Dexter — Phil Jacobs has quickly turned Dexter’s football program around, ending a 42-game losing skid and having players eye the postseason after the team's first two-game win streak since 2011.
The word playoffs is not in Jacobs’ vocabulary since his focus is on Friday’s home game with Jackson (3-0). And there's the fact Dexter has never played a state playoff game.
Jacobs, 47, knew all about Dexter’s program since he had been at Southeastern Conference rival Adrian for 11 years before working as an assistant coach for two years at Siena Heights University.
When the head job at Dexter was open following the 2016 season, Jacobs showed his interest and knew he would have to start from the ground floor.
“Well, it started about a year and a half ago when I was hired, knew we had to tear this program down to the foundation and build it up again,” Jacobs said after a practice this week. “Last year was more or less a tearing down process and once that football season concluded we said now we’re going to lay the foundation in and build this up.
“Really, it’s all attributed to our weight program. These kids had not had much weight training in the past. It was not a school unified program so the first thing we did was get a school unified lifting program where all our athletics will benefit on.
“The bodies on our kids have dramatically changed. We’re still a couple of years behind in the weight program, but our numbers have increased. We have 42 kids, up from 30 last year and the previous year they had 20. We’re building relationships with the kids. I have a lot of staff that are teachers in the system and that’s important.”
No doubt, Chelsea has been the class of the SEC White in past years with Ypsilanti Lincoln right behind.
Dexter (2-1) played Chelsea tough in the season opener but lost, 34-20, before it ended the 42-game slide with a 36-22 win over Ypsilanti at home in Week 2. Dexter followed that with a 37-14 victory over Ann Arbor Huron last week.
Jacobs said Dexter’s strength is its defense, led by linebackers Evan Chapell, Jordan Watson and David Kreske, and linemen Mark Young, Kevin DeVoogd, Nathan Norris and Joe Luallen.
“Our defense has played very good football this year,” Jacobs said. “We have three really good linebackers and our defensive line is exceptionally quick, and they are four of the toughest kids we have on our team.”
The offense is led by receivers Antwan Ficklen and Andy Durand, tight end Alex Mills and 6-foot-3, 180-pound sophomore quarterback Colin Parachek, who has displayed accuracy by throwing for 700 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception.
“We were a little deflated with the loss to Chelsea since it’s our rival. It took us about until Wednesday of the following week before we snapped out of that funk we were in,” Jacobs said. “As we were preparing that second week for Ypsi, we all told the kids that you’re as good as anybody left on our schedule and you can win any game or not. Our kids believed and played lights out against Yspi and then it carried over against Huron.”
Jacobs said Ficklen, a transfer from Adrian, is the team’s most explosive player.
No doubt, Ficklen knew the importance of Dexter’s first win by the reaction of the home fans.
“It was really big. The crowd rushed the field, the student section rushed the field because that was the first win they’ve had in a long time, especially against a team like Ypsi,” said Ficklen, who is a junior. “That first win was big for us. We had a good week of practice, had to really bounce back after that loss to Chelsea.”
So, what’s different from past years?
“We’re just working hard and expecting to win instead of expecting to lose,” Durand said. “We’re just going out and executing our game plan and coming away with W's. We have a lot of seniors this year, 24, and every single one has led a different way, encouraging the young guys to get behind us.
“That first win gave us a lot of confidence. We had a chip on our shoulder because no one really expected this from us. We believe we’re going to make the playoffs this year.”
Chapell is excited to be a part of the program's turnaround.
“I’ve lived at Dexter all my life and this year is the first year that we’ve kind of seen a winning football program go on,” said Chapell, who knew Dexter’s last winning season was back in 2010 when he was in fourth grade. “Going up through middle school and playing my freshman and sophomore year on the freshmen and JV teams, they (varsity team) never won a game and staying in the student section, it was like you never thought they’d win a game.
“Then when we got on varsity, we started believing in ourselves and this year we have a great group of guys, 23 or 24 seniors on the team, our defense really formed well and we’ve just been playing well. The team has matured a lot and I think the community has grown with us. Hopefully, we can keep growing and keep getting better.
“I believe we can get in the playoffs, but every week has got to be a 1-0 mentality week. I think we can play with any of these teams out here. We just have to keep executing and keep believing in ourselves.”
With a win over Jackson, Dexter can start thinking playoffs. After all, Jacobs knows it can be done since he coached against Ypsilanti Lincoln when Lincoln was in the midst of its 30-game losing streak before finally earning a win 10 years ago.
Jacobs brought in George Michos this season to be his defensive coordinator. Michos served as Lincoln's defensive coordinator when the team ended its slide and helped build the program to where it earned its first Division 2 regional final appearance last season.