Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Generals seek playoffs in first year
Owner Diehl takes on head coaching, coordinator duties

by Mike Ramczyk

July 07, 2011

Williams Bay — When Derek and Jeni Diehl heard of the May 22 devastation caused by a tornado that ripped through Joplin, Mo. and killed 139 people, it weighed heavily on their hearts.

Derek, the owner and head coach of the Lake Geneva Generals, Jeni, and six members of the team made the trip down on Memorial Day weekend to help out. Thanks to some social networking, Jeni was able to muster up donations of everything from food for victims and gas to an RV to take down to Joplin. The Generals were able to unload trucks, give bulk food to a Christian center and build relationships. For Derek, it was an amazing experience.

“We helped a couple brothers found 11 days after the tornado still stranded in the basement,” he said. “Half the community was wiped out, and they didn’t have a place to eat. Now some people down there want to come up for a game. When there’s a crisis, we really stick together as Americans. Lake Geneva and Burlington were a big part of that. It shows the support we have. The Generals are doers. We’ll help out in the community.”

Derek would like to show the community that same support with wins on the football field. The Generals, the area’s first semi-pro football team, begin their eight-game regular season Saturday, July 9, at 7 p.m., at Williams Bay High School.

The Generals, who went 2-2 in the preseason with two lopsided victories, are a mix of semi-pro veterans and some local newcomers. The more than 50-man roster includes guys from as far as Chicago and Milwaukee. And expectations are already high. The 18-team Mid-States Football League, which features teams from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, released its first power rankings, and the Generals are in the top half at seven. Derek believes it’s too early to read into rankings.

“I don’t know how we’re ranked that high with never playing a Mid-States game,” he said. “We’re not deserving of it yet. There are some good teams out there with proven success. But I think we’ll have success this year. We will have an opportunity to make the playoffs in year one. Anything less than a playoff run is unsuccessful, and I think we can achieve that.”

The Generals are in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference, which includes semi-pro staples like the Racine Threat and McHenry County Pirates. Four teams from each conference will make the playoffs.

Derek has already been impressed with the preseason.

“It went really well for us,” he said. “A preseason isn’t always judged by wins or losses. It’s about production and what we get going on the field. Overall, we really established our defense, and I’m real pleased about that. And our running game is established. I think we’re ready. I’m confident we’re going to do well.”

Meet the team

The running game, which lost key back Derek Franco, a former Burlington Blue Devil, for the season, will benefit from the addition of former local star back Trevor York, who was a standout for Badger last year. York joined the team a couple weeks ago and is still being acclimated to the process.

“Trevor wants to play football,” Derek said. “We will see if we can help him grow. He came in the nick of time and is a great addition, and he provides that third back. I’ve been real happy with his returns as well.”

York will battle for time with projected top back Requize Rhodman (6-0, 205) and Davon Sims, both Milwaukee Venom semi-pro players last year. Derek said the key to a successful running game is by not beating one guy up, so expect a platoon of backs.

The trio will have the luxury of running behind a behemoth offensive line that started for the Venom a year ago. Michael Rice (6-1, 285), a former University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh standout, will start at center. Derek called him the “best center in semi-pro football.” Michael’s brother, Nick (6-1, 275), will set up next to him at left guard. At right guard is 6-foot-3, 360-pound T.J. Jacobs of Burlington, who Derek said is a dominating run blocker. Dan Weber (6-6, 330) and Gerald Robuck, a former Purdue player, will man the tackle positions. Also, newcomer Andy Schlitz (6-8, 350) will play tackle.

“The offensive line had instant chemistry,” Derek said. “These guys have played together for years and have a lot of semi-pro experience.”

Derek said former Williams Bay star Daniel Kant-Hull (6-3, 275) is playing really well at defensive end.

“What I get from Dan is consistency,” Derek said. “He’s just doing his job and doing it well.”

Also, Walworth County Deputy Administrator Shane Crawford is making his mark at defensive end. Derek said Crawford, who is playing football for the first time, has been impressive.

“Shane’s so athletic, it makes us wonder what’s going on in Walworth County,” Derek joked. “He’s always been an athlete, and he started lifting weights about five years ago. He showed up at an indoor practice and had good footwork. He was honest with his ability. What makes us a good team is we’re very diverse, there are no egos and we play team football. Shane fits that mold. He is tough-nosed and a very intelligent guy. There’s nothing he can’t do on the football field.”

Derek also mentioned recent Badger graduate T.J. Bakken, a wide receiver who “doesn’t drop a football ever.”

After former head coach Russ Hayes stepped down midway through the preseason, Derek took over as head coach and offensive coordinator. He said Williams Bay assistant coach John Higgins is stepping up as a defensive coordinator and made 50 percent of the defensive calls in the last preseason game. Derek said the new role is challenging.

“Wearing multiple hats can be stressful, but it’s not undoable,” Derek said. “I’m definitely looking for someone to step up and take a coordinator spot. But we are still executing and rolling with the punches.”

While the running game should be solid, Derek said it will be a “quarterback-by-committee” approach. Anthony Scott (5-9, 210), David Byerley (5-9, 170) and Jay Jaster (5-10, 175) all have semi-pro experience, but none have emerged as the top guy.

“Our quarterbacks are short, so we will roll them out to make it a level playing field,” Derek said. “Going into week one, we have a plan of utilizing everyone. Nobody has singled themselves out.”

The gunslingers will have a chance to throw to talented wideout and former Northern Illinois Cowboy Demetrius Butler (6-3, 190), nicknamed “D.D.,” who led the team with six touchdowns in the preseason. Derek said Butler is “super fast,” and he once beat Chicago Bears star Devin Hester in a race on a playground in North Chicago. Starting opposite Butler will be Ricardo Williams (6-1, 185). Other receiving options include Mark Chambers, Alex Bolden, Jake Schlegel and Demetrius Nash (6-2, 240), a receiver/tight end combination.

“We will run a lot of formations, including a twin set and five-wide, it just depends on who we’re playing,” Derek said. “We are well-rounded and all have different styles. It is very hard to defend that.”

Doing it with defense

Derek said the defense will no doubt lead the team.

“In every defensive position, we have high-caliber players,” he said.

It starts with two stud defensive tackles, Ben Todd and Justin Ankley (6-4, 325), a two-time national champion at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Derek said Ankley forced four fumbles in the preseason. Also, Derek said the defensive ends simply need to be consistent with the serious push from the middle.

Derek said the linebacking corps is “as good as it gets.” Phil Towne (5-8, 205) will man the weak side and Jason Wright (6-0, 235), a former Chicago Knight, will take the strong side. Wright had three interceptions and two touchdowns in the preseason. Others will include veteran middle linebacker Chris Frese, who played at North Dakota State University, and Jimmy Watkinson, a former Burlington Blue Devil and Racine Raider.

According to Derek, the secondary is not super deep but efficient. Former Carroll College standout CerEllis Lockett is the team’s best athlete and can “do it all,” Derek said.

“We’ve very talented on defense,” he said. “Defense wins championships. Our defense is playing above expectations. Tough defense is our identity, and you only need three points to win a game.”

Derek added the Generals are not a household name yet but are ahead of the game. He is excited to take on Joliet, Ill. Saturday.

“We will be very efficient running the ball,” Derek said. “If we bring our ‘A’ game, we have the ability to win. I’ve played against them in another league. We’re confident we can execute against their system. We will fight for every yard and every inch.”