Oct. 12--EVANSVILLE -- First in line to volunteer for community service, Reitz High School senior Joey Diekmann is a selfless leader off the field, mature beyond his years. But that's not to say that he isn't a teenager, said Panthers football coach Andy Hape.
"I always try to lead from the front, lead by example," Diekmann said. "If you lead from behind, things fall apart."
Back at linebacker, his natural position, Diekmann will lead the Panthers against visiting Mater Dei at 7 p.m. Friday at the Bowl. Reitz, 7-1 and ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press Class 4A poll, will host the Wildcats (5-3, No. 6 in 2A) in the annual battle for the West Side Nut Club trophy.
"Mater Dei is a great team and has a great tradition and a lot of games have been played here in this bowl," said Diekmann, a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder. "As far as it being my last year, I try to soak it all up and enjoy each day in practice and the atmosphere. I'm really looking forward to playing Friday."
In each of Hape's five seasons as Reitz coach, the City and SIAC championship have been on the line in one way or another when the West Side rivals have met in the regular season finale.
"(Mater Dei) coach (Mike) Goebel does a great job and they play hard," Hape said. "It will be a great atmosphere and pageantry."
The race for the SIAC championship is the craziest since 2004, when Mater Dei, Memorial and Reitz finished in a three-way tie at 5-2. This year, Reitz, Central and Memorial are tied at 5-1 in the league entering the final week of the regular season. Mater Dei is a game back at 4-2.
Central, ranked No. 3 in 4A, will play at North (2-6, 1-5) while Memorial (7-1, 5-1, No. 4 in 3A, will play at Castle (5-3, 3-3).
Diekmann said the Panthers have to prove what they're worth "and come out with a championship."
After team camp at the end of June, Hape moved Diekmann from his customary linebacker position to defensive end, but switched him back for the North game on Sept. 29.
"He's very versatile in what he can do," Hape said. "He brings a lot of energy to the games and practices. He's just been a joy to coach the past four years. We made the move to make us a more solid defense. He played well, but he's been a linebacker his whole life. We had him switch in midstream and he never batted an eye.
"There's an old adage that if you go hard, with a great motor and play relentlessly, good things are going to happen."
As some younger players began to come of age at defensive end, it enabled Hape to move Diekmann back to his natural position.
"I moved to defensive end earlier in the season -- it was a team move and I was happy to do it," Diekmann said. "But I had played linebacker for four years and previously in junior league and cub. I'm definitely excited to be back home."
An all-state linebacker in 2016 and the reigning Courier & Press Metro Player of the Year, Diekmann was offered a scholarship by Indiana State University last April. Off the field, he especially enjoys reading to special ed students at Helfrich Park and Tekoppel.
"There have definitely been a lot of memories the past two years," said Diekmann, who has a 3.6 grade-point average and plans to major in business or physical therapy in college. "I want to help better the community I live in."
What makes Diekmann special is he understands that serving is a big part of growing up, Hape said.
"He definitely does that," Hape said. "He's really mature for his age. He's an old soul. That's just who he is. But he's still a high school kid. The way he handles himself...he's definitely a leg up."
MATER DEI (5-3) at REITZ (7-1), 7 p.m. Friday
Radio: WGBF 1280 AM, WREF 97.7 FM, WYFX 106.7 FM
Coaches: Mike Goebel 209-60, 21st year; Andy Hape 46-11, 5th year
Sagarin ratings: Mater Dei 67.81 67th overall, 4th in Class 2A; Reitz 77.07 36th overall, 5th in 4A.
AP rankings: Mater Dei 7th in Class 2A; Reitz 2nd in 4A.
IFCA rankings: Mater Dei 7th in 2A; Reitz 4th in 4A.
Last meeting: Reitz 35, Mater Dei 14, Oct. 14, 2016
Last 30 years: Reitz, 16-14.
Friday's other SIAC games (all 7 p.m.): Central (7-1) at North (2-6), WPSR 90.7 FM, WEOA 98.5 FM, 1400 AM; Memorial (7-1) at Castle (5-3), WYIR 96.9 FM, WJPS 107.1 FM; Harrison (1-7) at Bosse (1-7)
(c)2017 Evansville Courier & Press (Evansville, Ind.)
Visit the Evansville Courier & Press (Evansville, Ind.) at www.courierpress.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.