Eric Treske Looking to Lead Warriors to ‘The Promised Land’
With the Wisconsin Lutheran College football season just days away, Coach Eric Treske will finally get to lead the Warriors in their first Northern Athletic Collegiate College (NACC) football game on Saturday. Treske returns to the team he once led as a player, now looking to restore the team to glory as the third head coach in school history.
Eric Treske Preparing to Build an Epic Story
For 40 years, Moses led the Israelite people through the wilderness toward the Promised Land that God had promised to them. Through many trials and tribulations, Moses had been the one constant the Israelite people had come to depend upon. They knew God was with them as well, but Moses had become their national leader. He was the voice who had steered them through tumultuous times and inspired them to continue on toward the land God had set aside for them
However, Moses would never see the Promised Land. He would pass away just prior to them entering their new home, as God turned the reins over to Joshua. Moses had long been his mentor and now it was Joshua’s turn to lead the nation of Israel into Canaan where they would become a great and powerful nation.
The relationship between Moses and Joshua is a common theme in the Bible. Whether it is Elijah and Elisha, Samuel and David, Peter and John Mark, or Paul and Timothy, the mentor-mentee relationship helped to not only create incredible men of God but also further His mission.
While his story may not be as epic as that of Joshua’s, there is a man who is looking to guide his people to their own Promised Land. A man who has sat at the foot of his mentor, embracing the teachings while developing and honing his own leadership style through his experiences and his own God-given talents. That man is Wisconsin Lutheran College Head Football Coach Eric Treske.
Following a Living Legend
Moses had become bigger than life to the Israelite people. He had been the very face of the Israelite people for two generations, and it must have been quite a challenge for Joshua to have been the man to replace a legend.
The sports world is filled with similar stories of this nature, especially within the coaching ranks. Times where an assistant or former player replaced a long time, successful head coach. Whether it is George Seifert replacing Bill Walsh, Ray Rhodes taking over for Mike Holmgren, or Ray Perkins replacing Bear Bryant, football is filled with mentor-mentee stories.
This is the case for Wisconsin Lutheran, where legendary head coach Dennis Miller stepped down as the head coach after nearly two decades as the leader of the Warriors. Not only was he the leader but he had been tasked with helping to start the football program at WLC and had served as its head coach for all but one of the team’s first 20 seasons.
That job became Eric Treske’s in 2019.
Coach Treske had been a star wide receiver at WLC from 2004-2007. He was a four-time letter winner, and led the team in receptions in both his junior and senior seasons. During those two seasons, he had a combined total of over 1100 yards receiving and seven touchdowns and was twice chosen as an all-conference selection.
He had proven that he had exceptional skills as a player, but left college believing that a new chapter in his life was about to begin, and it was not going to include football. “I did not envision myself a coach. You know, when I was finishing up my career here at Wisconsin Lutheran, and I was communication and marketing student and thought I would be pursuing something in those fields.”
However, God had other plans for the Coach and it was not long before he was recognizing this. “I thought God was taking me in one direction but, obviously, he had different and better plans. I had an opportunity to coach high school football and just loved that the way that you can mentor and help young men really figure out who they are. I just felt like this was a calling, like, I know I needed to be coaching, at what level I did not know, but I needed to be doing this.”
Building an Impressive Resume
In 2011, Eric Treske became a graduate assistant at NACC rival Lakeland, working with the wide receivers as well as serving as the strength and conditioning coach for two seasons. After completing his graduate degree in counseling, Coach Treske returned to his alma mater where he was an assistant for two seasons.
However, in 2015 he returned to Lakeland where he became the team’s co-offensive coordinator. Over the next three seasons, he helped turn the Muskies into a powerhouse offense, as Lakeland led the NACC in virtually all offensive categories for three straight seasons, including scoring, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and total yards.
In 2016, the Coach helped scheme one of the most powerful offenses in the country, helping Lakeland to an 8-3 record and an undefeated conference mark. Star quarterback Michael Whitley became an All-American player, as the Muskies averaged nearly 500 yards of offense per game.
Coach Treske had done an amazing job with this offense, something his former head coach and best friend, Colin Bruton, fully recognized. “He has a great football mind. He understands how to develop schemes and teach it to players. It is his ability to teach that really makes him an exceptional football coach.”
With that type of resume and endorsement, it was not surprising that Coach Treske got the job at Wisconsin Lutheran. Not only was he an alum, understanding the culture of the school, but he had proven that he had an exceptional football mind. He also was the perfect choice because he understood the culture of the football program and wanted to continue the foundation that his mentor had established.
“He’s the one that started this whole thing. So, my view has been not to replace him whatsoever. I’m trying to build on the foundation that he’s laid. Playing for him, I know that coach Miller has always stood for faith and character and in the things that I think that lasts well beyond your time as a football player, and those are things that we want to continue to build upon while I’m here as a coach as well.”
A Wilderness Experience?
Eric Treske was supposed to be taking to the field for the first time in September of last year, but Covid-19 had other plans for him. Like the Israelite people had to wander in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, his debut as the head football coach at Wisconsin Lutheran College was delayed as well.
This could have easily been an opportunity for grumbling, but Coach Treske has embraced it as just another opportunity to seek God’s plans.
“When things don’t go the way you pictured it, there’s the natural response to be disappointed. What we’ve talked about is that this is the reality, whether we like it or not, or we wish it was different, this is what we’re dealing with. So, how can we find opportunity? How can we find a way to turn this into a blessing?”
