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August 05, 2014 | 01:00 PMWILLIAMS BAY — After a year of frustration, followed by a year of promise and heartbreak, Derek Diehl said he’s excited about this year’s Williams Bay High School football team.
Derek Diehl is starting his third year as head coach of the Bulldogs.
“I’m 100 percent optimistic and positive,” Diehl said in a recent interview.
For one thing, Diehl is ready to focus all of his attention on the Bay boys.
The Generals semi-pro team, which Diehl owned and coached for three years, is gone.
“That was a great time,” he said of the Generals. “It was fun while it lasted.”
But now, said Diehl, “I get enough football with the Bay. My time needs to be with the boys.”
Diehl said he and his wife bought the Walworth Lanes bowling lanes and folded the semi-pro team.
And Diehl now also works with Mercy Health Systems’ mobile MRI unit in northern Illinois. He said Mercy has been very supportive of his coaching duties in the Bay.
Diehl said he believes the Bay Bulldogs have an opportunity to reach the postseason this year.
The return of seniors John Higgins at quarterback and inside linebacker, Jacob Clark Jr. as slot receiver and the other inside linebacker, and seniors Andrew Olson and Alex Guss on the offensive and defensive lines provides the Bulldogs with a solid base.
But Diehl said he’s especially excited about the arrival of three freshman linemen who promise good things for this year, and perhaps great things in the years to come.
Those freshmen are Zach Silverman, a big center at 6-feet, 2 inches, 275 pounds; Jordan Heinrichs at 6 feet, 245 pounds; Jack Boggs at 6-feet, 1-inch, 180 pounds and Eric Norton at 5-feet, 11-inches, 170 pounds.
While he doesn’t quite have the size of the other three, Norton is the strongest, Diehl said.
He said the freshmen are weight room enthusiasts, who enjoy lifting weights and building their strength and power.
Diehl said he’s also looking forward to coaching Andrew Breen, a junior, who is experienced at wide out.
Breen and Clark will lead the receivers, said Diehl.
Diehl said Clark went to the invitational football camp at Wisconsin Lutheran this year. “He really stood out,” Diehl said.
Rounding out the first line of receivers is sophomore Mason Vandermeer. “He’s a very talented kid,” Diehl said.
After that, the receiver corps is a “committee,” Diehl said. But that’s not a bad thing.
“I think we’ll have the best receiving corps yet,” Diehl said.
And it will have a quarterback who can deliver.
“Realistically, John (Higgins) can put the ball where he wants,” the coach said.
This year sees the return of Michael Guss, a junior, and the Bulldogs leading rusher from last season.
Last year, the ‘Dogs rushed by committee, Diehl said. But Guss was the leading ground gainer.
This year, he looks like a polished runner ready to take control of the ground game, Diehl said.
Diehl said his team is now adjusted to his style of spread offense.
“When I first brought the spread offense in, it was crazy,” Diehl said. The team didn’t have to talent to run the offense right, but everyone pitched in and did the best they could, he said.
After last year’s wins, Diehl said he believes the the team talent is growing in the right direction.
“We have a core that’s developing to fit our scheme,” he said.
And this year, defensive coach John Higgins Sr. will get to play a 4-4 defense.
“Coach Higgins, the defensive coordinator, always wanted to run a 4- 4,” said Diehl.
Last year, the defense played a 5-3. But with the skills improving on defense, Diehl said, the elder Higgins decided to lighten the defensive line by one.
Diehl is also a supporter of the 4-4
“I like to put the kids back a bit so they can get into the play,” he said.
The defense makes sense in the Trailways South Conference, Diehl said.
“We’re up against a lot of running offenses,” Diehl said. And while the 5-3 defense gives immediate threat up front, it stretches the defensive middle.
“With a 5-3, you’re asking a lot for the linebackers to cover the flat,” Diehl said.
Diehl has had to deal with real adversity during his time coaching in Williams Bay.
When he came to the program in 2011, the Bulldogs had suffered through five seasons without a win.
The losses didn’t end immediately with Diehl’s arrival.
But at the end of the 2011-12 season, the Bulldogs finally had enough of losing and posted a 34-8 victory over the Kenosha Christian Life Eagles in a nonconference game.
Some tried to downplay the victory, but Diehl marks it as the turning point in the team’s outlook. Diehl’s first year held a 1-8 mark, but the team ended the season on a high note.
Last season, the team posted a 4-5 mark, coming dangerously close to a postseason berth.
It wasn’t until the final game of the season against the Cambria-Friesland Hilltoppers, that the Bulldogs were stopped short of their dream.
But that’s just added fuel to fire.
Bay’s regular season starts Sept. 5, with the ‘Dogs facing off against Cambria-Friesland.
It will be a grudge match, Diehl said.
With last year’s postseason close call, it’s expected that the home stand crowds will be energized.
“Winning will do that,” Diehl said. “It’s fun seeing the fans enjoying the sport.” But the real change has been in the kids, he said.