Gridiron Glory, Catholic Calling: Trinity's Jilek on Faith, Football and Future

Mar. 19—DICKINSON — Faith ... there are few things that matter more to people who have it; yet it takes control for them like nothing else while helping the faithful let-go and trust in something much higher.

If you've met Jeremiah Jilek, faith drives the train, and there's no-telling how far it might go. All one has to do is listen to his coaches and their voluminous praise for the young man to know he commands a profound level of respect, among them and his peers at Trinity Catholic School.

"From a character standpoint, there are few kids that I've coached that are of the same moral character; he's just a good kid that you can rely on to do the right thing, all the time, and he's a leader on-and-off the field," THS head football coach John Odermann said. "I think from a mentality standpoint — especially on the defensive side of the ball — he's a big-time leader in terms of that energy: He lifts up his teammates very similar to how his older brother, Nathaniel had a quietness to him ... but also being an energy leader in terms of the positivity that he brings to both sides of the ball."

Odermann added, "He's also a really faithful kid, and that's something that I have to say: Doug and Deanna Jilek have done a really good job of raising good, faithful, Catholic kids and they wear it on their sleeve. But they're not braggadocious about it; you just know that those are good, faithful kids, and Jeremiah carries that torch well for the Jilek family."

The Jilek family is comprised of Jeremiah's Dad and Mom — Douglas and Deanna Jilek — and his older sister, Emily, older brothers Isaiah and Nathaniel, younger brother Elijah and little sister Maryana, the latter two of which will soon be seen on a varsity court or athletic field near you. Nathaniel was his "biggest recruiter" to the DSU program and gave Jeremiah an old defensive playbook on the day he signed to play for the Blue Hawks. "He and I have been doing stuff together for a long time: For baseball we go hit and throw together; when he learns something new he comes and teaches me right-away and he does the same thing for football ... it's been really helpful."

While he is on the cusp of hitting the baseball diamond for the Dickinson High School Midgets in their co-op — and recently left the basketball court for the last time — he stood out most-significantly on the football field, helping the Titans to an undefeated Region 4 record at 7-0 and a subsequent trip to the Division A State Championship game versus Kindred. Those abundant accolades, however, pale in comparison to his Catholic faith, which has propelled him towards his success and pushes him to be a 4.0 student in the classroom, too.

"I'm very faith-based, and all my morals, virtues and all those parts of my life I base off the Catholic faith and I use that to drive me every single day," Jeremiah said. "That's what I base my life and my actions on."

It's a unique situation at Dickinson State University, as Jilek will join his brother, Nathaniel, on the football field as the elder brother is currently a junior playing linebacker for the Blue Hawks. Nathaniel Jilek is an All-North Star Athletic Association Team member and was named to the NAIA Fall Scholar Team as well, and it's a tradition that goes back to when their father, Doug, and uncle, Dean, played on the same team together on offense for the school and were standout students in their own rights.

"Playing collegiate sports has been a goal of mine for a long time," Jeremiah said. "It helps with me being at home; it saves a little money and I love the city of Dickinson. I love that I get to stay here and then support Trinity, still, and stay in town and go to their stuff and I know they'll be supporting me at Dickinson State as well."

Jeremiah is a four-time all-academic honoree and was named to the Division A All-State Second Team on defense, and while the list of superlatives seems to go on, endlessly, that key component — faith — is something he always gets back-round to throughout his conversations as he is just as industrious in the classroom as he is on the athletic field.

"Religion is my favorite subject in school, especially because that's what I want to teach," Jeremiah said.

As he moves forward to his collegiate career, he wants to study physical education and become a teacher. But not just any teacher, as he plans on simultaneously taking theology courses online through the University of Mary so he can become a Catholic school teacher when he graduates and starts his professional life.

"It means a lot to me to make a difference, and I would love to come back to a school and see people excel," said Jeremiah, as he currently is a Trinity student assistant chaplain. "When I'm teaching them something, I love seeing them taking it and moving forward and that's the main reason I want to become a teacher is to see kids excel and make a difference in their lives."

With this mountain of evidence pertaining to his football acumen and clear indications of his character, Jeremiah fits the exact mold that DSU head football coach and athletic director Pete Stanton likes to see in athletic recruits to the school. While he showed on the football field why he would be a good candidate for the Blue Hawk football team, it was that special something that stood out for Stanton and made Jeremiah a prospect with virtually unlimited potential in so-many areas, he said.

"He's just an outstanding young man and comes from a great family and one that has the tradition of playing football at Dickinson State with his father playing and his uncle playing, so there are a lot of connections here," Stanton said. "But I just couldn't be getting a better young man into the program.

He added, "With Nathaniel being here, we always want somebody to look at our program based upon what's going to be best for them, but obviously I'm sure that family atmosphere and family connection has something to do with it. Nathaniel's been outstanding here and been one of our leaders and was an all-conference guy and I think with Jeremiah the really big thing that's come to the front — just in the last year — was the improvement that he made and he really stood out in the playoff games, in particular."

Jeremiah echoed those sentiments and said the coaching staff and players were mainly what drove him to join the Blue Hawk football program.

"I went on a visit to DSU with the football team and I told myself, 'This is huge; if I like it, this is where I'm going,' and I went and the coaching staff is super-welcoming and then the players, too," Jeremiah said. "The atmosphere is where they all love it and you can tell they enjoy being there and that's what sold it for me."

Looking back over his gridiron credentials, it's easy to see why he was such an important part of the Trinity program for such a long time. In the 2023 season, he led the team in tackles with 85 — 73 of which were solo — and forced 5 fumbles while recording a sack and scoring a pair of TDs on the offensive side of the ball at tight end. In his junior season, Jeremiah registered 54 tackles — 38 of which were solo — and notched a sack with 4 forced fumbles. On offense, he scored 4 TDs and had a 13.2 yards-per-catch ratio at 198 yards total.

It all adds up to a future that DSU and Trinity fans will find appealing, and the prospect of Jeremiah joining Nathaniel Jilek in the defensive backfield is a tantalizing one for coach Odermann and many others, as the brothers will be on-hand to delight ticket-holders at the Biesiot Activities Center for years to come. That consistency has become a hallmark of this graduating class from THS, with volleyball and softball standout Ava Jahner joining Jeremiah at DSU, along with All-Region 4 basketball star Jake Shobe and Division A Senior Football Athlete of the Year Ty Dassinger on one Blue Hawks roster or another.

"I'm just super-excited that we might see two Jileks in the linebacking corps at DSU ...," Odermann said. "I think that's something that we're really excited about as a coaching staff and in the school system — and we've got a number of guys on that roster — and it's going to be exciting to watch Blue Hawk football."

One way or the other, the sky's the limit for Jeremiah. But he simultaneously knows that staying grounded and humble is a key component to life and will continue to cite his faith as a singular, driving force.

With the baseball season approaching — and a potential desire to walk-on the DSU baseball team next year — Jeremiah has one, solitary prep goal to accomplish: "If this is going to be my last baseball season here, I'm giving it my all," Jeremiah said. "I want a state championship and I want to hang it on the wall. This is the last-hurrah."

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