It’s game time again for 605 high school football teams across Michigan.
Each week, we’ll again discuss intriguing 11-player games from every region of the state and the 8-player divisions, and special this Week 1 we’ll also take a glance at a matchup from all three of the opening showcase events being played over the next three days.
Nearly 200 games will be broadcast this weekend either on the NFHS Network or Bally Sports Detroit; click here for the schedule. To see a list of all games – and scores as they come in – click here for our Score Center.
Rankings below are by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.
Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic – Wayne State University – Tom Adams Field
Sterling Heights Stevenson (10-3) vs. West Bloomfield (10-2), Thursday
The Lakers have high hopes again after winning Division 1 in 2020 and reaching the Regional Finals a year ago. They enter this season ranked No. 2 in Division 1, behind only reigning champion Belleville. But Stevenson will seek to make a statement right away after reaching the Semifinals last season.
More Xenith games THURSDAY Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (8-4) vs. Macomb Dakota (8-4). FRIDAY Allen Park (9-3) vs. Wyandotte (4-5), Belleville (13-1) vs. Novi (5-5). SATURDAY Dexter (5-5) vs. Grosse Pointe South (6-5), Cedar Springs (9-3) vs. River Rouge (7-3).
Battle at the Big House – University of Michigan – Michigan Stadium
Clarkston (8-2) vs. Davison (5-4), Thursday
After reaching the Division 1 Final two seasons ago (and falling to West Bloomfield), the Cardinals missed the playoffs last season but did finish on a 4-1 run and had two defeats by three points – including 29-26 to Clarkston in the opener. The Wolves will be playing their first game under former assistant Justin Pintar, who took over after the retirement of Kurt Richardson, who was 274-98 from 1987-2021.
More Big House games THURSDAY Brighton (4-5) vs. Dearborn Fordson (9-3), DeWitt (12-2) vs. Haslett (8-3). FRIDAY Livonia Churchill (8-3) vs. Plymouth (1-8), Port Huron (6-4) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (14-0), Lapeer (7-3) vs. Ann Arbor Huron (8-2).
Vehicle City Gridiron Classic – Kettering University – Atwood Stadium
Grand Blanc (12-1) vs. Grandville (7-4), Thursday
The Bobcats’ only loss last season came to eventual Division 1 runner-up Rochester Adams in a Semifinal, and they enter ranked No. 8 in the division under first-year coach Kaleb Forr – who previously led Flint Kearsley to its first District title in 2020. Grandville is a consistent Ottawa-Kent Conference Red contender and coming off a third-straight seven-win season.
More Vehicle City games THURSDAY Flint Kearsley (6-4) vs. Flint Carman-Ainsworth (2-7). FRIDAY Flint Southwestern (2-6) vs. Swartz Creek (5-5), Flint Beecher (4-6) vs. Saginaw Nouvel (3-6).
Bay & Thumb
Clare (7-4) at Freeland (11-2), Thursday
Freeland is opening the season ranked No. 6 in Division 4 after making a run to last year’s Semifinals – and losing only 30-27 in that game to eventual champion Chelsea. The Falcons’ campaign last season began with a 24-14 Week 1 win over Clare, which is coming off its 16th-straight winning season. But the Pioneers have something of a new look this fall; longtime assistant Steven Spranger has taken over the program from Kelly Luplow, who retired with a 251-95 record from 1987-2021.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Midland Dow (6-4) at Fenton (4-5), Goodrich (7-3) at Frankenmuth (12-1), Essexville Garber (5-5) at Hemlock (6-5), Croswell-Lexington (10-2) at Saginaw Swan Valley (6-5).
Orchard Lake St. Mary's (6-5) at Rochester Adams (13-1), Thursday
Adams played as long as possible last fall, reaching the Division 1 championship game before suffering its lone loss of the season, to West Bloomfield. The Highlanders are capable of that sort of run again and enter the season ranked No. 3 in Division 1. St. Mary’s is another program replacing a longtime coach, as past star Jermaine Gonzales has taken over for retired George Porritt, who was 278-94 from 1989-2021. The Eaglets enter this fall ranked No. 4 in Division 4.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Montrose (7-3) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-3), Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-4) at Detroit Catholic Central (8-3), Walled Lake Western (7-4) at South Lyon (12-1). FRIDAY Canton (7-4) at Livonia Franklin (7-6).
