying. She had other calls to make to share the news. Lots of them.
“I started getting calls from every member of her church,” Dieuseul said.
As dominant as Mount Union has been at the D-III level, producing NFL players is still a rarity. In 2008, wide receiver Pierre Garcon became the first Mount Union player selected in the draft’s modern era when he went to the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round. In 2011, fellow receiver Cecil Shorts went to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round.
This year, four Mount Union players have signed with teams as undrafted free agents. All got the call within a few hours of the draft ending last Saturday.
“And every time I heard (about another signing),” Dieuseul said, “I cried again.”
NFL scouts that stopped by Mount Union, both last fall and earlier this spring, relayed to Vince Kehres that they believed Dieuseul sticking in the NFL would be a long shot, but one worth taking.
“They’ll be glad they brought him in,” Kehres said. “I have no doubt he’ll go to the facility every day, and if (he gets the chance to) make some coffee and talk some ball every day, he will. Somebody there will love him before long, I know that.
“Maybe it’s an omen. Pierre was my old babysitter.”
Dieuseul is on his own path now. His agent is in charge of setting up travel plans with the Giants; Dieuseul knows only that he flies out on May 9 and will sign a contract upon arrival. He’ll try not to call then, too, but he will try to snap a picture and send it to his grandmother.
She’ll be on her way to Northeast Ohio. She has a graduation ceremony to attend.