Family ties run rampant for Northeast Dubois

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Northeast Dubois’ Bryce Merkel battles with Shoals’ Caleb Belcher for possession in Thursday’s 1-0 victory for the Jug Rox in Dubois. Merkel is one of three freshman soccer players for the Jeeps who are entering the program following the departure of their older brother due to graduation along with Landon Gutgsell and Blake Reckelhoff. For more photos from the match, click here.


DUBOIS — Last year, Brandon Merkel and Lucas Gutgsell were two of the primary facilitators on the Northeast Dubois boys soccer squad that reached the IHSAA regional tournament.

After graduating, the pair passed the torch so to speak to two younger counterparts for the upcoming season — their brothers. Landon Gutgsell, Bryce Merkel and Blake Reckelhoff are all members of the Jeeps 2018 freshman class that had older brothers play on the Northeast Dubois sectional championship team last season.

Even though the season is just six games young, Northeast Dubois head coach Clive Williams has been thoroughly impressed with what he’s seen from the freshmen class.

“For me, to have our freshmen step up this early is a necessity basically because of the numbers we have,” said Williams following the Class 1A No. 9 Jeeps 1-0 loss to Shoals on Thursday afternoon in Dubois. “We might have seven seniors but there’s only a few sophomores and juniors in between so we’ve been trying to get the freshman opportunities.”


Upon first glance out on the pitch, Bryce strikes very similar resemblance to his older brother Brandon. Whether it be the red hair or the same No. 10 on the back of the jersey, it’s almost hard to tell that it’s not Brandon out on the Jeeps field for a fifth year of action.

But the two brothers have differences in their styles of play — while Brandon was a striker/forward (and a very solid one at that, he finished his senior season with 23 goals), Bryce has primarily played a defensive role for the Jeeps (4-1-1, 3-1-1) this season. However, it wasn’t always like that.

“All summer I had practiced playing on offense and then about a week before our opening game Coach (Williams) walked up to me and said ‘Hey, I think we’re going to need you on defense’ and I was just like ‘Um, okay’,” Bryce said with a laugh. “I had played a little bit of defense in middle school but when I got to my first high school game I was a nervous wreck, especially when the ball first came to me and I didn’t know what to do.”

Now that Bryce has had a little more time to get adjusted to playing his role on the defensive side of things, he feels more comfortable talking with his teammates about where they need to be and communicating in general about what’s going on out on the pitch.

The main tactic that Bryce feels he learned from his older brother? Speed kills.

“I kind of developed that from him and I just noticed that being fast and controlling the ball will really help you with possession,” Bryce said. “Playing back defense, it can hurt you if you’re not fast but since I’m faster I’ve been able to keep up with guys buy just staying in front of them instead of having to try and tackle them or something.”

For Landon Gutgsell, he said that he learned a lot of things from just watching his older brother Lucas play in the goalkeeper position for the Jeeps.

In fact, if it wasn’t for his brother he may be very well playing a different position.

“I honestly always wanted to be a goalie just because of watching him,” Landon said. “He was outstanding and I always had him to look up to (in goal) — now, I just want to be better than him.”

While Williams does notice some similarities between Landon and Lucas, mostly their stance, he has been impressed with how quickly Landon has been able to take control in the goal as just a freshman.

Shoals’ Max Fischer catches the ball as Northeast Dubois’ Chase Zehr attempts to head the ball during the first half of Thursday’s game against Shoals in Dubois. For more photos from the match, click here.

“I think Landon is a bit ahead in terms of skill and ability compared to his brother at his age,” Williams said. “But I think that’s mostly because Lucas had other keepers in front of him so he

basically had to wait for his chance but Landon has been able to come in right away — he still has some work to do but he’s fit in nice.”

Landon can recall playing with Lucas all the time when they were younger and how his brother would help teach him some tips and tricks on things to work on.

The one that Landon remembers the most?

“Diving, definitely diving,” Landon said with a laugh. “That was one of the major skills I had to work on when I was younger and I’m still having to work on it now.”

For Bryce, the friendly battles between brothers happened almost on the daily — at least it felt like it.

“When we were little we’d play indoor soccer together or we’d go in our backyard, we have a pretty big backyard, and just play all day,” Bryce said. “We’d also just go up to the fields and kick the ball around and joke around and it honestly helped me get to where I’m at today.”

Even though Northeast Dubois was defeated by the Jug Rox on Thursday afternoon, one positive was that it meant more playing time for the young group of Jeeps.

And with just a small numbers of sophomores and juniors, the freshmen class will play a vital role for Northeast Dubois over the next few seasons.

“Today was one of the days where we were able to get them more opportunities because we weren’t able to get anywhere,” Williams said. “Landon and Bryce are both very integral to the future in my point of view both defensively and in goal because we’ve traditionally always had a really strong defense.”

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