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Strickland brings wealth of experience to De Pere football program

By Rich Palzewic
Sports Editor

DE PERE – Despite never being a head football coach, that doesn’t mean the new De Pere leader doesn’t have experience.

De Pere Athletics Director Jeff Byczek recently announced the hiring of Ben Strickland to take over for the departed Chad Michalkiewicz, who resigned after 11 seasons to take over the Kimberly job.

Ben Strickland

“I’d like to thank Jeff Byczek for giving me the opportunity,” Strickland said. “My family and I are honored to be part of the De Pere community. I’m looking forward to building relationships with the student-athletes, coaching staff, school and the community. I could tell immediately it seemed like a good match.”

Strickland, a Brookfield Central graduate, brings a wealth of playing and coaching experience to the Redbirds.

He played defensive back and special teams at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2003-07.

“I started my career as a walk-on,” Strickland said. “During the summer of 2005, (then Head Coach) Barry Alvarez put me on scholarship. I had an enjoyable four-year career there and was voted team captain in 2007.”

Strickland said it was because of a Brookfield Central teammate that he had the opportunity to walk on at Madison.

“My high school teammate was Joe Thomas,” he said. “(Then assistant coach, now Head Coach) Paul Chryst came to watch Joe play, and I had a good game. To be honest, I probably got an opportunity to walk on because the coaches were heavily influenced by me being friends with Joe.”

The offensive lineman Thomas enjoyed an 11-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and was named to the Pro Bowl 10 times.

Strickland said he realized he didn’t have a playing career beyond Wisconsin, so in 2009, he joined the Badgers’ coaching staff as a defensive graduate assistant/quality control.

He later spent three seasons as secondary coach/defense pass game coordinator and served as recruiting coordinator/director of player personnel in spring 2015.

In June 2015, he joined the staff at Florida Atlantic University, where he was a secondary/special teams coach until January 2017.

Since March 2018, he’s been a defensive and offensive coordinator at Edgewood High School in Madison.

Strickland said before he accepted the Edgewood job, he and his wife discussed about making the switch to high school coaching versus college.

“I like being engrained in a community,” he said. “As a college coach, you put in lots of hours, and when you get time off, you spend it with your family. High school coaches work lots of hours, too, but you’re around your family more.”

Strickland, who earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees at Wisconsin, will teach special education at De Pere High School.

Byczek said he’s excited about bringing Strickland aboard.

“Coach Strickland and his family are a valuable addition to the community,” he said. “The people he’s worked with characterize him as an outstanding coach, but more importantly, a trusted, reliable person, teacher and mentor.”

The Redbirds posted five winning campaigns in the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) during the past 11 seasons.

De Pere went 7-0 in the 2020 alternate fall season, and this past fall again went undefeated in the FRCC and 9-2 overall.

The Redbirds also finished 9-0 in the conference and 10-1 overall in 2015.

“When I was coaching at Wisconsin, I recruited the state,” Strickland said. “I was in the Green Bay area quite a bit. I felt I had a good relationship with Gary Westerman at Bay Port. I know (Ashwaubenon Head) Coach (Brian) Ryczkowski from college, and he was in my wedding. It’s fun to be in a competitive conference.”

The 36-year-old Strickland said he’s hoping for big things from the Redbirds this season.

“Looking at the kids coming back and trusting in what those around them are saying, it seems like a great group of senior leaders,” he said. “They are guys who’ve had success – they believe they can be successful. Every year is a new year, though. We have some good pieces in place.”

De Pere opens the 2022 season by hosting Neenah in a nonconference game, Aug. 18.

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