October 05, 2011 | 08:05 AMWILLIAMS BAY — There is no love lost between the Lake Geneva Generals and the Southern Lakes Blue Devils.
From the coaches to the players, there has been a long history between the organizations, and it hasn't all been roses and lollipops.
The two semi-pro football clubs face off Saturday at Ameche Field in Kenosha at 3 p.m., an opening-round contest in the Mid-States Tournament. The playoff features six and possibly up to eight Midwest teams vying for a regional title and a chance to play some of the nation's best squads from the East in the Eastern United States championship.
But while there are sure to be plenty of bone-crushing hits Saturday, the past hasn't been pretty off the field between Generals coach Derek Diehl, Blue Devils coach Tom Hawkins and various players who have played on both teams.
It all started back in 2007, when Diehl and his family moved to Burlington. Diehl, who previously coached the Washington County Patriots, played fullback for the Blue Devils, who were the Burlington Blue Devils at the time. Burlington was coached by Hawkins. Diehl became a player-coach, taking over as the offensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009.
After a Ironman Football League semifinal playoff loss in 2009, Diehl sensed a dissension between him and the organization.
"I took some heat for my performance," he said. "It was a good partnership until then, and I knew it was time to move on. Tom (Hawkins) and I kept things in perspective, but it got personal between some family members. I took some things personally and needed a different direction."
According to Hawkins, who said his and Diehl's wives had their issues including the exchange of inflammatory e-mails, Diehl was looking to start his own team again.
"Derek told me he was done with football," Hawkins said. "But I found out he was trying to take some Blue Devils players and form his own team. I took it very personal. We had a relationship outside of football, and our families were close. But Derek and I still talk."
While Diehl's team didn't quite yet develop, he took his offensive coordinator skills to the Milwaukee Venom for the 2010 season.
"The Venom gave me some inspiration and showed a fun way of doing things," he said.
Around September 2010, Diehl used his new-found love of the game to form the idea of the Lake Geneva Generals. He enticed Venom and Blue Devils players to join his squad, which would play its home games in Williams Bay.
According to Diehl, he attempted to join the Blue Devils' league, the IFL. He hoped to play Hawkins some day. However, around the same time, Hawkins became the co-owner of the league. Hawkins believed it was a conflict of interest for the Generals to join the IFL. According to him, franchises who are based in small cities like Burlington need to draw from a large region to compete with the likes of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha teams.
The Blue Devils traditionally draw from Walworth and Racine counties. Diehl's formation of a Lake Geneva squad disrupted the recruiting process. Hawkins said if it had been the Williams Bay Generals, the franchise would've had a better chance of joining the IFL. Diehl concedes Hawkins kept the Generals out of the IFL, a league he intended to join. But Hawkins said Diehl had a shot at making the IFL but never finished filling out league application papers.
"It was a conflict of interest in Lake Geneva," Hawkins said. "I had players and sponsors in Lake Geneva."
Couple this with the fact that Rock County Gladiators pulled out of the IFL, so Hawkins anticipated an even wider talent pool.
Despite all the history, Diehl and Hawkins have moved on. The two talked on the phone Monday afternoon, discussing business regarding Saturday's game.
"We've always kept it business," Diehl said. "My players are geeked up. They want to show the Blue Devils what we are about."
So the Generals joined the Mid-States Football League in 2011, going 7-2 in their expansion season. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils stumbled to a 5-5 overall mark this season, one year after reaching the IFL championship. No matter Saturday's outcome, Hawkins can't wait to face Diehl.
"There's some bad blood between some of the players," he said. "We're looking forward to playing them. The Generals have eight of our old players. It will be highly emotional."
Both coaches added there are still a lot of friendships between players on both teams.
"It's water under the bridge between me and Tom," Diehl said. "I've always wanted to face them. I'm excited."