Shawn Griffith is fully aware of the fact he’s now coached fathers and sons, uncles and nephews during his tenure at Constantine High School.
That doesn’t make him old, he says; it just means he’s “seasoned.”
It also means he’s now been around long enough to experience both the highs and lows of coaching. Traditionally one of the state’s small-school powerhouses, Constantine lost its way in 2017 with a 3-6 record — Griffith’s first losing season since taking over the program in 2007 and the school’s first sub-.500 season in 26 years.
With a pair of Division 6 championship game appearances (2011 and 2012) and a 114-36 overall record to his credit, last autumn’s fall from grace, though somewhat expected, he said, was a reminder that high school sports still have a cyclical nature.
Attrition, inexperience, lower participation numbers, defensive struggles and fractured team chemistry all attributed to the disappointing season. Still, the Falcons were four points away from five wins, which likely would have been enough to qualify for the playoffs. With a 5-4 regular-season record back in 2013, Constantine went on to advance to the Regional Finals, underscoring Griffith’s mantra of improving each week and what can be accomplished by doing so.
“We knew last year we were going to go through some growing pains,” Griffith said. “I think the 3-6 thing really helped these guys focus in the offseason, and they have done a great job coming together.”
Now the Falcons, 2-0 this year after blowout victories against Gobles (56-0) and Quincy (42-7), are out to reclaim their seat at the table, with expectations just as high as they’ve always been. A few players only need to look at their family trees to be reminded of what’s possible.
Senior fullback Brendon Schragg in particular has a bloodline that traces back to the most memorable year in Constantine football history, as his uncles literally carried the Falcons to their only MHSAA football championship.
With Griffith then serving as offensive coordinator in 2004 — just the second season after he transitioned the offense from an I-Formation to the Wing-T — senior twins Jim and Mike Schragg lined up in the backfield for the Falcons and combined for nearly 3,800 rushing yards, fueling the team’s title run and 13-1 record.
Mike Schragg, a tailback, rushed for more than 100 yards in the championship game against Suttons Bay, a 34-13 Constantine victory. But it was fullback Jim Schragg’s legendary effort that put him atop the MHSAA record book list for yards in a Final after he went for 307, including an 89-yard run.
“We were loaded with backs,” Jim Schragg said. “It’s a fun offense to run. Some parents get ticked off that we don’t throw it enough, but you have three bad things that can happen with a pass and not too many bad things can happen with a run.
“It’s cool to have your name there with the record and all that. But the state championship is more important to me than the record and running for over 300 yards. The state finals was the whole goal for our senior class. It was state championship or bust. That was what every single kid played for on that team.”
Some things haven’t changed. Though going from a three-win season to a state title is extremely unlikely, Brendon Schragg and his teammates believe they can put together a pretty special year.
“They were superstars to me,” Schragg, who rushed for 575 yards and five touchdowns as a junior, said of his uncles. “I always had the dream that if you go to state, I want to go to state. That’s been a goal since I was 4 years old.
“In my opinion, come Week 5 when we start our (Southwestern Athletic Conference) games, I think we are going to come out and compete. There isn’t a doubt in my mind we can’t win a league title. I ask myself a question every day, ‘Why not us?’”
Brendon Schragg is a three-year starter and one of three returning backs this season. The Falcons haven’t needed complete games out of the trio in the victories so far this year, but Schragg has 145 yards and two TDs on 14 carries. He and teammates Hunter Lindbert and Josh Lawson will probably split the load the rest of the season. Lindbert has compiled 188 yards and 4 TDs on 14 carries, and Lawson has 235 yards and two TDs on 18 carries.
Of course, none of it would be possible without the big guys up front.
“We’re just more physical in the trenches this year,” Schragg said of linemen such as Trenton Stears, Marquise Wykle, Matt Hutton and Austin Loose. “Hutton, our center, both his uncles played on the state championship team, believe it or not.”
Part of Griffith’s job is to both encourage his players to shoot for the moon and to make sure they also have their feet firmly planted on the ground. He certainly understands there are challenges ahead with teams like Kalamazoo United, Watervliet and Schoolcraft.
“We look a lot better,” he said. “But we’re certainly not naïve; we see some pretty darn good football teams on our schedule here coming up. I think our guys have done a real good job of not blowing this out of proportion. It is what it is; it’s a good start. They have done a good job of concentrating and preparing week to week.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Constantine defensive players motion for a turnover during their win over Gobles in Week 1. (Middle) Brendon Schragg, far left, breaks through the Gobles defense. (Photos courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)