Colleagues Connect in Classroom, Coaching

By Pam Shebest
Special for

September 17, 2019

MATTAWAN — When students enter one of the social studies rooms at Mattawan High School, they should not be surprised to see a white board full of Xs and Os.

It is not a game of tic-tac-toe, just a series of football plays.

With three head football coaches teaching in the same wing, there is plenty of pigskin conversation being tossed around before and after school.

Ryan Brown, who teaches social studies and power training, is in his fifth year coaching Mattawan. Wade Waldrup, who teaches social studies and English, is the first-year head coach for Lawton. And Matt Stephens, a social studies teacher, is in his fourth year guiding the program at Paw Paw.

The coaches, who are also friends, do not have to worry about going head-to-head at any time.

“There’s no chance we’ll play against each other, not in the playoffs or anything,” Waldrup said.

That is because the schools vary in enrollment enough that, should they qualify, they will end up in different MHSAA playoff divisions when those are determined after Week 9. The three schools also play in different conferences, with Mattawan in the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference West, Lawton in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Paw Paw in the Wolverine.

“I’m glad we don’t play each other because for me, I take my competition very personally and I think they’re both the same way,” Brown said. “It wouldn’t cause issues, certainly not professionally, but personally you’re not as close. You can’t share, and I would miss that.”

Added Stephens: “I appreciate the fact that I coach at a school where I come to work every day and don’t have to look at the athletes from Mattawan and know that I’m going to have to play against them.

“I think that allows me to have some comfort in that I can root for Mattawan and I can root for Lawton because I’m at a different level.”

Sharing is what the three often do, and all agree that they tap into each other’s strengths.

“Matt is more of an offensive guy,” Waldrup said. “I’m more of a defensive guy. Matt’s probably the more creative one and I think Ryan is really good at fundamentals and technique.”

Stephens said another advantage is understanding the ups and downs of the season.

“We’ve known each other for so long, honestly when one of us is down and one of us is up, it’s ‘We feel your pain,’” he said.

“It’s not this issue of we won and you didn’t. It’s more like, ‘We’ve been there before.’”

Although Lawton is 3-0 on the young season, “Matt is probably the top dog because Paw Paw (3-0) is ranked No. 1 in the state,” Waldrup said.

Mattawan is 1-2, but like Paw Paw made the playoffs last season and opened this fall with an impressive win over Kalamazoo Central.

“Honestly, rankings are just media’s way of trying to keep people interested,” Stephens said. “We’re talking to our kids about what they’re going to do to earn it. Being No. 1 is great, but Plainwell doesn’t care if we’re No. 1 and neither do any of our other opponents.

“If you get a No. 1 ranking, that just fuels the fire for other teams. We feel fortunate, blessed to be given that credit, and it’s nice for the kids. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to how you perform.”

The trio’s coaching connection goes way beyond this season.

“There’s a little bit of a coaching tree with Ryan, myself and Wade and I guess it all filters under me, but not necessarily intentionally,” Stephens said.

“I was head coach at Mattawan, so Ryan worked under me quite a while and Wade worked under me for one year before going to Constantine.”

In addition, both Stephens and Brown played football at Vicksburg High School.

Stephens was an assistant under then-coach Denny Patzer while Brown was a player there.

Brown connected with Waldrup after starting his teaching career at Mattawan 19 years ago.

“Many moons ago, Wade was my student teacher,” Brown said. “That was a fantastic experience.

“He left and went to Constantine, then came back this way.”

Waldrup said he came late to education, joining the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Clawson High School near Detroit.

He spent nine years as a Marine, then decided to go into education after returning from three years in Okinawa during Desert Storm.

Before taking the job at Lawton this year, Waldrup was Brown’s defensive coordinator at Mattawan, making a splash at the first game last season.

“Our first game last year, I always get coaches the pullovers, shorts, polos and hats, and Wade shows up wearing this gold hat and gold shirt and bright pants, and I was like ‘Where’s that from?’ Brown said, laughing.

“And he said ‘I’ve got my own stuff.’ I always tease him that he had to stand out. He was the golden child. He said he wanted the defensive guys to see him, which makes perfect sense. But at first it was like this bright yellow and I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

Stephens and Waldrup keep their teaching and coaching lives separate.

“When we’re here during the school day, we try very rarely to talk about the other schools that we coach at so we can be a fan of our kids,” said Waldrup, adding that they never wear gear from their football schools while teaching at Mattawan.

When Friday nights roll around, the three are rooting for each other, and they dissect the games on Monday.

“We throw ideas off each other absolutely all the time,” Stephens said.

Brown said there is a definite coaching connection between the three.

“There are some things only they get, only they understand,” he said. “They talk about the Presidents Club, the ex-presidents and how they’re so close after they leave office.

“That’s how I feel like with those guys. I can look at them and give them a look and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I know.’

“I always say I would want my kids to play for either one of those guys, to have that experience. They’re good men, and that’s the first mark of a good coach, I think.”

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) Clockwise from left, Paw Paw’s Matt Stephens, Mattawan’s Ryan Brown and Lawton’s Wade Waldrup all teach at Mattawan during the day and coach local varsities after class is done. (Middle) From left, Brown, Stephens and Waldrup. (Middle below) Brown prepares to talk to his team during a break. (Below) Stephens sends players back onto the field during the team’s 3-0 start. (Mattawan photos by Haley Hagen/Paw Paw Courier-Leader. Paw Paw photos by Matthew Day/Hot Shotz Photography. Lawton photo courtesy of Wade Waldrup. Head shots by Pam Shebest.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.