GALESVILLE — The sometimes flashy, always powerful and typically speedy running backs who have worn a Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School jersey over the years are not “me first” players.
In fact, none of the Red Hawks are.
That wouldn’t cut it with their long-time coach, Jon Steffenhagen, or with anyone in this tight-knit program. That’s why being a “dirt guy” — which is what Steffenhagen affectionately calls offensive linemen — is so important.
They are the real stars of the Red Hawks’ team.
When you run a blue-collar double-wing offense, you play smash-mouth football, as Steffenhagen says, which is exactly how G-E-T built a 9-0 regular-season record last season before stumbling in the first round of the playoffs against Northwestern.
There will be more of the same coming at you this season.
“There is a lot of pride in that,” said Gage Jessesski, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound returning starter at right tackle. “Just getting to hit someone as hard as you can, every play, is just what football is all about.
“And when you are in the dirt, you are just helping your team any way you can.”
With Jessesski, center Mitch Bergmann (6-0, 205, sr.), right guard Trevor Daffinson (6-1, 230, so.), left guard Cordell Kokott (6-2, 200, sr.), left tackle Walker Stoner (5-11, 230, sr.) and tight ends Marcus Helmers (6-3, 190, sr.) or Ben Thompson (6-1, 200, sr.) leading the way, the Red Hawks appear to be a human wave ready to roll through the Coulee Conference once again.
Entering the season, G-E-T has a 10-game winning streak in the Coulee and back-to-back conference titles. A three-peat is certainly within reach.
“We don’t have a lot of big kids this year — we are not small — but we don’t have the overall size,” said Steffenhagen, who has a 140-84 record (.625) in 22 seasons at G-E-T. “That is probably our Achilles heel a little bit. We are working hard right now to get our offensive line to make the calls like the kids did last year.
“In this system, they just know where the defensive ends are lined up, where the nose guard is lined up, what they are going to do and where they are going to go.”
While G-E-T, which rushed for more than 3,500 yards last season (more than 300 per game), appears to have yet another potent offensive line, it also has talented running backs again.
And yes, the first thing they do is credit the guys up front.
“A lot of people might say, ‘Oh, you are losing everybody on the line,’ but we have people who have come up and filled spots,” said 6-foot, 185-pound Garrett Eddy, one of three tailbacks the Red Hawks will likely use.
“We have a very mobile line. I would say they are better than most teams’ offensive line.”
Joining Eddy in the backfield will be Bryce Burns (6-0, 205), who rushed for 649 yards and 11 TDs last season, as well as Dylan Johnson (5-10, 170). The fullback — a key blocker and runner in the double wing — will be Kaelin Schmidt, a 5-11, 185-pounder.
“They all have decent speed. We have been blessed that way,” said Steffenhagen, whose teams have gone 19-3 over the last two seasons, and 32-19 over the last five and 64-38 over the last 10. “It is just a luxury, I guess, that we have had. I don’t know what it is; I guess God smiled on me for some reason.”
Leading the offense will be Brandon Boos, a 6-1, 205-pounder who played quite a bit in the second half of games, as G-E-T outscored its opponents by an average score of 50-8 last season.
“He runs the ball well and is a very smart kid,” said Steffenhagen, a former UW-La Crosse offensive lineman and assistant coach for the Eagles. “He is exactly what we want at quarterback.”
What the Red Hawks want is to use a physical, ball-control offense that averages 3.1 yards per carry, wears down its opponents, then frustrates them with an equally physical and stubborn defense.
“We do what we do and those are the type of kids we have again,” Steffenhagen said. “They love running a double wing. Maybe if you are in the bleachers, you are saying, ‘What is he doing again?’ Or, ‘He is doing that again?’
“We have tried everything over the years, but this is what has been successful for us.”