By Tom Spencer
Special for Second Half
For the second time in four years, Jerry Angers walked onto Ford Field last fall with his Maple City Glen Lake football team seeking an MHSAA Finals championship.
It is not likely he’ll do so again.
The next time he sees those athletes play who he led to the Finals in 2016 and 2019, they will be suiting up all over the Midwest and possibly country for college football competition. It may even be in professional football stadiums, as some of his former players have experienced.
Angers announced his plans to step down as the Glen Lake head football coach at the end of an 11-year run with a 74-42 record. After the 7-0 loss to Monroe St. Mary in November’s Division 6 championship game, he made the difficult decision many MHSAA coaches face.
He’s putting his family, and in particular son Duke, first.
The younger Angers plays football for Saginaw Valley State University. He’ll be starting his junior campaign in August, and “Coach Dad” (as Duke calls him) will be there watching every game and supporting his son. At the same time, Jerry will watch several others he coached play with — and against — his son’s Cardinals team.
The younger Angers is one of 70 football players Coach Dad has mentored in high schools all over Michigan who have gone on to or will play college football. Duke plays H-back and tight end for the Cardinals. Two current Lakers, Ben Kroll and Jonathan Wright, are headed to SVSU next year to play with Duke. A few other Glen Lake grads from the team that fell in the 2016 Division 6 Final, 26-14 to Jackson Lumen Christi, also are playing at the college level. That gives Coach Dad lots of chances to see his former players compete.
In particular he’s excited to see Cade and Drew Peterson when Grand Valley State University and the Cardinals meet in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Association play, although the Peterson brothers will be on the opposing sideline.
Like many were, Duke was a little stunned by his Dad’s decision.
“His first comment was, ‘Dad, those kids need you more than I do,’” Jerry Angers recalled. “I told him I need to be there for you.”
Angers will continue as a teacher at Glen Lake and head up the Lakers’ strength and conditioning program and serve as the assistant track coach. He’s excited to have a little more time to travel with his wife Kathy, and to just watch football and visit his daughter Megan in Denver.
“Thankfully, Coach Angers isn't going anywhere,” said Lakers athletic director Mark Mattson. “He will still play a very important role in our school and for our students, regardless of whether or not they participate in sports. While I am still somewhat shocked by Jerry’s decision, I am not completely surprised because I know how hard it has been on him to not spend more time with his family. He has tried to give his all to Glen Lake and his family.”
Mattson’s thoughts sum up the reaction to Anger’s decision, Coach Dad believes.
“Everyone has been very supportive here from the administration, the community, the players to the staff,” Angers said. “I am still here and will continue to do all the other things I’ve been doing.”
As Coach Dad looks to next football season, he is hoping to continue playing a special role for another one of his former players, Keegan Royston. Keegan’s father, Eric, a long-time MHSAA basketball and soccer referee and educator in the Lansing and Traverse City areas, died in 2019 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.
Angers is taking the senior long-snapper down to SVSU in the near future. The Cardinals have their eyes on him for next year’s team. Angers and Royston will be having dinner with the three other Cardinals football players with ties to Glen Lake.
“I am looking forward to it,” Angers said. “Before Eric passed away, he told me Keegan is going to need a strong role model to look up to. It’s pretty special for me as a coach to have this opportunity to help.”
Angers’ coaching career included stops at Bay City Handy, Traverse City Central, Traverse City West, Royal Oak and Waterford Kettering. A handful of his former players made it to the National Football League. He admits it is awesome to know he played a role in their development, but all of his former players are special to him.
“Ah, ‘Coach’ – that is the word, the label you always want and love to hear,” Angers said. “It is something to run into former players and get a greeting with ‘Hey coach!’”
And while Angers won’t be coaching Glen Lake in the fall, he is certain the Lakers will continue to raise the bar and find new ways to clear it.
“I believe the Lakers will continue to rise,” he predicted.
“They’re not going to fall off one bit. They are a great bunch of kids. And they want to compete.”
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) Recently-retired Maple City Glen Lake football coach Jerry Angers, with wife Kathy, son Duke and daughter Megan during Duke’s Lakers career. (Middle) Angers attends one of Duke’s games at Saginaw Valley State University with his family. Duke is No. 88 and his roommate Jake Dorn also is pictured. (Photos courtesy of the Angers family.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)