Weckler, Barbs not expecting to miss a beat
Weckler, Barbs not expecting to miss a beat
By: Eddie Carifio-Daily Chronicle
DeKALB – Every time the Barbs lose a playmaker to graduation, coach Matt Weckler said he hears the same gloomy predictions that DeKalb's football team is headed back to its historic struggles.
He heard it when star running back Dre Brown graduated two years ago. And he said he's hearing it now that last year's quarterback-receiver tandem of Derek Kyler and Cole Tucker are playing at NCAA Division I colleges.
But with a system in place that focuses on getting practice repetitions and nonvarsity games for all players, Weckler said he doesn't expect a dropoff for the Barbs, who went 10-3 last year and reached the Class 6A State Semifinals.
"Some of these guys that maybe haven't had varsity experience have had thousands of reps at their position since they've been freshmen," Weckler said. "We emphasize getting the ball to guys who will make plays, and I think every good coach does that. This year I think we're going to have a couple of surprises in those kids who will be playmakers. A couple years ago we had a couple kids step up and do that, and this year is the same thing."
Weckler is 33-13 in his four seasons as coach of the Barbs, making a longer playoff run every year in his tenure. That's more than the 31 combined wins that the Barbs mustered in 19 seasons from 1994 to 2012, according to IHSA records.
Weckler said this year's starting quarterback Noah Valin is a "phenomenal" player who will take over for Kyler, last season's Daily Chronicle Offensive Football Player of the Year who is playing at Dartmouth this year.
"Every other year, [Valin would] probably be a starting quarterback as a junior," Weckler said. "But he was behind a real good quarterback, accepted that [backup] role, and I think he learned from that role. It's not like he's got to grasp the offense – he's been playing this offense since he was a freshman."
Valin called learning under Kyler a great experience. He said he's been operating under Weckler's system for three years and feels very confident stepping under center.
"Ever since Weckler got here, we've been building each year," Valin said. "Offense to defense to special teams, we got the system. We're going to play as a group, and playing as a group will lead to wins."
Weckler said that the Barbs may return to their running roots. In addition to Valin's "toughness and grit" as a runner, Weckler said, there's returning halfbacks Tyrese Dyson and Devin Williams.
He also said junior fullback Jaylen Hobson has been impressive, as well, coming off an injury that caused him to miss last year.
"His lateral movement and what he brings spreads us out," Weckler said. "We're not just an inside run team with our fullback now. He can run to the outside, we can get him the ball, he can run-toss and do that kind of thing we did with Dre a couple years ago.
"I think it kind of rejuvenates some of our running game we've put on the backburner the past couple years," Weckler said. "We're going to flip back our emphasis in terms of schemes to the way it was three years ago when we were predominantly a run team."
Weckler said, however, it's the defense that may end up being the team's biggest strength. The Barbs defense, which held opponents to two scores or fewer six times last year, returns six starters, including interior linebacker Daniel Baggett. Brianjay Ross and Jordan Gandy return to the secondary – and will see time at wide receiver as well – and Matt Diaz and Zach Donahue are back on the defensive line. Jahi Craig is also back at linebacker.
Baggett said the returning players are liking the way the younger players are fitting on defense.
"We're trying to limit them to not a lot of points and a lot of us guy like Zach and Brian and us are coaching the young guys up," Baggett said. "They're all excited and we know they can all play. It's going to be a good year."
Coach: Matt Weckler (fifth year, 33-13)
Last year: 10-3, 4-0 in Northern Illinois Big 12 East (lost to Prairie Ridge, 54-35, in the Class 6A State Semifinals)
Top returners: Noah Valin, sr., QB; Tyrese Dyson, sr., HB; Devin Williams, sr., HB; Zach Donahue, sr., DL/OG; Nick Diaz, sr., DT; Spencer Harris, jr., OT; Jesse Jensen, sr., C; Dan Baggett, sr., LB; Jahi Craig, sr., LB; Brianjay Ross, sr., S; Jordan Gandy, jr., CB
Key newcomers: Jaylen Hobson, jr., FB; Keegan Smith, jr., LB; Milo Johnson, sr., CB
Coach's corner: "We have a great group of kids that are fun to coach. Defensively they're showing a lot of speed on that side of the ball, can cover a lot of ground and are very athletic. On offense we lose a big playmaking duo in terms of scoring, but at the same time I like what we have up front in terms of our offensive line."
The big game: Sure, there's a big showdown looming with Sterling in the finale, and the chance for some vengeance against Lake Park. But the big game for the Barbs is the only one played in an NCAA Division I stadium, and draws like it, too. The Barbs have won three straight against Sycamore, last losing 48-26 in Weckler's first year.
X's and O's: Weckler said the defense will be very fast and very explosive. Of the six returning starters, four were on the Daily Chronicle all-area team – first-team bids for Baggett and Donahue, second-team honors for Gandy and Ross. Hes also been impressed with what Smith brings to the linebacking corps and how Johnson fits into the secondary. On offense, Gandy and Ross will be the top targets for Valin, along with Matt Montavon. Weckler said that the team may shift back to being more run-oriented with guys like Williams, Dyson and Hobson.