Travis Dietrich is used to inflicting pain upon B.C. Football Conference opponents from his defensive end position.
But some would argue he is also a glutton for punishment returning to the Valley Huskers for a fourth season of junior.
The Alberta native with the Clay Mathews-style hair could have gone to the university ranks this season. Instead, he’s back with a team that is 1-29 during his tenure.
“My plan was always to play two years of junior and get out, and my mom just moved back to Saskatchewan, so U-Sports was looking like a strong option,” the six-foot-three and 235 pounder said. “But when I talked to coach (new Huskers HC Bob Reist), it just made more sense to come back.”
Reist is a guy who makes a good first impression. He’s outwardly passionate about football and relates well to his players.
One of just eight players on the Husker roster with more than two years experience, Dietrich is all-in on the new boss.
“He’s a guy who knows what he wants and gets what he wants, and what he wants is to win,” Dietrich says. “You can tell when he talks. He’s got your attention and he doesn’t bulls—-t you.
“He tells you straight up how it is and doesn’t cheat you.”
No one needs to remind Dietrich how poorly the team has performed over the last three seasons and even if Reist is the BCFC version of Bill Belichek it will take time to turn this boat around. There are more lumps and bumps ahead, but Dietrich wants to play a role in the resurrection.
“What’s gone on in the past just makes me want to come back and win and make a mark on this town,” he said. “I feel we’ve got a great group of young guys here who can be really competitive.
“From where we’re coming from, to get four or five wins would be a great start to the rebuild, but we want to go all the way, do what Westshore did last year and dominate.
“That’s what brings me back is the idea of redeeming myself and redeeming this team.”
Reist has said that Dietrich will be counted upon as a leader this season.
It’s a big responsibility as a new culture is crafted, keeping 50-plus guys on the same page, and particularly challenging if losses start adding up again and bad attitudes infiltrate the locker room.
But No. 92, who describes himself as a quiet lead-by-example type, won two provincial championships in high school and feels qualified to be a mentor. He is ready to motivate younger teammates, and hold them accountable if need be.
“I see a situation and I take it by the horns and I deal with it right there,” he said. “I deal with things head on and get them out of the way.”
Previous head coaches have come from the offensive side of the ball. Reist comes from a defensive background. He was a defensive back when he played for the old Abbotsford Air Force and spent the last few seasons coaching DBs and special teams at the U of Manitoba.
“It’s huge having him focused on the D side a bit more,” Dietrich said. “He has a better outlook on our side of the ball and we need that.”
Reist has talked glowingly of the players he’s recruited for the secondary, players who figure to make Dietrich’s job easier.
A good secondary blanketing opposing receivers can give a lineman that precious extra second or two to track down the quarterback, and after spending most of last season inside at defensive tackle, Dietrich is shifting outside to end, giving him more chances to pin his ears back and rush the passer.
“A good secondary is huge because it gives us more time to get to the QB, and with the guys we’ve brought in it’s going to be a good show,” Dietrich explained. “But a pass rush is the biggest thing because no quarterback is making plays if we’re pressuring him and he’s having second thoughts as he’s trying to pass.
“And I love dragging the quarterback down because the camera’s on you.”
Dietrich’s crew will open the season on the road in eight days (July 29), visiting the Kamloops Broncos.
All the optimism the team feels now could evaporate quickly if they’re punched in the mouth in week one, but Dietrich doesn’t see that happening. He’s not scared to give the Broncos a bulletin-board quote either.
“If you want to watch some hard smack-mouth football, make the drive up to Kamloops for a 7 p.m. start and watch us kick their butt,” he said.
The Husker home opener is Aug. 5, 7 p.m. vs Langley at Exhibition Stadium.