HUDSON – Payton Rogers doesn’t remember the first time he went to a Hudson Tigers football game.
That because he was about 6 months old.
“He was in a stroller,” said his father, Hudson head football coach Dan Rogers. “When he says he grew up around Hudson football, he means it literally. He was always on the sidelines with me. He was a ball boy by the time he was 5.”
Payton has a much different role these days. The 17-year-old senior is a starting linebacker, top tackler and emotional leader for Hudson’s powerful defense that will play for the Division 8 championship Friday at Ford Field against Beal City. Hudson is 13-0 and one of nine remaining undefeated 11-player teams in the state.
It’s little surprise that Payton grew up to be a great defensive player. His father had coached the Hudson defense for nearly two decades before becoming the head coach at the start of the 2020 season. The Tigers were coming off a 2-7 season during which several sophomores – including Payton – were pressed into starting roles because the team was so young.
Those five are still playing and now have starring roles.
“They all had a big part of our Semifinal win,” Coach Rogers said. “That was nice to see. They all started that sophomore season, and there were some rough times. That hard work is paying off.”
Payton was among those starters, although he was the starting nose tackle, despite being somewhat undersized.
“He got in there and got beat up a little bit,” Coach Rogers said. “That was his role. He was quick, and he always battled hard.”
After last season, when Hudson went 4-4, Payton told his dad he wanted to play linebacker this year. He worked the entire offseason on getting bigger, stronger, and faster so he would be ready for his new role.
The work was more than worth it.
Payton leads the team in tackles with 95 and solo tackles with 38. The 5-foot-6, 150-pounder is tied for the team lead in interceptions and second with six tackles for loss.
“He will watch film with me and pick things out, what works, what he wants to do, what doesn’t work,” Rogers said. “If I don’t agree with something, I’ll tell him, but he’s the coach on the field. He makes our calls and gets kids into the right spots. He’s become really good at watching film and breaking things down.”
Studying – not just watching – game film has been a passion for father and son. Coach Rogers said he took some advice from other coaches he knew who had coached their sons, and he sets some restrictions on watching film with Payton.
“You have to pick a time where you are watching as a father and son and when you are watching as a coach-player,” he said. “We just put it out there. Before we start watching, it’s ‘okay, this is coach-player,’ and we watch. You have to do it that way.”
Payton said the two of them know when to talk football as coach-player and when to be father-son.
“I’d say we mix it up,” he said. “Tuesdays at Hudson has always been defensive film day. That goes way back, so I’ve always watched film with my dad. This year it became a little more important because I needed to know more about the keys and the other team. My dad always taught me little things about football, but this year, with watching film, he’s taught me so much.”
The Hudson defense has been outstanding from the start, posting seven shutouts in 13 games. From Week 4 through the Regional Final, Hudson gave up just two touchdowns total.
Five Tigers defenders have at least 50 tackles on the season – Cameron Kimble has 85, Austin Marry 65, Ethan Harris 53 and Bronson Marry 53. In the Semifinal game against Ottawa Lake Whiteford on Saturday, the Tigers gave up 22 points over the first 14 minutes, made some adjustments, then shut out the high-scoring Bobcats the rest of the game. They forced three turnovers along the way.
On Whiteford’s final drive, the Bobcats got inside the Hudson 5-yard line with 1.9 seconds to play, but the quarterback came up a yard short on a 4th-and-6 play. Harris and Nick Kopin made the stop, ending the Whiteford scoring threat and turning the ball over to Hudson for the final play of the game.
“Harris and Kopin were part of that group of sophomores,” Rogers said. “They made a great tackle on their quarterback.”
Beal City will bring an offense averaging 35.5 points a game into the championship against Hudson.
“It’s certainly going to be a challenge,” Rogers said. “They are big and physical.”
Hudson made back-to-back Finals appearances in 2009 and 2010. Payton had a front row look for both games, serving as the ball boy for the Tigers.
“On 2009 and 2010 I was on the sidelines with my dad,” he said. “It’s such an honor to go back. I haven’t been there since then. I just want to enjoy it with my father and my team. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Payton wasn’t just handed the role of ball boy. He had to learn from older ball boys and move up into the ranks.
“I wanted to be on the sidelines with my dad,” he said. “I was ball boy all the way up until 2016.”
Hudson has a storied football history, most famous for the 72-game win streak during the 1960s and 1970s that drew national attention. One of the players on the 1975 team was Chris Luma. Luma would go on to coach Hudson, stepping down after the 2019 season. He was the coach who brought Rogers onto the staff. This season, Luma has a seat in the Hudson coaches box, talking in the ear of Rogers and other coaches about what he sees on the field.
It's a continuation of the Hudson football community and family. Roots run deep in Hudson, and the football team is usually top of mind.
Rogers is part of that family. The 1992 Hudson graduate – yes, he played for the Tigers – will not only have his son Payton on the field, but his younger son, Harper, 8, will be the ball boy for the game. His wife, Lindsey, and daughter Mia, 13, will be in the crowd.
“Everything is family around Hudson,” Payton said. “Our team has grown up together, and this year there have been so many people at our games, past players and guys we used to look up to. It’s been great seeing them come back for games.”
While a trip to the Finals is nothing new for the Tigers – Friday will be their fifth all-time appearance – it’s always a big deal in Hudson.
“I’m so happy for these kids and this community,” Coach Rogers said. “It’s a special thing to be a Hudson football player and live in Hudson and coach. The players are rewarded, and the whole community really supports the team. I’m just so happy for everyone right now.”
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) Hudson senior Payton Rogers (22) hugs junior Calix Campbell after Saturday’s Semifinal win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford. (Middle) Hudson coach Dan Rogers (right, with assistant Jacob Bovee) provides instruction from the sideline. (Below) The Tigers celebrate their Semifinal win. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
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) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)