Ford Field, here we come.
The 37th MHSAA Football Finals need little more introduction than that. Over nearly four months, more than 600 teams were boiled down to 256, with that field then cut in half every week for a month as a fortunate few continued on in hopes of winning the top prize in Michigan high school football.
Sixteen weeks after practice began, 16 teams have that opportunity.
Eight championships will be won this weekend, four on Friday (Divisions 8, 6, 4 and 2) and four more Saturday. Mendon and Detroit Catholic Central both will attempt to win an 11th MHSAA championship to move into a third-place tie for the most football titles – and just two behind Farmington Hills Harrison. Then there are Detroit Cass Tech, Mount Pleasant and Pewamo-Westphalia, all making their first Finals appearances.
All eight games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit Plus (click to find that channel in your area) or audio-only on the MHSAA Network web site. Tickets cost $10 and are good for all four games on one day. Click for a full schedule.
Here’s a look at all 16 finalists. (Rankings and all-state honors were voted upon by The Associated Press’ media panel. Statistics were provided by schools; those for Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, Marine City, Lansing Catholic, Constantine, Ithaca, Mendon, Saginaw Nouvel and Fowler are through Semifinals, while the rest are through Regionals.)
DETROIT CASS TECH
Record/rank: 10-3, unranked
Coach: Thomas Wilcher, 14th season (93-53)
League finish: Tied for first in Detroit Public School League I
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 20-18 over Detroit Martin Luther King, 6-3 over No. 3 Utica Eisenhower (Semifinal), 6-0 over Warren DeLaSalle (Regional).
Players to watch: FB/LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, 6-1/215, sr.; WR/DB William Rembert, 6-0/175, sr.; WR/DB Terry Richardson, 5-9/162, sr.; FB/LB Laron Taylor, 6-1/215, sr.; WR/S Ruben Lile, 6-2, 180, sr.
Outlook: A defense giving up 9.5 points per game has gotten stingier as the season has gone on. Star power abounds: Jenkins-Stone and Richardson have committed to sign with Michigan this winter, Taylor and Lile will sign with Iowa and Rembert will sign with Buffalo. And junior receiver/defensive back Jordan Lewis might be the best of the next class. A point of concern might be that Cass Tech scored fewer than 10 points in six games. But if the Technicians can contain Detroit Catholic Central, they might be able to rely on a few big plays to score just enough.
DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Record/rank: 12-1, No. 2
Coach: Tom Mach, 36th season (322-77)
League finish: Second in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: 10 championships (most recently 2009), three runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 23-20 over No. 1 Rockford (Semifinal), 21-14 over No. 6 Canton (District), 56-6 over No. 7 Northville (Pre-District), 14-10 over Warren DeLaSalle, 21-19 over Division 2 No. 7 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 21-7 over Division 3 No. 4 Orchard Lake St. Mary.
Players to watch: QB/DB Kyle Cooper, 6-7/215, sr. (56 for 104, 963 yards, nine TDs passing); OT/DT Matthew Godin, 6-5/270, sr.; RB/DE Wyatt Shallman, 6-3/260, jr. (73 carries, 397 yards, eight TDs rushing); TE/DE Matt Doneth, 6-5/245, sr. (12 receptions, 218 yards, four TDs).
Outlook: With a win Saturday, DCC would tie East Grand Rapids with the third-most MHSAA championships in the tournament’s 37-year history. The Shamrocks haven’t backed down from tough competition, with 10 games this season against teams that made the playoffs (not counting a game against an Ohio opponent). And just like for Saturday’s opponent, Cass Tech, defense has been key this fall – DCC is giving up just 8.9 points per game. Godin is a giant presence in the middle and will sign with Michigan. If the Final is as low-scoring as appears possible, keep an eye on this guy’s foot: Senior Alex Kozlowski made 43 of 47 extra-point attempts and averaged 42.8 yards per punt through the team’s first 12 games – and hit a 27-yard field goal that eventually pushed the Semifinal to overtime.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS BROTHER RICE
Record/rank: 9-4, tied for No. 7
Coach: Al Fracassa, 43rd season (404-115-7)
League finish: Fourth in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Six championships (most recently 2005), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 30-7 over No. 1 Farmington Hills Harrison (District), 27-26 (Quarterfinal) and 28-21 over Detroit Martin Luther King.
