It takes a total team effort to get to be able to keep playing football this deep into the postseason.
However, to win a championship it may take someone special, and the North Central football team hopes it has the man for the job. After helping his team to a 13-0 record and a trip to the Division III semifinals, Shane Dierking was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the north region.
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The senior safety from Wheaton Warrenville South High School finished Saturday's quarterfinal with 10 tackles and an interception as the Cardinals defeated Bethel 41-17 in frigid Minnesota. The impressive performance by Dierking not only helped his team win but also tied the single-season North Central interception record with 8 and moved him up to 10th overall for career tackles. Dierking also set the career interception record at 16.
"He's just an amazing leader, great example," coach John Thorne said. "Hard working and very tough. Everything he gets he deserves and he deserves it because of how hard he works."
Hard work on the football field runs in Dierking's blood. His older brother, Dan, and father, Scott, both made it to the NFL as running backs. If that wasn't enough motivation, Dierking is also considered undersized for his position at 5-foot-8 and 171 pounds.
"I've always been a smaller kid ever since I was a little guy playing pee-wee football," Dierking said. " Growing up I just had to develop a mental state of mind that I could play with anyone and size didn't matter. through the years I've put myself in a position to be pretty successful."
That determination was put to the test all season and was never more noticeable than in the team's win over Bethel. The game was played in the brutal Minnesota cold on a field that Thorne described as a layer of dust over frozen concrete.
With the win the Cardinals have advanced to the semifinals for the first time in program history and have become the winningest team the school has ever had.
With all the accolades and history this team has received, if they wish to reach the championship game they will need their best performance of the season. This Saturday North Central will play Mt. Union in Ohio. The Raiders have won 11 national championships and are undefeated heading into this weekend's game.
This will be a challenge that Dierking has been hoping for since his college career began. While he said the Cardinals have a ton of respect for what their opponent has done, they believe they belong on the field with them.
Dierking said the key to their defense will be positioning in the secondary. If they can keep their assignments and not have a mistake that leads to a quick score they will have a shot, Dierking said.
"I can't even describe how excited I am," Dierking said. "North Central has never been to the semifinals. There are a lot of emotions. You have to channel them and just focus on playing football."
Wheaton College football coach Mike Swider has been named a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Division III Coach of the Year Award. Swider is one of five coaches to be named a finalist for the award. The award will be announced on Jan. 6. Joining him on the list are Jim Catanzaro, Lake Forest; Pete Fredenburg, Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas); Lance Leipold, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mike Rader, Maryville (Tenn.).