Preston Gehle wanted to be a head football coach.

It was one of those examples of right place, right time that led Gehle to reach his goal with Heartland Lutheran.

"The opportunity to be a head coach has always been my dream," said Gehle, a native of Overton. "Now I get to do it. Everything worked out. It’s weird how it happened."

Gehle had perviously served as an assistant coach while playing for the Northeast Nebraska Lightning semi-pro team.

Then came the "weird" perfect timing.

"I’d been working in Ravenna, but because of a budget crunch my position was eliminated," he said. "I moved to Grand Island after I got a job with the city. I got on as an assistant at Heartland Lutheran.

"When the head coach (J.R. Nott) stepped down, they offered me the job. Definitely my prayers were answered."

Gehle takes over a team that returns six starters from last year’s winless team.

Fullback/linebacker Noah Messersmith is the only senior in that group.

Juniors will play a big role in the Red Hornets’ attempt to build their program.

Quarterback/linebacker Jake Sanders, defensive back/wide receiver Jon Simonson, tailback/linebacker Isaiah Zapata, running back/defensive back Chris Warneke and quarterback/wide receiver/safety Devin Hueftle return at the skills positions.

Linemen Caleb Staehr, Andy Chandler and Jonathan Reeser are also returning junior starters.

"The kids are picking up all the new stuff," Gehle said. "They’re very accepting of the challenge and working hard. They’ve set great goals for themselves."

Gehle said there are a couple of areas he’s focusing on changing.

"I want to try to get the kids more physical," he said. "I want to see them come up and make good, clean, solid hits.

"We’ll also go to a more zone-read running attack on offense."

Gehle likes the group he has.

"The kids have a lot of heart and a lot of desire along with their athleticism," he said. "These kids are absolutely amazing. You ask any of the kids to do something, and he’ll jump at the opportunity.

"Working with these boys is the best part (of coaching). These kids are great role models. They do what it takes to get the job done."

Heartland Lutheran has never won more than two games in a season. Gehle thinks this team can start taking positive steps.

"The best thing they could accomplish would be to start building a great (program) for the future," he said. "I’d like to win at least half of our games. That’s something we’ll shoot for."

But it won’t be easy.

Five of the Red Hornets’ opponents – including defending Class D-2 champion Giltner – made the playoffs last year. All of them won at least once in the postseason.

But Gehle thinks the team will be ready, thanks in large part to his coaching staff – line coach Steve Heath, receivers/line coach Josh Holden, defensive coordinator David Carr and defensive backs/receivers coach Tyson Greenwalt.

"If it weren’t for them, I’d be in trouble," Gehle said. "It’s a great bunch of guys."

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