Baker Gives LCS Star Power in Multiple Roles

August 16, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ADRIAN – It’s hard to figure out Adam Baker’s best position.

The Adrian Lenawee Christian senior made The Associated Press all-state football squad as a sophomore and junior as a defensive back, but his best position probably is quarterback. If the Cougars are to make the playoffs for a school-record third consecutive season, it’s a good bet it is because of Baker’s arm.

“He’s better than he was last year,” said LCS head coach Bill Wilharms. “He had a really nice summer. He’s got a lot of confidence back there. If we can give him time, he’s going to find someone to throw it to.”

The Cougars kicked off practice this week coming off an 8-2 season and the school’s first-ever Southern Central Athletic Association football championship. Their season ended for the second straight time with a loss to Ottawa Lake Whiteford, but with a host of returning skill players – Wilharms counts 11 potential pass receivers for Baker – Lenawee Christian has high hopes for this fall.

“I think it’s going to be a great season,” said Baker, a fourth-year varsity player. “This group of guys are really close, very tight-knit. Everyone is working hard so far. Our coaches are pouring everything they have into working with us.”

Baker’s stats were fantastic last season. On defense, he counted six tackles for loss among his 73 total stops to go with one sack, two interceptions, five pass-break-ups, and he recovered a fumble. On offense, he rushed for 419 yards, averaging nearly five yards a carry, and passed for 1,618 yards and 22 touchdowns. He completed 65 percent of his 204 passes. And, just to show how he almost never comes off the field, Baker also averaged 30.1 yards on his 16 punts.

“If he has time in the pocket, the defense better be able to cover about 50 yards,” Wilharms said. “We’re going to use all of the field.”

Baker shared the starting quarterback duties as a freshman and grew into the starting signal-caller as a sophomore. Last year he was the leading passer in Lenawee County. This year, Baker will target several familiar receivers, as the Cougars welcome back five of their top six pass-catchers from a year ago.

The list includes Hutson Hohlbein (33 receptions, 630 yards), Michael Braman (16-327), Ahsean Jones (22-222), Jameson Chesser (28-221), Hanson Lilly (11-46) and Isaiah Willett (11 receptions).

“I’ve been throwing the ball to these guys for four years now,” Baker said. “I have a connection to them. I know where they are going to be. It doesn’t matter who gets the ball or who I throw to. I trust all of them.”

Another key receiver on this year’s Cougars squad will be Landon Gallant, the backup quarterback who will get on the field in one of the receiver slots for Wilharms.

“I didn’t get him on the field as much as I would have liked to last year because he was my backup quarterback,” Wilharms said. “He’s going to play this year. He’s probably one of the fastest kids in Lenawee County, but he doesn’t do track because he’s a golfer.”

Chesser is for sure one of the fastest in Lenawee County. He finished fourth in the 200 dash at last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. He’s a running back but figures big in the Cougars’ pass offense.

“He’s a great running back,” Baker said. “Coach says we are going to be more of a 50-50 team this year with running and passing.”

Wilharms said he spent a lot of the summer with Siena Heights University football coaches learning some ins-and-outs of the run-pass option offense.

“Baker is the kind of kid that if you give him the box, he’s going to take off,” Wilharms said. “If you don’t, he going to throw on you.”

Over the past two seasons, he’s passed for more than 3,000 yards, more than 40 touchdowns and made 150 tackles.

“I enjoy playing both positions,” Baker said. “On offense, I like to try and lead the team, to get the ball to as many different guys as I can. I want to distribute the ball and just drive down the field. On defense, I have my role and I like to tackle.”

Baker, 18, is used to staying busy in a variety of roles. He grew up on a 500-cow dairy farm in Clayton, located just south of Adrian.

“It’s fun,” he said. “You get the opportunity to do a lot of different things, drive a lot of different things. There is a lot of stuff to do.”

The family grows hay, corn and soybeans. Baker loves being raised on a farm.

“I’ve been working with my dad on the farm since I was little,” he said. “It’s what I’m thinking about going to college for.”

Baker said he expects to be more of a team leader this fall. He was named one of the captains Thursday.

“When I was younger, the older guys we had did a lot of teaching,” Baker said. “Now that I am a senior, I try to do that for the younger kids. I’m hoping to be more of a leader for the team. I have a lot of experience, and I’ve been in a lot of different situations.”

Wilharms said the Cougars are excited for the season, especially after playing with only three seniors during the 8-2 run last year. Last year’s youth means this year’s squad knows about winning.

“They’ve taken their lumps and have had some success,” Wilharms said of the class of 2020. “They’ve got some unsettled things they want to take care of. They are focused on getting the job done this year.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian's Adam Baker runs away from a Pittsford defender. (Middle) Baker, far right, works out during practice this week. (Top photo by Mike Dickie; middle by Doug Donnelly.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

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.)