Jackson Lumen Christi (11-2) at New Lothrop (7-4), Thursday
This is the second year in this series of openers between the annual Division 7 championship contenders, with Lumen Christi winning last year’s matchup 27-14. The Titans ended up advancing to the Semifinals, while New Lothrop lost to eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia in a District Final. There’s every reason to think those high-level opportunities will be possible again, as Lumen enters No. 4 and New Lothrop No. 5 in the Division 7 rankings.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Ovid-Elsie (6-4) at Portland (10-3), Zeeland East (5-5) at Williamston (6-4). FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (10-2) at Fowler (7-4), Redford Union (8-2) at Pewamo-Westphalia (14-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
McBain (7-4) at Kingsley (10-2), Thursday
Kingsley owns a 5-3 edge during this latest series between these longtime rivals, with the Stags winning big last fall to kick off what ended up turning into another playoff season for both programs. That’s an expectation again for both. Kingsley enters ranked No. 6 in Division 5 and carrying a combined 40-6 record over the last four seasons. McBain is right there at 35-16 over five straight winning campaigns.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Marquette (7-3) at Traverse City West (6-4), Ludington (3-6) at Petoskey (3-6). FRIDAY Charlevoix (8-2) at East Jordan (6-3), Traverse City Central (12-2) vs. St. Joseph (8-5) at Ferris State.
Southeast & Border
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (7-3) at Clinton (9-3), Thursday
While it would be easy to put the matchup of traditional heavies Hudsonville and Saline here, there’s a lot to talk about as well with Notre Dame Prep taking a trip to Clinton. This will be another nonleague game that eventually should benefit both in playoff points – win or lose. Notre Dame Prep is opening ranked No. 5 in Division 5, while Clinton is No. 5 in Division 6 coming off last season’s District title.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Carleton Airport (4-5) at Ida (8-3), Hudsonville (4-5) at Saline (9-1), Jackson (5-5) at Monroe (4-5). FRIDAY Blissfield (3-6) at Ottawa Lake Whiteford (11-2).
Reading (6-4) at White Pigeon (10-2), Thursday
This could be a preview of a Division 8 playoff matchup, as both are expected to be among contenders – Reading entering the season ranked No. 5 and White Pigeon No. 7. They’ve managed to elude each other in playoffs past although that nearly came to an end last fall, when Reading fell to eventual champion Hudson in a District opener and White Pigeon was edged by the Tigers 8-0 in the Regional Final.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Battle Creek Harper Creek (7-4) at Battle Creek Lakeview (7-4), Zeeland West (6-3) at Stevensville Lakeshore (7-4), East Lansing (7-4) at Portage Central (9-3). FRIDAY Berrien Springs (10-1) at Kalamazoo United (8-4).
Iron Mountain (7-4) at Negaunee (8-3), Thursday
The Mountaineers have won all three matchups since this one went to opening night in 2018, but by only three, three and two points – 14-12 last season – respectively. Starting with a win is even more important as they’re both likely to contend again in the always-loaded Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper. Additionally, Iron Mountain enters this fall ranked No. 9 in Division 8.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Sault Ste. Marie (6-3) at Escanaba (1-8). FRIDAY Calumet (9-3) at Gladstone (4-6), Ishpeming Westwood (10-2) at Houghton (5-4), Menominee (5-5) at Marinette, Wis. (0-9).
Edwardsburg (12-1) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (9-2), Thursday
Edwardsburg has lived among the elite for more than a decade, its only loss last season in the Division 4 Semifinal to Hudsonville Unity Christian. The Eddies enter this weekend ranked No. 5 in that division but facing an opponent that took a mighty step last season toward returning to championship contender status. The Falcons improved three wins last fall and enter this one ranked No. 2 in Division 6.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Holt (7-3) at Caledonia (10-2), Whitehall (8-3) at Hudsonville Unity Christian (13-1), Montague (8-4) at Spring Lake (6-4). FRIDAY Grand Rapids Christian (7-4) at Grand Rapids South Christian (8-4).
Mendon (8-3) at Martin (11-1), Friday
These league foes met twice last season, Martin winning 28-20 during the regular season and 41-22 in a Division 1 Regional Final. The first round decided the Southwest Michigan 8-Man Football League Tier 1 championship, and this one could eventually do the same. Martin enters ranked No. 4 in Division 1, and Mendon is No. 8 in Division 2.
Keep an eye on these THURSDAY Pickford (7-3) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-5), Suttons Bay (12-1) at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (7-3), Morrice (10-1) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (7-3). FRIDAY Vestaburg (6-4) at Portland St. Patrick (9-1).
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PHOTO A rainbow decorates the pregame sky last season at Otsego. (Photo by Gary Shook.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)