FREMONT – Justin Dirheimer is finally having the type of season he’d been waiting for.
The only bad part is that his No.1 fan is not around to see it in person.
Last season Dirheimer, a senior Fremont running back, rushed for more than 1,000 yards, but it wasn’t a lot of fun because his team finished with a 1-8 record.
That was normal for Fremont, which lost football games at an alarming rate over the past seven seasons.
His senior year has been a lot more exciting for Dirheimer, because he’s gaining a ton of yards again – including an amazing 296 on Friday in a victory over Grant – and the Packers have stunned the area by starting the season with a 3-1 record.
The tough part is that is father can’t be there to watch in person.
Jason Dirheimer spent a lot of years helping to coach his son and his friends in youth football, and under normal circumstances would never have dreamed of missing any games.
But earlier this year he learned he was being deployed to Kuwait with the U.S. Army National Guard and would have to miss the football season.
The silver lining is that the elder Dirheimer still watches the games from halfway around the world via live streaming – when he can get the broadcasts to come in online. He also follows the team by talking to family and following social media.
“He has to get up super early, like six in the morning, to watch the games,” Justin Dirheimer said about his dad. “I think he basically stays up all night to watch and then call me. He gets really nervous about the games. I think he gets more nervous than I do.”
Sgt. First Class Dirheimer said he’s proud of his son, and gives a lot of credit to Justin’s mom, Allison Dirheimer, for holding down the fort back home.
“It’s very hard on me to miss his games, especially with all the training we put in,” SFC Dirheimer told MuskegonSports.com from Kuwait. “It speaks highly of his character to continue in my absence. I am very excited for the team, but I knew what they were capable of, having coached or helped coach many of those young men.”
SFC Dirheimer has obviously been smiling a lot when he gets the game results, because his son is on pace to easily pass the 1,098 yards he gained last season.
He rushed for 182 yards and one touchdown in a stunning 22-8 victory over a good Hart team in Week 1. He rushed for 171 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 24-7 win over Beaverton in Week 2.
Dirheimer’s numbers were down a bit – 121 rushing yards – in a 7-0 loss to Ludington in Week 3, but on Friday he exploded for 296 yards, two rushing touchdowns and one TD catch in a 30-8 win over Grant.
His rushing total could have been higher on Friday, but several big runs were called back due to penalties.
Through four games, Dirheimer has piled up 770 yards rushing in 120 attempts for a 6.4 yard per carry average. He has five rushing touchdowns and two receiving TDs.
Dirheimer credited the Packers’ offensive line for having a great game against Grant and opening big holes.
“The line really picked it up last week,” he said. “Against Ludington we didn’t do very well, and we worked really hard to get ready for the Grant game.”
Fremont head coach Jared Hudson said Dirheimer and the O-line can do a lot of damage when everything is clicking.
“Justin is a dynamic athlete,” the coach said. “He’s very elusive and does a great job of reading his blocks and being patient, which is one of those things that’s very hard to coach. The offensive line has been doing a great job of giving him space, and when he gets that space good things happen.”
Dirheimer said he and his teammates are having a great time winning games this season, and he’s not surprised that it’s happening, despite the team’s recent history.
He’s been a Fremont student since he started school and spent a lot of time over the years watching the Packers lose, often by ugly scores.
From 2016 through 2021 Fremont won only four football games. That included four 0-9 seasons, but Dirheimer said those outcomes never discouraged him.
“I knew my age group always had a winning record, and once we got up there we were going to win some games,” he said.
Dirheimer said there was some discussion in his family about the possibility of transferring to another school so he could play for a winning team, but he rejected that idea.
“I grew up in Fremont and I knew this year we were going to turn it around,” he said. “I’ve always believed in my team. We should have beaten Ludington. We just had a bad week of practice, made some errors and didn’t play as well as we could have.
“We knew we couldn’t lose to Grant.”
The toughest part of the Packers’ schedule is quickly approaching, starting with a matchup on the road this Friday against perennial power Oakridge in an important West Michigan Conference Lakes Division game.
Later in the season Fremont will also face undefeated Whitehall, which has been blowing opponents off the field, as well as an always strong Montague squad.
That doesn’t scare Dirheimer, who has some big goals for himself and his team.