MOWEAQUA — After former Eastern Illinois football coach Kim Dameron was fired, Jerit Medler slipped through the cracks.
The coaching staff was supposed to keep a tab on Medler, a senior offensive and defensive lineman from Central A&M. It wasn't until Medler, who has a partial academic scholarship to Eastern, was on campus earlier in April that things started to pick back up.
Offensive coordinator John Kuceyeski heard Medler was on campus, met with him and asked for his film. Next thing Medler knew he was on campus visiting the football program and on Tuesday announced he would join the Panthers and new head coach Adam Cushing as a preferred walk-on and will play on the offensive line.
“It’s exciting," he said. "I’m not really sure how to feel about it. I’ve not really had anything like this happen."
Medler, who is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, was first team Herald & Review All-Area and was a Central Illinois Conference all-conference selection. He had 76 tackles and a team-high 11 tackles for a loss. He plans to major in biology and attend medical school after graduation.
“The academic part is really big to me because that’s my life after college," Medler said. "But the football stuff is really important to me, too, because I’ve always loved football. It’s been my dream to play Division I."
Medler had talks with other Division II and Division III programs, but Eastern was his first Division I option. Admittedly, he wasn't a huge fan of the weight room as a freshman and sophomore at Central A&M, but by his junior year he had a newfound love and it elevated his game.
“In the last 18 months he’s really bought into the weight room and being part of a group and I think he really enjoys the game of football," Central A&M coach Brent Weakly said. "They're getting a guy who has a chance to help the program."
Playing the offensive line is just fine for Medler. He prefers that to defensive line, where he was also a standout.
“I’m a weird person," he said. "I think it’s more satisfying to pancake a 260-pound guy than to tackle a little 100-pounder."
Medler was a key cog on an offensive line that paved the way for the Raiders to rush for 2,179 yards and advance all the way to the Class 1A quarterfinals.
“He’s a good kid," Weakly said. "That’s first and foremost, how hard he works in the classroom. The fact he has opportunity to put pads on as long as he wants to play: That’s great for him and I’m really happy for him."