Every once in a while — if a football coach is lucky — he finds a player on his roster so fast, so strong, so versatile that he honestly thinks the athlete could be plugged in at any position and find a way to thrive.
For Free State High coach Bob Lisher, that player is Joe Dineen. According to his coach, Dineen, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior, could play linebacker or corner, but Lisher decided the Firebirds (10-1) could use him best in the middle of the field, at free safety. There Dineen is constantly on his toes, making pre-snap reads and checks, breaking up passes and tackling anyone who manages to get beyond the line of scrimmage.
Lisher said Dineen is a “big-time” hitter, and like former FSHS standouts Preston Randolph and Ryan Murphy, he can out-run opposing players or run through them.
“He’s come up and put some hits on some people this year that hurt me from the sideline,” Lisher said. “The kid knows how to bring it.”
Dineen’s unique skill set, however, isn’t limited to his defensive prowess (62 total tackles, three interceptions and a touchdown). As he showed in the Firebirds’ 28-17 second-round playoff victory over Olathe East last week, with runs of 15, 10 and 72 yards, Dineen is an explosive option on offense, too.
His name won’t appear in Free State’s offensive starting lineup — Dineen backs up senior quarterback Kyle McFarland and senior running back TJ Cobbs — but Lisher views that as a luxury. Dineen is more than capable of contributing to the Firebirds’ potent offense (37 points a game), but FSHS can rest him some on offense, with Cobbs, Demarko Bobo and Dineen contributing to a running-back committee.
Things were a little different early in the season, when the majority of Dineen’s snaps came at safety, not running back.
“I wanted to get worked into the offense somehow, any way I could, to help,” he said.
As the season progressed, Dineen’s productivity made it difficult to keep him on the sideline, and he now has 495 rushing yards and nine touchdown on 74 carries.
Dineen would prefer to be on the field as much as possible, and McFarland said that’s just a part of what makes him great.
“He can make plays on both sides,” the QB/cornerback said. “He’s just a really good leader out there.”
Senior FSHS linebacker Corban Schmidt couldn’t decide if Dineen is a better safety or running back, but said there was little doubt about his importance to the team’s success.
“He can really change the momentum of the game when we need it,” Schmidt said.
Whether he does so on offense or defense doesn’t matter to Dineen, either.
“They’re two different mind-sets completely,” he said. “So when you’re in on defense, you’ve just gotta flip a switch and go hit people. But when you’re on offense, you’ve gotta be more patient and wait for the holes to open up. You’re not trying to run into people, you’re trying to avoid it.”
Next year, Dineen will replace McFarland as Free State’s starting quarterback. Lisher said he could just as easily start at running back, but his rare blend of abilities means Dineen will get the keys to the FSHS offense.
Anyone familiar with Dineen’s lineage wouldn’t be surprised by his robust skill set. His mother, Jodi, helped Lawrence High win three volleyball state championships and another in basketball in her heyday, as did her sister, Jill Oelschlager. Dineen’s father, Joe Sr., played linebacker at Creighton Prep in Omaha, Neb., and won a state title in 1989 — the same year Jodi’s brother, Ronnie, quarterbacked LHS football to a state championship.
Before that, Dineen’s grandfather, Ron Oelschlager, played football at Kansas University in the 1960s, and his great-grandfather, J. Roy Holliday, played for Phog Allen on KU’s men’s basketball team in the 1930s.
Dineen guessed he gets his speed from his dad, who played a couple years at South Dakota, but his mom, who played volleyball at KU, likely contributed her all-around athleticism.
“I get to hear about it, too,” Dineen said of his mom, who often reminds him how talented she was.
Tonight, Dineen and the rest of his Free State teammates will try to get one step closer to a state championship of their own when they face Shawnee Mission West (10-1) in the Class 6A semifinals.
“Hopefully I can just keep playing defense the way I have, maybe even better,” Dineen said. “And on offense when I get the carries, I’ll just do whatever I can.”