Players to watch: RB/DB Devin Church, 5-9/182, sr. (255 carries, 1,675 yards, 17 TDs rushing); DB James Hendrix, 6-0/180, sr. (52 tackles, five interceptions); LB/TE Jon Reschke, 6-2/223, jr. (130 tackles); OL Dylan Anderson, 6-5/270, sr.
Outlook: Rarely has a 5-4 qualifier advanced to an MHSAA Final – but Rice’s run also has been a little different than the norm. The Warriors played in a league with two more finalists (Detroit Catholic Central and Orchard Lake St. Mary), and despite finishing fourth in the Catholic League Central lost three league games by a combined four points. Passing might’ve taken over this sport at most contending schools, but the Warriors continue to win on the ground with more than 3,000 yards rushing to just 880 passing this fall. Church, who will sign with Northern Illinois, runs behind a line that averages a solid 245 pounds and is led by Anderson, a Central Michigan prospect.
Record/rank: 12-1, No. 2
Coach: Noel Dean, 16th season (161-28)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent White
Championship history: Three championships (most recently 2009), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 36-7 over No. 3 Muskegon (District), 42-35 (OT) over No. 9 Walled Lake Western (Semifinal), 28-7 over Division 1 No. 1 Rockford.
Players to watch: QB Gabe Dean, 5-10/195, sr. (114 for 179, 1,744 yards, 13 TDs passing; 333 carries, 1,722 yards, 25 TDs rushing); RB Josh Addington, 5-9/180, sr. (186 carries, 927 yards, 11 TDs rushing); WR/DB Blake Lyman, 5-10/170, sr. (28 receptions, 564 yards, four TDs; two interceptions).
Outlook: This will be Lowell’s third-straight MHSAA Finals appearance – the Red Arrows fell to Farmington Hills Harrison 38-28 last season after beating Inkster in the 2009 championship game. Dean ran the offense in the two previous finals as well and will cap a career that’s already put him among Lowell’s great quarterbacks. The Red Arrows' only loss was to Grand Rapids Christian, which entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in Division 3.
Record/rank: 13-0, No. 1
Coach: Jason McIntyre, sixth season (60-11)
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 38-37 over No. 9 East Grand Rapids (Quarterfinal), 21-7 over Division 2 No. 4 Midland.
Players to watch: WR/DB Colton Odykirk, 6-2/200, sr. (45 receptions, 684 yards, six TDs; 67 tackles); LB/TE Spencer Moran, 6-0/205, sr. (118 tackles); QB/DB Ryan Elliott, 5-10/175, sr. (119 for 192, 1,685 yards, 13 TDs passing); RB/DB Michael Tweh, 5-10/195, soph. (234 carries, 1,726 yards, 24 TDs rushing).
Outlook: The Oilers have improved from 11 to 12 to now 13 wins the last three seasons, respectively, and finally got past East Grand Rapids after falling to the Pioneers two of the last three seasons. Mount Pleasant has relied mostly on a tough running game on the way to averaging 40 points and 400 yards of total offense per contest. McIntyre, a 1995 Mount Pleasant graduate, has led the team to four conference and District titles in the last five seasons.
ORCHARD LAKE ST. MARY
Record/rank: 11-2, No. 4
Coach: George Porritt, 23rd season (204-57)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Four championships (most recently 2000 in Division 4), five runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 14-10 over No. 3 Battle Creek Harper Creek (Semifinal), 14-13 over Division 1 No. 2 Detroit Catholic Central, 35-10 over Warren DeLaSalle, 10-9 over Division 2 No. 7 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 35-0 over Division 5 No. 7 Grand Rapids West Catholic.
Players to watch: FB/LB Grant Niemiec, 6-0/210, jr. (188 carries, 1,099 yards, 15 TDs rushing); RB/OLB Spencer McInnis, 5-11/180, sr. (167 carries, 1,254 yards, 20 TDs rushing); TE/LB James Ross, 6-1/220, sr.
Outlook: The Eaglets have fallen in MHSAA Finals two straight seasons and three of the last four, all to East Grand Rapids – which didn’t advance this fall. St. Mary always is loaded with talent, but this might be one of the strongest of recent groups as evidenced by winning arguably the toughest league in the state while giving up only 11.6 points per game. Ross has committed to sign with Michigan this winter and is considered by many the top defensive player in the state. Niemiec and McInnis provide a great assist to the defense by allowing the team to eat up the clock – both are averaging at least 5.9 yards per carry.
