Earlier this week, I had a tremendous opportunity to talk with NFL-hopeful wide receiver Gehrig Dieter. As he continues to prepare for the NFL Draft, there’s no better time to look back at his life, his path to Tuscaloosa, and the work he has been putting in since the season ended.
It all started in South Bend, Indiana. Gehrig and his two brothers – Nolan and Thurman – grew up tossing a Nerf football around in the yard – a yard not far from the Notre Dame campus. The Dieter brother’s parents – both South Bend police officers – instilled in them a blue-collar work ethic and an attitude of respect.
Nolan Dieter (Left) and Gehrig Dieter (Right)
In high school, the legend of Gehrig Dieter began to unfold, but not in the ways one would assume.
In his senior year at South Bend Washington High School, he set numerous Indiana state records. He was the first to have three straight games of 300+ receiving yards, a feat that may never be broken. In the third game of that streak, he broke another national record when he recorded a whopping 437 receiving yards in one outing. 437 yards. Even Sports Illustrated donned him National Player of the Week after that game.
He finished his high school career with 190 catches for 4,336 yards and 49 touchdowns. He set the Indiana state record for career receiving yards, career receiving touchdowns, and receiving yards in a season.
This, however, is where the road forked for Gehrig. Despite the accolades and broken records, Dieter was only considered to be a three-star wide receiver prospect by major recruiting analysts.
He was offered a scholarship by Wisconsin not once but twice before then — head coach Brett Bielema bolted for Arkansas – his offer again was then pulled from the table. In the Sports Illustrated video above, Dieter can be seen sporting an Auburn hoodie. At the time, Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik for the Tigers. Malzahn truly wanted Dieter, but another coach claimed that Dieter may not be fast enough for their system, and an offer was never extended.
Additionally, despite having set nearly every Indiana receiving record and growing up in South Bend, the nearby Fighting Irish surprisingly never gave him an offer.
Then came Southern Methodist University. During his lone season with the Mustangs, he played with Dallas Cowboys star Cole Beasley and Minnesota Vikings fullback Zach Line. Shortly after he arrived to play for SMU, however, receivers coach Jeff Reinbold left and was replaced by Jason Phillips. After grabbing 10 balls for 168 yards and a touchdown in his freshman year, Dieter chose to transfer as he was no longer happy there. He decided to play for the first college to offer him a scholarship while in high school – Bowling Green.
This turned out to be a wise decision. In his sophomore year, Dieter played in just eight games due to a knee-injury, but he compiled 460 yards on 35 catches. In his junior season, Dieter broke out. He showed the ability to be a deep-threat receiver and consistent red zone target.
In the season-opening game against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Gehrig put on a clinic. He burned the Vols’ defense for 133 yards and a touchdown.
As seen in this clip, Dieter was not catching bubble screens. He was being thrown the ball on fly routes – over and over again – then had to adjust in order to make tough, athletic catches.
This became the norm for Gehrig in 2015. He finished the season with 1033 yards on 94 catches – scoring 10 touchdowns in the process – including two ESPN Top-10, one-handed grabs in the same game.
First Touchdown vs Toledo:
Second Touchdown vs Toledo:
He rode this wave of momentum to the front doors of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
The former three-star recruit managed to earn a starting spot for the defending National Champions. In his first game – against the University of Southern California in Dallas – Dieter caught a pass from Blake Barnett and took it 45 yards to the end-zone for his first touchdown in a crimson and white jersey. In one hand he held the ball, with the other he pointed towards his family in the crowd.
Statistically, the season never panned out the way it seemed it would in that moment. He ended his short tenure for the Tide with 15 catches, 214 yards and 4 touchdowns in 15 games. The lack of statistical production led to a reporter asking Nick Saban if Gehrig had been a disappointment in terms of not meeting the production expected of him. Before the reporter could even finish his question, Nick Saban jumped in to clear the air.
“I think he has done a fantastic job for us,” Saban quipped, “for my expectations the guy’s done a really good job. He does a great job blocking and does everything we ask him to do.”
