Football: Dirkes delivers in Willmar’s secondary – West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Carter Dirkes has a nose for the football.

A starting safety for the Willmar football team, Dirkes has recorded two interceptions for the 5-1 Cardinals, including a mid-field pick last week against Rocori that set up a field goal to put Willmar ahead 13-6 in a 33-28 victory over the sixth-ranked (Class AAAA) Spartans.

Dirkes also scored twice. He had a pick-six in the season opener against St. Cloud Apollo. Then on special teams against Big Lake, Dirkes recovered a punt block and brought that to the end zone.

“I see that ball loose, I just run to it and do whatever I can with it,” Dirkes said.

“And, I’ve just scored with it.”

Along with his ball-hawking skills, the 6-foot, 170-pound junior has also been tallying up the tackles, with 17 stops over the last three games.

Working on becoming a complete safety, Dirkes hopes that trend continues heading into the final two games of the regular season, starting at Chisago Lakes at 7 pm Friday in Lindstrom.

“He’s starting to get comfortable (at safety) every week,” said Willmar head coach Jon Konold. “He’s going to make mistakes as a young player but he seems to be able to bounce back every week.”

In Rocori’s first drive of the second quarter, Dirkes dropped back into coverage in the center of the field. As Spartans quarterback Jack Spanier stepped up in the pocket to deliver a pass to his receiver, Dirkes undercut the route for the jumping interception. He brought the ball to Rocori’s 34-yard line. That would set up a 25-yard Ezra May field goal to put the Cardinals up by seven.

“I saw (Spanier) rolling out, then I saw (the receiver) coming across the field,” Dirkes said. “The quarterback didn’t make a great throw and I saw an opportunity.”

“It was amazing,” Dirkes said of knocking off rival Rocori. “It was my favorite game of all time.”

Dirkes is one of three fresh faces in the defensive backfield along with junior Dylan Staska and sophomore Ethan Swierenga. Dirkes is also converting back to safety after playing some outside linebacker as a sophomore.

“It was hard in the first two games,” Dirkes said on going back into the secondary, noting the adjustment to varsity speed. “But I feel like I’m doing a lot better now.”

Willmar junior Carter Dirkes, 24, gets set for the snap during a North Central White District game against St. Cloud Apollo on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Hodapp Field in Willmar.

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Among the newcomers, all three of the newcomers have excelled in key takeaways. Staska had a 100-yard pick-six against Apollo and Swierenga had an INT return for a touchdown against Big Lake.

“(Swierenga and Staska), they’re fun to play with,” Dirkes said. “We really learn a lot from each other.”

Said Konold, “They’ve all had their moments where they’ve done really, really good things. … But the good thing about all three of those new starters is that they’re OK with making a mistake, then in the next week of practice, we fix those mistakes. They seem not to make them over and over, which is a very positive sign.”

The biggest hole in Dirkes’ game early on was tackling. Over the team’s first three games, Dirkes registered just two tackles.

“I wasn’t really good at the start of the season,” Dirkes admitted.

So with the help of Cardinals defensive coordinator Dustin Carlson, Dirkes got to work on making open-field tackles. The Rocori game is his high-water mark of the season with seven tackles.

“I’m getting a lot more comfortable with it,” Dirkes said. “The big thing was just not being really scared to hit anymore; I was a little scared.”

He added, “It’s fun to make those hits now.”

With road games against Chisago Lakes and Becker to close out the regular season, Konold is looking for Dirkes to continue to become a hard hitter along with being a ball hawk.

“He’s taken that to heart,” Konold said. “He’s worked on that and it shows in the statistics.

“He’s made progress throughout the year and he’s a good athlete. He’ll figure it out and play through this year and next year as well.”

Chisago Lakes enters Friday’s match-up with Willmar on a four-game slide. Last week, the Wildcats lost 13-7 at Cambridge-Isanti.

Running the ball 50 times for 174 yards against the Bluejackets, Chisago Lakes was led on the ground by Evan Lavalle. He ran 19 times for 75 yards and a second-quarter touchdown.

Using a triple-option offense, eight players ran the ball for the Wildcats last week.

Chisago Lakes is averaging 12.3 points per game compared to 28.7 points allowed per game.

Willmar won last year’s contest, 41-6.