Gameplanning around Braiden McGregor seemed like a no-brainer coming into the season for Port Huron Northern’s opponents.
While avoiding the 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior linebacker and defensive end is still pretty wise, it’s not exactly working thanks to the emergence of senior defensive lineman Maurice Powell and an overall outstanding supporting cast.
“I think it’s just the whole team – I don’t think it’s one person or anything like that. It’s just us working together as a team every day and every game,” said McGregor, who has 16 Division I college offers, including from the Big Ten’s elite and Notre Dame. “I don’t think they can really gameplan around one person, because we have another person that steps up and makes plays.”
The Huskies will play for their first Regional title Friday night at home against Warren DeLaSalle. With a pair of playoff wins and a Macomb Area Conference Blue title already under their belt, this already has been the most successful season in program history regardless of what happens against the reigning Division 2 champion.
That success can be attributed in large part to the Northern defense, which is allowing 11.6 points per game, its best effort since 2010 when the team allowed a paltry 9.8 per contest.
“It’s been truly energetic throughout the whole wave of the defense,” Powell said. “We all feed off of each other’s energy, and we work hard in practice every day. We don’t give in, and we play hard every game.”
Powell has been a problem for opposing offenses all fall, as he racked up 75 tackles with 16 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (including one returned for a touchdown) during the regular season.
His outstanding season has led to interest from Division I and II collegiate programs. While he doesn’t have an offer yet, he has taken recent trips to Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan University. He’ll head to Northwood for an official visit in December.
“It’s been nice, of course to have the talent with those kids, and also the supporting cast they have around them,” Northern coach Larry Roelens said. “Those two guys right there are leaders, too. They come out and work just as hard as anyone else, if not harder than anyone else, and kids see that and they feed off it. It’s been amazing. The kids are buying in and feeding off each other, and the school and the staff and the students, it’s been phenomenal.”
Both players are versatile, and defensive coordinator Brett VanDrew has used Powell all over the defensive line, while using McGregor essentially everywhere but cornerback. Their abilities, along with the emergence of players like middle linebacker Austin Eagle (who had the game-clinching interception in overtime of the District title game against St. Clair Shores Lakeview), has made gameplanning that much more difficult for opposing offenses.
The defense’s play as a whole, meanwhile, has made things easier for Roelens, who calls the offensive plays.
“Knowing you have a good defense and knowing we run the ball 70 percent of the time, it helps control the game and dictate the clock, and that’s kind of how we’re built,” Roelens said. “We just kind of methodically make our way down the field and put some points on the board, and know our defense is going to hold strong. If we just keep chewing clock and playing field position, we’ll be all right.”
Neither player has shied away from the spotlight their success, and that of the team, has brought upon them. When asked if they have to block out all of the eyes that now are watching them on the field, both smiled and laughed it off.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Powell said. “You just have to make it happen. … You have to have fun while you’re playing.”
Both also realize the eyes on them aren’t just those of college scouts, but a younger generation of players in Port Huron. They’re excited to help show them the way.
“All this recruiting stuff has really helped out with bringing football back to Port Huron, especially with the younger kids like TAFL (Thumb Area Football League, the area’s youth program),” McGregor said. “My mom and dad’s friend, he’s a coach there and they all just want to be like No. 17 (McGregor), I guess. I went to a couple of their practices, and it’s cool, but I’m just happy that football is starting to pick up in the area again. I hope that next year, we can be a pretty big powerhouse again, then keep it going.”
The attention given highly-recruited prospects and a winning program also benefits the other current players on the team.
“Everything goes hand in hand,” Roelens said. “The more football games you win, the more exposure you’re going to get, and you have a good supporting cast of the other kids on the team that just keep working in the weight room in the offseason and the winter time, because they never know when they’re going to get seen, too.”
Northern’s next opponent – DeLaSalle – is no stranger to the spotlight winning and top recruits can bring to a program. The Pilots ended Northern’s season in the District Final a year ago and will be considered favorites by most Friday night, despite having to travel to Northern’s home field.
After spending the entire season playing as if everyone was watching, the Huskies feel they’re ready for the spotlight.
“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Powell said. “We’ll play anybody – we're not scared of anybody. We play with heart night in and night out, and we won’t back down from a challenge. We love challenges, and we live for stuff like this.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTO: Port Huron Northern’s Braiden McGregor (17) and Maurice Powell celebrate a big play during the Oct. 5 21-14 win over Port Huron. (Photo by Delta Imaging.)
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.)