Blake Drogowski was given a deadline. He missed it.
He also missed football.
The Adrian Lenawee Christian senior skipped his junior year of football while recovering from a foot injury that occurred during his sophomore season, and he was unsure if he’d come back and play as a senior. He participated in summer weightlifting sessions and workouts but was still hesitant to put the shoulder pads back on.
“After my foot injury, and I was in the process of healing, I kind of lost my love for football,” Drogowski said.
What he calls the brotherhood at Lenawee Christian brought him back to the game.
“Coach (Bill Wilharms) sort of gave me a deadline,” Drogowski said. “Some of my teammates tried talking me into it. I wasn’t sure. I think I missed the deadline by a couple of days. A couple of weeks before the season, I was like, ‘I might as well.’”
Now, 11 weeks into this season, Drogowski is playing at a high level and is one of the reasons Lenawee Christian is in hot pursuit of a third 8-player championship over the last four years. LCS hosts Deckerville on Saturday in one of the Division 2 Semifinals.
“We’ve been saving him all season,” Wilharms said. “He’s so fast. We kind of turned him loose in the Pittsford game and then again against Kingston. He’s been just coming along, coming along. He’s come back and worked so hard in the weight room. He is a difference maker.”
LCS has several difference-makers, which is what has led the Cougars to be ranked No. 1 in most of the polls this season.
The success starts with Wilharms, who has built a powerhouse football program. In the first playoff game two weeks ago, Wilharms earned career coaching win No. 100, counting 12 at Adrian Madison and 88 at LCS. To celebrate, several members of the LCS volleyball team dressed as Wilharms for the game.
“That was fun,” Wilharms said. “It was a total surprise. I didn’t know I was at 100.”
On the field, LCS is led by its field general, Sam Lutz. A senior, Lutz has accounted for 52 touchdowns – 24 rushing and 28 passing. He’s nearing 1,000 yards on the ground and is well over 1,500 yards through the air.
“We’re just out here to do our jobs,” Lutz said. “This team is like a family to me. We are really rolling right now.”
Up front, Tyler Salenbien has had a tremendous season at center, leading an outstanding line. On the outside, several backs and receivers rotate. Brenner Powers has more than 500 yards rushing and 250 yards passing. Easton Boggs, Paul Towler and Jesse Miller have all had big games on offense.
Wilharms makes most of the offensive calls from the sidelines as the players turn to him and await the call. He’s not afraid to draw up plays on the fly. That happened once during the Regional Final win last weekend over previously-unbeaten Climax-Scotts.
The play ended up being a touchdown run by Lutz.
“That one, honestly, we drew it up while we were standing here,” Wilharms said. “They were overplaying him on one side, so we drew it up a different way. I’m not sure we even have practiced that, but it worked.”
Wilharms utilizes all his weapons throughout a game, rarely relying on one player to do everything.
“Ever since I’ve got here the kids have just bought into it,” Wilharms said. “We have a lot of weapons.”
The 2023 Cougars remind Wilharms of his 2021 championship team.
“They remind me of the second state championship team because of the fact they are a fun-loving group who can have fun but then turn it on when they need to in games,” Wilharms said.
Drogowski’s road to becoming one of those weapons was a difficult one. As a freshman he was on the LCS junior varsity team before getting called up to the varsity. He was dressed and on the sidelines when the Cougars won their first Finals title.
As a sophomore, he was playing before a season-ending injury occurred in Week 4 against Athens. He tore a ligament.
“It was one of the last plays of the game, too,” he said. “It was an option play, and the quarterback pitched me the ball and it was just kind of the way I came down; it tore.”
His season was over, but he was still on the roster for the second Cougars title.
“I can see some of that team in this year’s team, how we all play for each other,” Drogowski said.
His junior year, he never came out for the team. With backing from his teammates, however, he has returned. It took some time to get used to being on the gridiron again.
“I missed the brotherhood and being part of everything,” he said. “It’s great being part of the team. I just love all these guys so much.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Adrian Lenawee Christian’s Blake Drogowski (7) and Sam Lutz enjoy a moment during a game this season. (Middle) Drogowski turns upfield during a big gain. (Below) LCS coach Bill Wilharms earned his 100th career win during this playoffs. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)
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.)