DAKOTA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)– There are a couple major changes with Dakota High School’s football program this season. The hope is those changes will help the Indians return to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

The first big change at Dakota is the guy now running the team. Former defensive coordinator Dan Sheets is the head coach. He’s also the track coach at Dakota. He has a connection with the kids and that could explain why their numbers are up.

“We’ve got a lot more excitement around the program this year,” said Sheets. “We’ve got a lot more kids this year. We finished the season last year with about 32 players in the program. This year we’re at 52.”

The other big change is two state champion wrestlers at the school have joined the team, Phoenix Blakely and Noah Wenzel. Blakely is playing halfback and defensive back. Wenzel is playing guard and defensive tackle.

“They make a huge difference,” said Dakota fullback/linebacker Tom Bowman. “Last year we didn’t have Noah Wenzel. This year we’ve got him. He probably is one of our best linemen.”

“It’s always good to have a connection with the wrestling program,” said Sheets. “Wrestlers have a different mentality. They bring a different attitude.”

Kaiden Niedermeier is no newbie to Dakota football. He’s back for his third year as the starting quarterback. Sheets is impressed with him.

“He has done unbelievable as far as knowing the playbook, and it’s completely different from last year.”

“There’s been a few changes,” said Niedermeier. “A little more responsibility than I think last year with the playoffbook and stuff.”

Tug Dornink will be a main target for Niedermeier when Dakota chooses to pass, but as usual the Indians will opt for the run game. Speedster Adrian Arellano returns at running back.

“I think with the offense we’re going to have it’s going to set up really nice for him,” said Sheets. “Adrian’s going to have some open holes to run through. When he hits them he goes.”

Bowman will be clearing some holes as the fullback. Jason Bowers is another running back. Jacob Taylor returns on the offensive line. In all Dakota returns eight starters on offense and eight on defense. Sheets has switched the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The linebacker trio of Arellano, Bowman and Dornink will be the key unit.

The Indians hope these changes will mean a playoff berth.

“We’re determined to get to those playoffs and make the Dakota community proud this year,” said Neidermeier.