New coach wants Wolverines to reach full potential

The GMG football team returns 11 letterwinners. Pictured are, front row (from left): Colin Teske, Slate Witte, Kaleb Gill, Wyatt Jackson and Cameron Smith; back row: Trey Laffoon, Anthony Waters, Matthew DeSchamp, Austin Pencil, Brenden Becker and Jabari Woodbury. PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

First-year GMG head football coach Devon Diederichs knew well enough not to invest too heavily into his team’s first game of the season against a traditionally strong opponent.

After a 56-0 loss at Janesville in Week Zero, it looks like Diederichs’ apprehension was the proper attitude.

The Wolverines had a rough go of it in their first game under Diederichs, who served as an assistant coach to his father, Joel Diederichs, for five seasons at Durant High School before finding a full-time teaching position and a head coaching gig at GMG.

He knew better than to put too much into his team’s debut, taking into consideration the recent history of each program. Janesville has been to the playoffs 12 times since 2006, while the Wolverines haven’t advanced to the postseason since 1999.

“It’s going to be a challenge, every game’s going to be a challenge,” Diederichs said prior to last Friday’s season-opening defeat. “We have to prove ourselves to everybody.”

The Wolverines host Grand View Christian in Week 1 and begin 8-Man District 4 play at home against Collins-Maxwell in Week 2.

GMG went 3-5 overall last season with wins over Grand View Christian, Collins-Maxwell and Meskwaki, but the program hasn’t had a winning season since going 5-4 in 2007. Weighing themselves against Janesville won’t do the Wolverines any good, so Diederichs is going to reserve judgment until the season is done.

Stepping into the head coaching role, however, he was still plenty excited about what he was getting to work with.

“I saw a lot of talent when I watched film prepping for the job interview,” Diederichs said. “There’s some mechanical things that I felt like we could fix and have a really good football team. The talent’s here, I’ve said that since day one. They have the talent here to compete, it’s more that we’ve got to get the fundamentals and the little things together. We’ve got to fix the mental game, we’ve got to win the mental game before we can do anything else.”

The most noticeable change is at quarterback, where former wide receiver Brenden Becker has stepped into the role. The senior lefthander had a tough time in the season debut, but Diederichs likes the work Becker put in during the offseason.

“He came in this summer and said ‘I want to play QB’ and he put in the work for it so we’re going to go with him,” Diederichs said. “We’ve got options behind him including Kaleb Gill and Slate Witte, so nothing is set in stone. A depth chart can change even during the game.”

Becker and Witte both took snaps against Janesville, as did Rider Kupka, but Becker was the only one to complete a pass. He targeted junior tight end Jabari Woodbury nine times and connected with him four times for 54 yards.

“Some of our formations will be to get him in 1-on-1 situations because he’s a very special athlete,” Diederichs said. “So we want to get him the ball as much as possible, but we’ve also got other really good playmakers in Slate and Colin Teske. As an offensive playcaller you don’t want to be one-dimensional, so if [the opponents] think the ball is going to Jabari every time, we can use that to our advantage.”

Cameron Smith, Wyatt Jackson and Matthew DeSchamp — all seniors — make up GMG’s starting offensive line, while junior Anthony Waters will serve as the starting running back. Teske, Witte and Woodbury will be the Wolverines’ playmakers on the outside.

Defensively, Austin Pencil joins DeSchamp and Woodbury on the front line, while Jackson and Waters make up the linebacking crew. Kaleb Gill and Teske served as starting cornerbacks in GMG’s opener, and Kupka picked off two passes from his free safety spot.

Jackson, a first-team all-District 4 selection a year ago, is the team’s top returning tackler after making 30.5 stops last fall.

“I really like that this is a close-knit community,” Diederichs added. “The community always comes up and supports this team. They were 3-5 last year and yet the last home game they still had a full crowd, so if we get the community going with us, that’s something.”