The Israelite people were forced to wander in the wilderness for 38 years before finally reaching their new home. Many would likely view this time as one of suffering and hardship, but it is during challenging times that people come closer together. It is quite likely that the Israelites grew more unified during this time, understanding that they were all in this journey together.
This is how Coach Treske has embraced this pandemic. Instead of seeing the delay with an attitude of disappointment, he is seeing it as an opportunity for the team to unify.
“The biggest blessing for us is that we get more time. Being a new coach and having new ways of doing things and new systems in place can be a challenge. The delay gave us an opportunity. I wish we were already playing but the delayed start has really given us more time as a team to coalesce and learn what we’re doing and develop our younger players. I said that the best thing is that we got six more months of preparation. We could do nothing, or we can do the best we can and just continue to work.”
A Love for His People
Moses was an incredible leader. A man who first doubted his calling at first, but who came to be recognized as one of the greatest figures in history. While Moses proved to be courageous and wise, his success in leading the Israelite people was rooted in his love for them. They were his people, and he wanted nothing more than to see them thrive and succeed.
There is a lot of Moses in Eric Treske. He is a very faithful man, committed to God, and he is one who takes his responsibilities as seriously as Moses did. Some may view him as nothing more than a football coach, but he understands that he is having an impact on a group of young men that is a lifelong impact. One that not only impacted them, but every person they encounter.
“I want to be someone that helped people be the light in their families and in their communities. I want to be a catalyst for that. Before I got hired, my wife and I had a conversation if this is the move that we wanted to pursue as a family and if it is, what does that mean? The one thing that I want to make sure that I always get God first in this role, and I always remember that at the end of the day, no matter how many games we win, that this was an opportunity to witness for Christ, and this is an opportunity to mentor these young men to do the same when they when they leave. So, if there’s nothing else that I do, if I bring some people to Jesus, and I help these guys go out and make an impact in their families, in the communities, then I’ll be very proud of my time here.”
To have that kind of impact, it all starts with relationships for the coach. From the first moment he reaches out to a player or talks to their parents for the first time, in every practice, walking across campus, or when sending a text, Coach Treske is about building lifelong relationships with his players so that he can have that impact on them and, even as importantly, they can impact him.
“I understand that there is a hierarchy here. That there is a form of vertical leadership, but I think the best organizations allow members to feel a certain sense of autonomy and investment. I think they also are at their best when people in that organization know they are cared for. That does not matter whether it is a company, a football team, or a church. They need to know that they have my full support even when they make mistakes. In fact, they need to know that it is okay to make mistakes and still be loved.
“I have walked in their shoes. I have been a player and a student here, and that has a lot to do with the reason why I chose to come to Wisconsin Lutheran. I wanted to be a part of this program, to get a great education and to play football, but I also wanted to be a part of something special. That is the experience I want for these young men. We are part of the family here and I want them to feel a part of that family. Families grow and learn from one another. That is one of the biggest blessing for me is how much I have learned from these young men already.”
God and WLC Football Are Love
1 John 4:18 declares that “God is love.” No matter how one views God, the truth is that at His very core, He is all about love.
While this may seem unusual, this is the same principle that Eric Treske wants as the foundation for his football program.
“We have a verse that ties our program together. John 15:13 says, ‘Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ The reason that we chose that verse was we wanted our guys to understand that love is an action. So, Jesus loved us, and He showed us that love on the cross and being resurrected for us. So, we want to show love with our actions. We want to back it up and sometimes that means sacrificing. That’s the root of who we are.”
What some forget is that players spend 30 hours a week practicing, working out in the weight room, training, and studying game film and playbooks to play in a 60-minute game. There is a significant amount of self-sacrifice for so little return. This can be a grueling time for any young athlete, especially when they have a full load of classes, personal life, and other responsibilities. It can be easy to walk away or become disenchanted, and this is why the coach has made love the foundation of the team.
“Every player is going to face challenges, times when they make mistakes, so I challenge them, ‘Who’s going to be there to pick him up, counsel him through those things? When he’s having successes, ‘Who’s going to want to be there to celebrate those things and encourage him to continue to push?’ This is love. This is what Wisconsin Lutheran football is about.”
Reaching the Promised Land
Much to the dismay of alumni, what must be understood is that the ultimate goal for Coach Eric Treske is not to win on the football field. It is winning young men to want to reach a closer relationship with God. This is first and foremost on his mind. After all, he came to WLC searching as well.
“When I came here, it wasn’t that I wasn’t a Christian, but my family was not practicing. We didn’t go to church and I didn’t read the Bible. We would pray before dinner, we would celebrate Christmas and Easter, but I didn’t really have a true relationship with Jesus at that time of my life, and that is the greatest gift that I received coming here. That’s what inspired me to want to come back.”
Over three thousand years ago, a man named Moses made a commitment that God would be the center of all that he did. He trusted that God would help inspire and teach him how to lead over a million people through a time of great calamity and trial so that one day they would form a great and powerful nation. That is exactly what Israel became under the tutelage of Moses and later his mentee Joshua.
What this story teaches us is that great things can be accomplished when one puts God as the “fire” guiding them in life. With the same kind of faith and commitment that Moses demonstrated, is there any question that Eric Treske can do great things with the Wisconsin Lutheran College football team? Can I get an Amen to that?
By Robert Pannier