BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Let’s get it out of the way: Yes, Gehrig Dieter was named after New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. His younger brother, Thurman, was named after another Yankees star, and their older brother, Nolan, was named after a Hall of Fame pitcher.
It’s a baseball family.
Gehrig’s father, Derek (yes, his name rhymes with “Derek Jeter”), is a hardball fanatic from South Bend, Ind. Dieter’s mother, Suzy, is a Wisconsin native who allowed her husband to turn their children into walking baseball references.
“They’re all pretty cool names,” Derek said with a laugh. “So…”
The Dieters’ middle son is not the next Bronx Bomber. He is the newest offensive weapon for Alabama, a modern-day college football dynasty with a great shot at winning back-to-back national titles.
But one can’t escape baseball for long when this family is involved. Alabama coach Nick Saban used his relationships with Yankees manager Joe Girardi and legendary shortstop Derek Jeter to woo Gehrig, who can still list the strengths and weaknesses of every New York relief pitcher when he’s pressed.
When Gehrig signed with the Crimson Tide, there was only one way his father could explain the feeling.
“It was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Derek said. “It’s like going to the Yankees.”
Gehrig quit baseball when he enrolled at Washington High in South Bend so he could focus on his career as a wide receiver. That route brought him one season at SMU, three years at Bowling Green and now, an opportunity to join perhaps the country’s best receiving corps as a graduate transfer.
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound athlete pulled in 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, including a seven-catch, 133-yard day at Tennessee in September.
A pair of one-handed grabs vs. Toledo made him a viral star, and his production helped the Falcons win their second MAC title in three seasons.
Sitting at a local restaurant on Bowling Green’s Main Street last week, the 23-year-old explained how he ended up on Alabama’s 2016 roster.
A relatively new graduate transfer rule — one that allowed Richard Mullaney to defect from Oregon State’s roster and join Alabama this past season — had Gehrig weighing his fifth-year options. He paid a visit to Wake Forest, which he described as “a lot of fun,” and “better than I expected it to be.”
But when Crimson Tide receivers coach Billy Napier followed Gehrig on Twitter, the wideout completed the necessary paperwork and tossed the Demon Deacons aside.
“Alabama is just one of those schools that’s on everybody’s wish list that they could play for,” Dieter told SEC Country. “Their dream school.”
Gehrig is more than ready to leave behind sleepy Bowling Green. He’s scheduled to graduate with a sports management degree in May, alongside Nolan — a walk-on Falcons quarterback — and Dieter’s girlfriend, Megan. Then he’ll return home to Indiana for a few weeks to prepare for his final season.
South Bend is where Gehrig became a prep football legend. He set a national record with 437 receiving yards in a single game vs. Elkhart Central and scored 50 career touchdowns across three varsity seasons.
Hometown school Notre Dame had two coaches in the stands for his record-breaking game, but serious interest from the Fighting Irish didn’t materialize.
“They never offered a scholarship, but even if they did, I don’t know if I would’ve went there,” Dieter said. “Growing up there, you just love ‘em or hate ‘em. I was one of those guys that didn’t really like them that much.”
The lack of recruitment peeved his father, Derek, but that big night against Elkhart Central still shines brighter than any perceived snubs.
“After that happened, you just sit back and go, ‘Oh my God, of all the kids that ever played high school football — tens of millions of kids — my son set the record,'” Derek said.
With Notre Dame casting its lots elsewhere, Dieter signed with SMU — where he caught a touchdown in his first game — and then decided to transfer following the departure of receivers coach Jeff Reinebold.
Patience was key when he arrived at Bowling Green; the former prep All-American had to sit out 2013, and then missed much of 2014 with knee and ankle injuries.
It was not until this past season he was able to consistently show off his combination of size and skill, as he finished among the MAC’s receiving leaders while propelling Bowling Green’s powerhouse offense.
Despite the Falcons’ success, Dieter decided he wanted to move on, and a spot on the Crimson Tide’s roster vindicated that decision.
“If you can play at Alabama, you can play anywhere,” Dieter said. “That’s one of my biggest things, is I want to be in the NFL. If I can prove myself there, I know I can be in the NFL … You’re playing in the SEC. You’re playing for Coach Saban, who’s obviously a legend at the coaching level. You just really can’t pass an opportunity up to play at a school like that.”
Now, Derek and Suzy’s road trips will get a bit longer. Instead of the two-hour hikes to Ohio, Gehrig’s parents will now be headed to Tuscaloosa, Dallas, Knoxville, etc.
Derek, a retired police officer, and Suzy, an active cop, will probably be putting more miles on the family Ford F-150 as opposed to buying plane tickets.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh my God, that’s a long drive!’” Derek said. “You know what? My son’s playing football at Alabama.”
More about Gehrig Dieter…
- Baseball (and basketball) brought his parents together in a hilarious way. Derek worked part-time security for a South Bend minor league team for nearly three decades. One year, he followed the team up to Chicago for an exhibition game, and ran into his future wife — a college basketball player for Wisconsin-Milwaukee — at Mother’s Bar in the Windy City. “She was over at the ‘pop-a-shot,'” Derek said. “Of course, I was all tanked up and said I’d kick her ass. I never got a shot off.”
- Former Tide receiver Richard Mullaney helped Gehrig out this spring. Gehrig contacted Mullaney soon after Alabama showed interest, and the former Oregon State wideout gave him advice on how to handle the graduate-transfer move. “You see what he did on the field last year,” Gehrig said. “I think I can do that plus more. So I’m feeling confident.”
- He knows Alabama is loaded at receiver. “Playing with those guys takes the pressure off you, just to know you’re gonna have one-on-one battles, and if you can win one-on-ones, then you’re gonna have success,” he said. “Just having those type of guys on the field with you, and competing with them every single day, is going to be a lot of fun.”
- His speed is admittedly not on the same level as Calvin Ridley’s. “Obviously, those guys are athletic freaks,” Gehrig said of the current Alabama receiving corps. “They can all run 4.4, 4.3. I probably run a 4.5, but I feel like my size and strength and knowledge of the game and fundamentals and techniques could really help them.”
- He was nearly a Kansas Jayhawk. Derek had good relationship with Charlie Weis when the coach was at Notre Dame, and Gehrig said Weis was the only thing he liked about the school. When Weis was fired and took the Kansas job, Gehrig paid a visit — but he felt it was too late in the recruiting process to decline SMU’s offer.
- Derek Jeter is his idol. “He’s one of those guys you just want to model yourself after,” Gehrig said. “He did it the right way. No steroids. No anything. Off the field, never got in trouble. In the spotlight 24/7, stayed private. That’s just one of those guys you look up to and want to be like when you get older.”
- Blake Barnett hosted him this past weekend, and he’ll be living with David Cornwell this summer. “When I visited (earlier this year), I actually got pizza with both of ‘em,” Gehrig said of the quarterbacks. “We text a little bit here and there to get to know them a lot better.” The receiver has already signed a lease to move into a place with his girlfriend, Megan, this fall.
- Other schools reached out after he signed with Alabama. Gehrig wasn’t having any of it. “I just wanted to have one school, and I don’t want to be flip flopping because I feel like that’s kind of annoying to everybody, just having those types of guys flip flop,” he said. “But I feel confident with Alabama. Happy. I’m excited to get down there and start working. I just can’t wait.”