Cass Tech, Campbell's Glories Grow

November 24, 2012

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

DETROIT — Thomas Wilcher is a former Detroit Public School League football star who has become one of the most successful coaches in the state. 

Perhaps such a future awaits the city’s brightest current star, Detroit Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell. 

Wilcher raved about his sophomore signal caller’s mental grasp of the game after the Technicians became the first PSL team to win back-to-back MHSAA football championships with a 36-21 victory over Detroit Catholic Central on Saturday at Ford Field. 

Campbell has orchestrated the offense during both championship runs, each of which ended with a dominant performance against perennial power Catholic Central. Cass Tech routed the Shamrocks 49-13 in last year’s title game, as Campbell threw for five touchdowns. 

Campbell’s stats weren't as gaudy this time around (4 for 12, 154 yards, one touchdown), but it’s not his physical gifts that drew high praise from Wilcher after the game. 

“I told him on the telephone one night, ‘I don’t care about your arm right now. I just love the way you think on the football field,’” Wilcher said. “That’s what makes him so important to me right now. We’re teaching.” 

As a freshman, Campbell was given limited ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage. As a 10th-grader who has already started 28 varsity games, he has earned more trust from his coaching staff than many seniors. 

“They gave me more of a green light this year,” Campbell said. “Last year, they pretty much told me I could change the play from left to right; that was the most green light I had. This year, I’m changing passes to runs, runs to passes. It’s not getting difficult, but it’s more responsibility on me. I’m up for the challenge.” 

Campbell altered the original call on two of Cass Tech’s biggest offensive plays.

On the Technicians’ first play from scrimmage, he audibled senior receiver Jourdan Lewis from a stop route to a go route. Lewis made a leaping catch between two defenders along the left sideline and took off for an 89-yard touchdown to open the scoring with 9:31 left in the first quarter.

“It was supposed to be a stop,” Campbell said. “The corner was playing so far up, I knew Jourdan Lewis was going to get around him. I just told him to go ahead and do what you do.”

In the fourth quarter, with Cass Tech trying to put the game away, Campbell changed a pass to a draw play to running back Mike Weber on fourth-and-10 from Catholic Central’s 30-yard line. Weber exploded 26 yards to the 4-yard line, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by Campbell that expanded the lead to 29-7 with 7:59 remaining.

“I saw they had only one linebacker in the back,” Campbell said. “Coach Wilcher really believes in me. He knows I will get the job done. He really trusts me.”

Catholic Central came in looking to avenge last year’s 36-point loss in the Final, but the Shamrocks fell behind 12-0 in the first five minutes on the 89-yard catch by Lewis and a 58-yard fumble return by 260-pound defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs.

The Shamrocks (9-5) slowed the momentum and got back in the game at 12-7 on an 18-yard pass from Garrett Moores to Zach Bock with 2:02 left in the first half. The Technicians (12-2) tacked on a 31-yard field goal by Ken Snapp to take a 15-7 lead into halftime.

A 57-yard run by Weber on third-and-17 set up a 30-yard touchdown run by Deon Drake Jr. on the following play, giving Cass Tech a 22-7 lead on the first series of the third quarter.

“We knew going in from last year’s experience that we can’t make mistakes, because they capitalize well on mistakes, but we did,” Catholic Central coach Tom Mach said. “They made a great throw and catch on the first touchdown. Then we made a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on. We found ourselves in a hole and had to try to get out of that hole. We were doing a good job of that, I thought. Then they exerted themselves and put another touchdown in.”

It became a 29-7 game when Cass Tech went 79 yards in 16 plays, taking 7:14 off the clock before Campbell scored on his 3-yard run with 7:59 left in the fourth quarter.

Catholic Central twice made it a two-possession game in the final 5:57 on touchdown passes by Moores, but the Technicians had an 84-yard interception return for a touchdown by Delano Hill in between them.

“It was no different than last year,” Catholic Central senior running back Anthony Darkangelo said. “We knew last year they were a fast team and we had to keep contain on the edges outside. They executed their game plan and we didn't execute the plan we had for the game.”

Click for full statistics and to watch a replay of the game. See below for the full press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Cass Tech David Dawson hoists quarterback Jayru Campbell (10) during Saturday's Division 1 Final. (Middle) Cass Tech running back Mike Weber runs into a crowd of Detroit Catholic Central defenders including Sean Birney (18) and Dylan Roney (89). (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)

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.)