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It was the spring of 2009 and Dustin Hass was preparing to become a graduate assistant for the Indiana University football team.

The native of Oconto, Wis., had never attempted a pass as a quarterback for the Hoosiers, but he had received the program’s “Team Above Self” award the previous fall. Feeling he had something to offer, he met with Bill Lynch, Indiana’s coach at the time.

“He sat me down and said, ‘What are your goals? What do you want to do?’ “ Hass recalled. “I said, ‘Some day, I want to be a head coach,’ and he said, ‘Well, you know the offensive side of the ball. It’s time for you to learn the defensive side of the ball.’ So he made me a defensive graduate assistant and that’s what I’ve coached ever since.”

The last five years, he coached defense at Carthage College and was among those responsible for overseeing a program resurgence. And now that the 33-year-old Hass has been named to replace Mike Yeager, who was hired at Division II Tiffin in Ohio, he plans to take the Red Men to another level.

Hass will have a strong base since he is inheriting a program that had successive records of 2-9, 3-7, 5-5, 7-3, 7-3 under Jaeger. With a number of key returnees, Hass sees no reason why the Red Men can’t remain on the ascent in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.

“He did a phenomenal job,” Hass said of Yeager. “He set the standard for recruiting, he set the standard for how our guys are going to act and how they’re going to practice, so, for me, it was an easy situation to come into. We didn’t have to change the culture or anything like that. Coach Yeager already had it set in place.”

Carthage offered a preview of what may be coming, ironically enough, with a loss. The Red Men opened their season Sept. 1 with a 20-9 loss to fourth-ranked UW-Oshkosh, the NCAA Division III runner-up last season.

Despite losing starting quarterback Kyle Friberg with an injury early in the game, the Red Men trailed just 7-6 going into the fourth quarter.

“You’re always happy when your kids play hard and they play well,” Hass said. “We would have all liked a different result and I think we had our chances. Honestly, it’s a game we should have won.”

The Red Men should be doing plenty of winning this fall based on the talent that returns.

It starts with Friberg, who completed 118 of 189 passes for 1,620 yards, with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions as a junior last season. Other key returnees on offense are two CCIW selections last season — receiver and punt returner Tommy Bazarek and tight end Sean Wells.

Those who made the biggest impact against Oshkosh were running back Lafayette McGary, who rushed for 110 yards and on 22 carries, and wide receiver Evan French, who had nine receptions for 131 yards.

There will be some challenges. Graduation took a toll on the offensive line, especially with two-time first-team All-CCIW tackle Isaiah Trussell of Racine. And Jamel Davis, an All-CCIW running back, transferred.

Defensively, the Red Men should be loaded and it starts with the secondary. Strong safety Djogi Bumba, free safety Amani Dennis and cornerback Connor Calvert — the latter two were All-CCIW last season — all return.

Other top returnees are defensive tackle Jacob Simar, who missed most of last season with an injury, and two other All-CCIW players — defensive tackle Cedrick Fry and middle linebacker Emmet Trost.

Also on Carthage’s roster are five former Racine County players — defensive linemen Jose Ramirez (St. Catherine’s) and Cashmen Beal (Case), tight end Payton Johnstone (Horlick), wide receiver George Sims (Horlick) and defensive back Tarail King (St. Catherine’s).

“They’re doing well,” Hass said of the county players. “Payton travels as a backup tight end and plays a little bit on special teams, Jose Ramirez is a backup defensive end and kind of rotates in and Cashmen Beal is a backup defensive end and played on special teams against Oshkosh. Once he gets it figured out, we’ll start rotating him in.

“Tarail King is a little but further down on the depth chart at our nickel spot. And we also have George Sims, who is a little further down on the depth chart.”

What is Hass expecting from this team?

“Compete for the conference title,” he said. “I think we’ve done that the last couple of years and we have a good group of seniors who will help us be in the mix again this year.”

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