The “dirt guys” have been busy at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School, some of them riding on a seat, some of them knocking others on theirs.
Either way, it amounts to one impressive building project.
Longtime G-E-T football coach Jon Steffenhagen affectionately calls his offensive and defensive linemen “dirt guys,” as they do their most important work in the trenches. They did just that Thursday night in a 43-0 season-opening shellacking of Nekoosa, but more on that later.
The other “dirt guys” at G-E-T have been busy, too — basically since the end of May — as they have been digging, hauling and moving tons of dirt and gravel as part of a nearly $5 million building project.
A project that will completely change the Red Hawks’ outdoor athletic facilities – including a state-of-the-art turf football field — as well as give the school its first real home for a wrestling practice room.
The football field, weather willing, is scheduled to be completed Thursday, Sept. 7, the day before the Red Hawks’ next home game, which is Friday, Sept. 8 against River Valley.
“Our kids have handled it really well. When it gets done, it gets done,” Steffenhagen said of the turf field, which also includes new bleachers with a seating capacity of 1,500.
“West Salem is going through the same thing. It takes a certain amount of time and there is nothing we can do about it. If we play every game on the road, it’s not a big deal.”
The wait, Steffenhagen and his team knows, will be worth it. The same can be said of the other parts of the building project.
The multi-purpose room, which is a building that is attached to the rear of the high school, will also serve as an area for dance classes and other school-related activities, according to G-E-T activities director Pete Peterson.
“This is the first time we have had a wrestling room since I have been here, in more than 10 years,” Peterson said. “This (project) also includes the new baseball and softball field behind the middle school, with lights, concession stand and announcer’s booth.”
If you haven’t seen what’s transpired over the last few months, here’s a clue:
The football field, as we all knew it, is gone.
The baseball field, once located next to the high school parking lot, is gone.
What once was the football practice field, that’ gone, too.
The new turf football field, which will be used for a number of other varsity as well as school-related sports activities, now occupies the space – and then some – where the practice field once was.
“This is huge for our fans to come and see the dedication our athletes have given, and to see the school and community stand behind them,” Peterson said.
“Our dance teams, they practice in the atrium of our school right now. Wrestling has been off-site for years. We have bounced kids around for years trying to find space.”
Soon, as in the end of October, a number of G-E-T teams will have new and up-to-date facilities other Coulee Conference schools like Arcadia, West Salem and Black River Falls enjoy.
Everything comes with a price — sometimes dollars, sometimes inconvenience — and that is exactly why Steffenhagen has his team conditioned to play all nine regular-season games on the road, if need be.
“I think we play better on the road, as we focus better on the road,” Steffenhagen said. “You focus on where you are going and why you are going there. These kids, they have focused on what their intention is and they have done it well.”
That doesn’t mean he and his team won’t welcome the chance to play on a spiffy new turf field. They would love to, but know they must remain patient.
“It is going to be fun when we get to play on it the first time,” said senior running back Ben Behan, who rushed 11 times for 168 yards and four TDs and caught two passes for 49 more yards in the win over Nekoosa.
“Everyone is super excited. It will be looking great with new stands and new lights and that turf field. It will be really impressive. Until then, we have to realize why games are being switched and focus on what we have to do.”
Spoken like a true team leader, which is just what Steffenhagen said this team is — a group of leaders who are one of the most focused groups he has had in 22 years.
They don’t care about individual rushing yards, touchdowns scores, tackles made. It’s about practicing hard, focusing on the task at hand, watching video on opponents and executing the game plan.
“We never call a play to get kids’ stats. We call a play for what I see we can do, what the staff up top (in the press box) is telling me will work,” Steffenhagen said. “With our offense, we attack what they give us.
“Last night (Thursday night), they took away the edge early, so we ran between the tackles. Our kids played well (against Nekoosa). We didn’t turn the ball over and we were efficient in what we wanted to do on the ground.”
To the tune of 380 yards of total offense, including 340 on the ground. To the tune of 23 first downs, and a possession time of 37 minutes in a 48-minute game.
Steffenhagen will not let anyone with the program get too full of themselves after just one game, but there seems to be some impressive things on the horizon for the Red Hawks this season.
Both in terms of what they can do on the field and the field itself.
It has the makings of a memorable season.