Sept. 17, 2011
By Katie Baran
Every student-athlete has a story. Growing up, many 'dream big' with ambitious goals of becoming the next professional star. Often times, there are many unexpected hurdles to overcome along the way. But, to say that is an understatement for senior defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, whose road to Cincinnati was anything but ordinary.
Growing up in Lisbon, Ohio, Wolfe was the product of a broken home. After never meeting his father and eventually breaking ties with his mother, he developed a bond with his childhood best friend, Logan Hoppel. It was the Hoppel family who took Wolfe under their wing and ended up playing a hand in his future.
Having played football since the age of six, Wolfe continued to develop his skills on the gridiron through high school. It was then that he realized his potential to play at the next level, and it was Logan's cousin, Adam, who paved his way to UC.
"I started getting offers after my junior year," Wolfe said. "My final four were Ohio State, West Virginia, Michigan State and Cincinnati. A family that helped me out a lot actually had a relative that played here - Adam Hoppel. I just thought it would be a good idea to come down here to keep me out of trouble and go somewhere I knew somebody."
While staying out of trouble, Wolfe found his way into seven games as a backup defensive tackle for the Bearcats. As a freshman, he totaled three tackles and recorded his first career sack on the final play of the home finale against Syracuse to seal UC's BIG EAST Conference Championship fate. He upped the ante as a sophomore, earning 13 starts at defensive tackle, where he made 41 tackles, five sacks, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. Everything was going according to plan.
"I knew I was going to get a chance to play at UC early," Wolfe said. "But, when I got done with my sophomore year, I had higher expectations. Obviously the NFL has been my main goal, so I've just been taking it day by day."
Another unexpected obstacle Wolfe faced was adjusting to the change of a new head coach at the start of his junior season. Still, nothing could slow the 6-foot-5, 300-pound beast down.
"When (head) Coach (Butch) Jones got here, he pushed me to levels I didn't think I could be pushed to," Wolfe said. "He made me a better player. He taught me how to fight through when you get tired. He just made me an all-around better player. He changed me completely - got my hands and feet going. (Defensive line) Coach (Steve) Stripling has a lot to do with the player I've become."
Fast-forward two years later and Wolfe is still one of the most explosive players on defense for the Bearcats. After finishing third on the team in sacks in 2010, Wolfe showed no signs of letting up in UC's home opener against Austin Peay - ending the day with three solo tackles, one forced fumble and one sack as he continues to inch closer to his ultimate goal.
"This season, my first goal is to win," Wolfe said. "For us to win, I have to play great. If I play great, obviously I'll get drafted high and move on to the NFL."
As for his future outside the game of football, Wolfe hopes to make an impact the same way the Hoppels did for him.
"I'd like to help out," Wolfe said. "I had a lot of people help me when I was down on my luck, so I'd like to be able to do the same thing people did for me."