SOUTH BEND – When Gehrig Dieter planned his jersey retirement event with South Bend, Washington athletic director Garland Hudson, there was only one food he wanted to have: Barnaby’s pizza.
You can take the boy — now a 29-year-old former NFL football player with a wife and two children — out of South Bend, but you can’t take South Bend out of the boy.
“I’m a big pizza guy,” Dieter said Friday before South Bend Washington’s football game against South Bend Riley. “Barnaby’s, you can’t go wrong.”
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Now in Olathe, Kan. Dieter, who lives there, said every time he returns home, he tries to stop at his favorite childhood pizza shop on East Jefferson Street. As a wideout with the Panthers from 2009-2012, Dieter dominated the local gridiron and finished with 4,336 receiving yards, setting several Indiana high school football state records that still stand. He also recorded 50 tackles for Washington, all but one.
Dieter went on to play college football at South Methodist and Bowling Green, where he caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior in 2015.
The following year, Dieter transferred to play for Nick Saban at Alabama. There he played in 13 games, collecting 15 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns. The Crimson Tide – a roster that included future NFL stars Hurts, Calvin Ridley, Irv Smith Jr., Rashaan Evans and Trevon Diggs – lost the College Football Playoff championship 35-31 when Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson scored with one second left.
Dieter caught a 10-yard pass in both the Peach Bowl semifinals against Washington and the title game. In the year He was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2017, becoming a valuable member of the practice squad and playing in 10 games over five seasons, including a playoff game. Caught two NFL passes for 32 yards.
Starting at Alabama, Dieter was grateful to be around legendary coaches in Saban and Kansas City’s Andy Reid.
“Saban, he’s one of the greatest college coaches of all time,” Dieter said. “Even coming into the NFL with Coach Reid, he’s one of the top five coaches of all time. It was great for me to get this experience and see how they interact with guys and change the culture.”
That is why
“Being here is a little different than the grass and stuff (at TCU’s school field), but it brings back those good memories,” Dieter said. “We had a lot of fun playing. Obviously, my senior year we had a good team, which was a lot of fun.”
Dieter was All-State as a senior and was named a 2012 Parade All-American while setting the record for most receiving yards in a single game (437) and the Indiana career receiving yardage record.
The Panthers advanced to the 2011 4A state championship, losing to Indianapolis Cathedral 42-7.
“Washington was the first to go to that game in 35 years,” Dieter said. “We didn’t really pull it off, but just to get there with that team. It was cool for me to get there and obviously we want to pull that off.”
This return trip was even more special because, as Dieter tries to do every time he returns home, he had the opportunity to speak with this year’s Panthers and presented each player with green and white gloves donated by his former teammate, the NFL wideout. Tyreek Hill, now with the Miami Dolphins.
“I let them know they’re in a good place and have a chance to do something with their lives,” Dieter said. “I try to be an example to them, I go out, give a positive message and hopefully it resonates with some people.”
To celebrate, hundreds of Washington fans were given green T-shirts with Dieter’s No. 4 on them. A screen of his high school, college and NFL highlights played as he sat on a table and signed autographs.
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At halftime, Dieter and his family ran through a fan tunnel built by Navarre Middle School players to center field, where his high school jersey was framed so no one else could wear it.
Then Dieter and high school quarterback Daigene Morgan completed a 50-yard touchdown pass down the sideline.
One final touch for the Washington faithful. One final touch to Dieter’s football career.
Dieter, who is good friends with MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, was waived by the Chiefs in May and knew he was ready for the next chapter when a tryout with the New York Giants didn’t go as planned.
“I have two kids, so I’m not going to be the type of guy that’s trying to go to five teams,” he said. “I feel like I can make a team eventually, but for me, I’d rather hang out with the family in Kansas City.”
Dieter and his family bought a house in the Kansas City area and started a new business with a pickleball company called Chicken N’ Pickle. Links and links? He can live without now.
“I’m having fun, I’m having fun,” Dieter said. “…and they didn’t miss football.”