5-0 Oakridge Healing 2018 Heartbreak

October 2, 2019

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Muskegon Oakridge had an extra reason to celebrate in the rain on Friday night.

It was about more than just overcoming sloppy conditions and the never-say-die Montague Wildcats in a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in The Associated Press’ Division 5 rankings. There was more to it than getting a leg up in the West Michigan Conference race with a thrilling 15-13 overtime win.

This was about overcoming two of the most heartbreaking losses imaginable one year ago – and dedicating the win to those who never got a shot at redemption.

“That win was for those seniors from last year,” said Oakridge running back Leroy Quinn, a four-year starter who rushed for both of his team’s touchdowns and a game-high 144 yards, putting him over 4,000 rushing yards for his career. “I love those guys, and I miss them. We all grieved together last year, and now we’re celebrating for them.”

Oakridge led Montague in their 2018 meeting 24-10 with 3:45 remaining, when the Wildcats roared back with two touchdown passes and then a game-winning, 2-point conversion run by Sebastian Archer with no time on the clock for a 25-24 win.

It was the type of gut-wrenching loss which is hard to shake off.

“It’s a helpless feeling,” said Oakridge senior nose guard and offensive tackle Will Scraver. “The only thing you can do is try to forget and focus on the next game.”

Unfortunately, less than one month later, Oakridge would experience an even more bitter defeat. The Eagles’ second loss had finality as it came in the MHSAA District championship game, as they squandered a seemingly safe 35-8 halftime lead in a stunning 40-37 loss to Hudsonville Unity Christian. Adding salt to the wound was having to sit home and watch Unity then roll over its next three opponents en route to the Division 5 championship.

“Sometimes it’s hard to put those losses behind when you have umpteen people coming up to you at the store or the gas station asking you what the heck happened,” said Harger, who is in his ninth year as the Oakridge coach after serving for 16 years under Jack Schugars, the all-time winningest coach in Muskegon-area football history.

“All we can do, as coaches and players, is to learn from our mistakes and to take care of all the little things so that we win those kind of games.”

Oakridge, 5-0 and now No. 1 in Division 5 in the latest Associated Press poll, has been focused and motivated this fall – starting with a tough road test at Belding and most recently with the big revenge win at Montague.

Oakridge and Montague were scoreless through three quarters and tied, 7-7, after regulation. Quinn scored from three yards out in overtime, then added what proved to be the game-winning 2-point conversion run. Montague answered with a 10-yard pass from Drew Collins to Brennan Schwarz, but Nate Fair and Corey Vanderputte stuffed the 2-point conversion attempt.

Quinn, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound battering ram, has led the way with 465 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He now has 4,065 career rushing yards, eclipsing David Nelson’s previous school record, and needs five more rushing TDs to pass Jamie Potts for that school mark.

Quinn’s play thus far has been no surprise, but how quickly others have stepped up in the backfield and on the line is the reason why Oakridge is back to No. 1 in the state.

Junior quarterback Ethen Dailey (5-11, 145) has done a solid job managing the Eagles’ offense, and speedy sophomore Vanderputte has emerged as the breakaway threat.

But it was the play of the offensive line, where Fair is the only returning starter, that keyed the win at Montague.

Oakridge, which lined up in a double tight end, full-house backfield look most of the game and threw only two passes (completing none), finished with a 222-70 edge in rushing yards.

“With the tradition out here, there are always new players ready to step up,” said Fair, who also starts at inside linebacker. “We might not have a lot of big names on the line, but we knew we were going to be good.”

Four of the Eagles’ five interior linemen are seniors, with the lone exception sophomore center Derek Driscoll. The guards are seniors Josh Havermans and Jason Pego and the tackles are Fair and Scraver. Starting at tight end are junior Luke Martin and sophomore Ethan Josza.

Harger is not ready to start talking about avenging last year’s playoff loss, as his team still has tough games remaining at North Muskegon in Week 7 and the final two weeks of the regular season at home against Ravenna and first-time opponent Traverse City St. Francis.

Oakridge could also have a couple of new playoff challenges close to home. While the Eagles appear a lock to be in Division 5, they may be joined by resurgent neighbor Muskegon Orchard View (on the bubble of Division 4 and 5) and Montague (on the Division 5 and 6 bubble).

“Our motto this year is: ‘Exceed Expectations’ and, considering the group we lost last year, these guys have done that so far,” said Harger, who is 75-16 and has made the playoffs in each of his first eight years as head coach.

“This is not a real rah-rah group of kids. I think they just love to play football and with the way last year ended, they are thankful for the opportunity to come out and play again.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Oakridge sideline celebrates late in the Eagles' 15-13 overtime win at Montague. (Middle) Oakridge senior Leroy Quinn, who became the school's all-time leading career rusher earlier this season, runs through a big hole into the end zone for a touchdown. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)