By Jason Maholy
Johnny Dieck is used to lighting it up on the basketball court.
The Chicago Christian senior played three varsity seasons for coach Kevin Pittman’s Knights and was during that time an integral component to the team’s success. Scoring, passing, playing hard-nosed defense, scrambling for loose balls — the lithe guard did it all and did it well.
What Dieck had never done prior to March 19 was play in a high school football game. Nevertheless, Chicago Christian coach Nick Cook declared him the Knights’ starting quarterback heading into that Week 1 contest.
Cook is an outstanding coach who has led the Knights to the playoffs the past two seasons after a decade’s-long absence from the postseason, but Dieck is making him look like a genius.
In the first two games of this COVID-truncated season, Dieck accounted for nine touchdowns while helping the Knights to wins over Westmont and Ridgewood. Chicago Christian scored 48 points in both games.
After a 40-0 loss to Bishop McNamara in Week 3, Dieck and the Knights — a 2A program — bounced back in Week 4 with an impressive 30-13 win over Bremen, a 5A school. The senior signal-caller ran for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and completed 7 of 15 passes for 54 yards and another score.
He also ran for a two-point conversion, and kicked a 33-yard field goal.
Of course he did. For good measure, he drove in a run for the Knights’ baseball team on Wednesday.
“I was just trying to put it right down the middle, kick it hard, try not to embarrass myself,” Dieck said of his first field goal attempt.
Of his 128 rushing yards, 73 came on a play where his inexperience got him into trouble; then his elite athleticism got him out if it. And into the end zone.
With 5:34 to play in the third quarter and the Knights leading 13-7, Dieck made the wrong read on a zone option and barely escaped the grasp of a Braves defender in the backfield. Dieck then deked, juked, spun, stiff-armed a defender — not necessarily in that order — and split a gap to find nothing but green in front of him as he raced 73 yards for a pivotal touchdown.
The electric play sent his teammates and the small but enthusiastic home crowd into a frenzy.
“Linemen (made) good blocks and I made something out of it,” Dieck said of the play. “There’s not daylight until you’re in the end zone, that’s what I’ve been taught.”
The Knights were playing at home for the first time this season after three straight road games. It was, of course, Dieck’s first game in front of a home crowd.
“It’s good to come out her and play in front of the fans,” he said. “I used to be in the stands.”
He decided to play football this season because he thought it would be fun.
“A lot of my friends are on the team,” he said. “I was throwing balls in practice one day and they let me try out for [quarterback], and here we are.”
Dieck started the scoring against Bremen with a 36-yard strike to senior wide receiver Tommy Schaaf — another first-year football player who has starred on the basketball court. Dieck also ran for a 4-yard score.
Through four games, Dieck has completed 27 of 55 passes for 291 yards and five touchdowns, along with one interception. He has rushed 41 times for 408 yards and seven scores.
“He’s something,” Cook said of Dieck. “There’s a lot there, a lot of talent.”
The past two seasons, half of the Knights’ roster has been composed of guys who had never played high school football. Chicago Christian qualified for the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 after failing to do so in each of the previous 10 seasons
“That’s kind of been our M.O. here,” Cook said. [Dieck]’s one of those, and that’s just been part of building things here as far as within the building, recruiting in hallways. We’ve got talented kids walking the halls, man. We’re glad to have him out.”
The victory over Bremen capped off an interesting two weeks in which the Knights played three games in 12 days. After blanking Ridgewood 48-0 in a Monday night matchup March 29 and being shut out, 40-0, by Bishop McNamara five days later, Chicago Christian entered Week 4 preparing to play its home opener against St. Edward. That game was canceled for COVID-related reasons within the Green wave program, leaving the Knights scrambling to find an opponent.
Bremen’s scheduled game was also canceled. Eric Washington, a former Chicago Christian football coach and current Bremen athletic director, helped facilitate the two schools hooking up.
“We did four scouting reports in two weeks, so we were just happy to get a game,” Cook said. “Fortunately, we have a relationship with Eric so we were able to make it happen, and the plus is that it was a local school. But we didn’t fully know what to expect. I’m just proud of my kids.”
The game was on Senior Night at Chicago Christian, and in addition to honoring their own seniors the Knights also read the names of the Braves’ seniors during the pregame ceremony.