Division 2 Final: 'Anything is Possible'

November 29, 2011

DETROIT – That was the motto of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s football team this season.

And the Warriors had to believe it in order for Friday’s dream finish to become possible.

Brother Rice qualified for the Division 2 playoffs at 5-4 last month and after finishing just fourth in the Detroit Catholic League Central. But riding the legs of senior running back Devin Church, the Warriors finished this season with a 24-14 win over Lowell at Ford Field to earn their seventh MHSAA championship and first since 2005.

Church, who ran for more than 900 yards during the playoffs, piled up 244 and three touchdowns rushing in the Final.

“We did it to make Coach proud,” Church said. “We kept the tradition going.

“That’s everybody’s dream, to win a state title. To walk away with a ring, that’s a blessing.”

“Coach” is Al Fracassa, who finished his 43rd season by winning his 405th high school game. But this run provided a new experience for the longtime leader.

Playing in a conference that also includes Division 1 finalist Detroit Catholic Central, Division 3 finalist Orchard Lake St. Mary and playoff qualifier Warren DeLaSalle, the Warriors lost three league games by a combined four points. Brother Rice (10-4) picked up its fourth loss in Week 8 against Cincinnati LaSalle.

But wins over strong teams – Detroit Martin Luther King and Ann Arbor Pioneer among them – likely gave Brother Rice the playoff points boost it needed to get into the postseason.

“We were worried about making the playoffs again. You get down, but the kids, they taught me a lesson. They came out and they worked their tails off,” Fracassa said. “We had a motto before our season started. … Anything is possible. This motto really personifies this football team. Anything is possible, and they’re going to remember it the rest of their lives.”

Church – who will sign with Northern Illinois in February – ran the ball 33 times. His yards were the sixth-most in an MHSAA Final ever. And they were followed by some flattering comparisons from Lowell coach Noel Dean.

“I don’t want to belittle their team by making it about one player; they have a great team,” Dean said. “(Church) is a fantastic football player. One of the better ones I’ve seen. And I’ve coached against some pretty good running backs in my day. The Grady brothers and the Ducketts, I’ve seen some pretty good ones. He’s fantastic.”

Fracassa added: “He’s done that all year, for the last three years. This is not only his good game he played. He’s played good in every game he’s played.”

And while Church ran wild, the Warriors were able to contain Lowell all-state quarterback Gabe Dean, who was making his third straight appearance in the Division 2 Final. A senior now, he led the Red Arrows to a championship game win in 2009

Dean did throw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, but was able to get free for just 34 yards on the ground as Lowell (12-2) attempted to catch up, and catch Church, most of the afternoon.

“The veer offense, we learned how to shut it down this week in practice. And we did a great job in the game,” Brother Rice junior linebacker Jon Reschke said. “We got them out of the veer and into a shotgun formation, the spread offense, which they didn't want to be in, which helped us.”

Senior linebacker Mark Doman had a team-high 13 tackles for Brother Rice, and Reschke had 10. Junior linebacker Reed Stormzand had 20 to lead Lowell, followed by sophomore linebackers Garrett Stehley and Jake Stehley with 14 and 12, respectively.

Click for full stats and play-by-play.

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)