Three times during a recent practice, the Shoreham-Wading River quarterback tried a ball fake to bait defensive end Ethan Wiederkehr into giving up his outside containment. Three times Wiederkehr held his ground.
“One of these days I’ll get you,” the Wildcats’ quarterback said with a laugh. The QB just happened to be coach Matt Millheiser, who was taking snaps during some team defensive drills, which fortunately for Millheiser, were of the non-tackling variety.
Wiederkehr, the Northwestern-bound senior, has grown to 6-5 ½ and 285 pounds and the returning Newsday first-team All-Long Island lineman is expected to terrorize opponents on both sides of the ball as SWR’s Wildcats look to extend a 24-game winning streak in pursuit of their third consecutive Long Island Class IV championship.
Wiederkehr, quite literally, is a big reason why that is not an unreasonable goal for the preseason No. 1 seed in Suffolk IV. “The best part of Ethan is that his fundamentals are great. You saw I tried to fool him and I couldn’t,” Millheiser said. “He doesn’t try to do the spectacular thing. He just does his job. When you that, you’re in a position to make plays. When you try to do too much, try to be the superstar, you wind up making a mistake and getting yourself out of position.”
In a way, Wiederkehr actually will be out of position all season. Northwestern projects him as an offensive tackle. But he knows he is needed as a blocking tight end and pass-rushing defensive end in his final year of high school, and he is fine with that. “It’s our senior year and we want another championship. That’s what’s most important,” said Wiederkehr, one of only a handful of players who have been on the varsity for the past two undefeated season. “The streak, 24-0, has been a blessing, but at this point I’m kind of putting it behind me and not thinking about it. Right now we’re 0-0.”
The growth of SWR into a powerhouse under Millheiser, who is entering his seventh season, parallels the growth — physically, mentally and skillfully — of Wiederkehr, whose father, Hans, is an assistant coach for the Wildcats and was a star at Syracuse and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986 but never got into an NFL game.
Among the numerous schools that offered Wiederkehr athletic scholarships was his father’s alma mater, but Ethan elected to play in the Big Ten. “That ability to chase quarterbacks and that footwork from an offensive tackle will work on the next level,” Millheiser said. “A big guy who can move his feet, who they see on film can not only down-block across the field, but a guy who is chasing down quarterbacks, knocking balls down and using that athleticism. That’s what the colleges look for; that’s what the NFL looks for — that kind of size and that kind of agility in one package.”
That’s a long way from the tall, lean kid who watched from the sidelines with his father during Millheiser’s first season at Shoreham-Wading River. “I knew who they were, and I knew Ethan would be coming up,” the coach said. “I went over to meet him he was just a regular kid. Then he started growing. A lot of kids are tall; a lot of kids are athletic; a lot of kids know how to play football. But Ethan had the combination of the drive, the pedigree, the athleticism — the perfect storm, so to speak, from the time he was young all the way until now.”
Wiederkehr gained about 50 pounds between his sophomore and junior year to 270, and according to Millheiser, “Ethan realized it was heavy weight and he couldn’t play and move as well. This year, he got his nutrition better and he still put on some pounds but he kept that mobility, speed and quickness. There’s a definite difference — not only in his play but in his conditioning.”
Wiederkehr, who also plays basketball and lacrosse, acknowledged, “I didn’t want to put on any bad weight. I tried to put on muscle.”
He said he is determined “to have a great season defensively because I know it might be my last” at defensive end because Northwestern has made it clear they want him on the offensive line. “I have to focus on getting more bend in my knees and getting lower in my stance,” he said. “All the top offensive linemen up there get low and can drop back in pass coverage. I’m working on good form.”
It’s a work that has been in progress for years. “He didn’t become the great player that he is between his sophomore and junior year or between his junior and senior year. He’s been working at this since he was in the eighth grade,” Millheiser said. “All those days in the gym and all those times he didn’t really want to go have paid off. This has been a gradual process and one that’s been fun to watch.”
Now if only Wiederkehr would bite just once in practice on the coach’s play fake, Millheiser would really have fun.