Saban, of course, was just defending his player, but what he said rings true. Throughout the season, despite not compiling a ton of receiving yards, Dieter made his name known in a different area: blocking. While its always an added bonus for a receiver to have a decent understanding of how to defend the perimeter on run plays, Gehrig showed an elite ability to do so.
Just as in his coming-out-party a year before, Dieter used Neyland Stadium again to show out, but this time with his ability to block. One block in particular ignited social media, drawing comparisons to Michael Oher’s block in The Blind Side.
Also, Gehrig Dieter doing his best Blindside impression and blocking that Tennessee DB for 30 yards will always be one of the 🐐 plays.
— Wesley Gullett (@WesleyGullett) November 30, 2016
Gehrig Dieter had his guy locked up 20 yards down the field. Just fantastic blocking. Alabama 7, Tennessee 0, 3:29 1Q.
— Bill Bender (@BillBender92) October 15, 2016
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 19, 2016
In addition to receiver, Gehrig also saw playing time on special teams – both covering and returning punts and kick offs. He tallied 36 yards on two kick returns, nine yards on a punt return, and three tackles in coverage.
With the NFL Draft coming up, Gehrig hopes he made a big enough name for himself as a do-it-all receiver. Though a humble guy, he still holds supreme confidence in his abilities and his skill set as a receiver.
“I just think that I can do anything that a coach asks me,” says Dieter, “I feel that I’m a complete football player. If I have to go deep and make a catch I think I can do that. If I need to get down and block a linebacker or a (defensive end) I think I can do that. I feel like I’m really, very versatile in my style of play.
“A lot of guys coming out next year haven’t done as much as me versatility-wise in college, so I think that helps me overall.”
At Alabama’s Pro Day, Dieter turned some heads. He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash – putting him ahead of projected early-round picks like Houston’s Greg Ward Jr., Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp, Clemson’s Artavis Scott, and Ole Miss’ Damore’ea Stringfellow. His 32.5” vertical jump puts him tied with USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster and Clemson’s Mike Williams – both of which are considered first or second round prospects and immediate impact-makers.
“Obviously, I’m not in the rooms with people making the decisions,” Dieter stated, “but I think I helped myself on Pro Day. I’ll have to continue working hard every day, but I think I had an overall good day.”
In addition to a tremendous showing in the athletic drills, he caught all but one ball thrown to him from his former quarterback, Matt Johnson, in the receiver drills.
“Any team that picks me up I feel I can fit in because I can do a lot of things other receivers can’t do.”
Whichever team does decide to pick up Gehrig come draft week will be getting a lot more than just a talented guy on the field. The guy Dieter can be off-the-field for the community may rival what he can do on it.
“I’m a pretty down-to-earth person, I love spending time with my dogs… I have two French Bulldogs.”
In just the few months he was enrolled at Alabama, Dieter managed to snag the Pat Trammell award at the end of the season along with Dalvin Tomlinson. The award – given to those who demonstrate ‘integrity, character, academic importance, and inspirational leadership’ – has been given to chosen Alabama players since 1988. The list includes names like Shaun Alexander, Andrew Zow and Richard Mullaney.
Even though he may not have had the year he wanted, he alluded to the level of talent he faced each day in practice and the relationships he built with the other guys on the team as to why he has no regrets on the season, and why his time at Alabama will forever be invaluable to him.
“There’s competition every single day. The best players in the country come here to play and you have to compete every single day if you want to be on the field on Saturdays. You can’t really pick a favorite moment from the season, but getting to play with that group of guys and getting to know people from the team and building relationships with guys that I’ll probably keep talking to the rest of my life is definitely the thing I’ll remember the most.”
A story-book ending is in store for Gehrig Dieter. A 3-star kid from Indiana that went from having just a handful of offers, to starting for the Alabama Crimson Tide in a National Championship game. He has had to earn each opportunity awarded to him, and he has always taken advantage of those. Next up is an opportunity to chase a dream and play in the National Football League. I fully expect that Gehrig will make the most out of this opportunity, and that we will be seeing him for many Sundays to come. He deserves it.
Jake Weaver is a contributor for TD Alabama Magazine and Bama Hoops Hype. You can contact him via email at [email protected], phone at 205-612-5060, and follow him on Twitter for sports news/commentary @JAWeaver0.