Record/rank: 13-0, No. 1
Coach: Tony Scarcelli, seventh season (80-7)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Gold
Championship history: Won championship in 2007.
Best wins: 15-7 over No. 5 Detroit Crockett (Regional), 55-31 over No. 6 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (District), 45-21 over No. 8 Croswell-Lexington (Pre-District), 61-38 over No. 7 Marysville, 28-13 over Division 6 No. 10 Madison Heights Madison.
Players to watch: RB/DB Anthony Scarcelli, 6-0/190, sr. (178 carries, 1,804 yards, 32 TDs rushing; 16 receptions, 383 yards, six TDs receiving); RB Jaime Salisbury, 5-8/160, sr. (129 carries, 959 yards, 11 TDs rushing); DB/WR Jack Badovinac, 6-0/165, sr. (30 tackles, six interceptions); LB/WR Aaron Loconsole, 5-9/185, sr. (109 tackles, seven sacks)
Outlook: Tony Scarcelli can cap his Marine City career – he’s announced he’ll resign after this season – with a second MHSAA championship and celebration with his son Anthony, who will sign with Central Michigan this winter. Although the Mariners’ league didn’t provide a ton of challenges during the regular season, Marine City showed it’s worthy of that top ranking against one of the toughest playoff slates faced by a finalist this fall. From the interesting stats file: Marine City has outscored opponents 179-16 in the second quarter. Once the Mariners have gotten rolling, they’ve been nearly impossible to stop.
Record/rank: 13-0, No. 2
Coach: John Shillito, seventh season (64-16)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Green
Championship history: Won championship in 2006.
Best wins: 43-21 over No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central (District), 26-21 over Zeeland East.
Players to watch: FB/DB Brad Mesbergen, 5-7/155, sr. (74 carries, 849 yards, 11 TDs rushing); HB/DB Derek Postma, 5-11/185, sr. (130 carries, 1,014 yards, 19 TDs rushing); HB/DB Kyle Kujawa, 5-10/190, sr. (114 carries, 923 yards, 14 TDs).
Outlook: Although the Dux faced only three eventual playoff teams during the regular season, the rampage has continued during the postseason – Zeeland West has won its last four games by an average of 32 points per. The Dux have crushed opponents on the ground, running for more than 4,600 yards. Senior linebacker Josh Blanton has keyed a steady defense for two seasons, but was injured in the Semifinal and is questionable according to media reports. A win would be the 220th of Shillito’s career, which has seen him also lead Comstock Park, Muskegon Orchard View and East Kentwood over 28 seasons total.
FLINT POWERS CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 9-4, unranked
Coach: Bob Buckel, first season (9-4)
League finish: Second in Big Nine Conference
Championship history: Won Division 4 championship in 2005.
Best wins: 28-7 over No. 2 Millington (District), 27-10 over No. 4 Almont (Semifinal).
Players to watch: DT Danny O’Brien, 6-3/302, sr. (59 tackles, three sacks); QB Garrett Pougnet, 6-2/179, jr. (75 for 163, 1,131 yards, nine TDs passing; 154 carries, 818 yards, nine TDs rushing); DE Idris Hobdy, 6-1/212, sr. (41 tackles, five sacks, four fumble recoveries).
Outlook: Like Brother Rice above, Powers advanced to this weekend despite entering the playoffs 5-4 – after a 1-3 start. But the Chargers come in well-prepared after a tough league schedule against much larger schools, plus games against Division 7 No. 1 Saginaw Nouvel and this weekend’s opponent, Lansing Catholic (Powers lost that Week 2 game 37-17). Buckle has won 179 games over 29 seasons total, including successful stints at Otisville-Lakeville, Flushing and Birch Run. He was named Associated Press state Coach of the Year for his respective class at both Flushing and Birch Run. O’Brien will sign with Tennessee this winter.
Record/rank: 13-0, No. 1
Coach: Jim Ahern, third season (28-5)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Championship history: Won Class C championship in 1985.
Best wins: 42-35 over No. 7 Grand Rapids West Catholic (Semifinal), 49-24 and 50-33 (District) over No. 3 Portland, 37-17 over Flint Powers, 21-19 over Division 6 No. 10 Madison Heights Madison.
Players to watch: QB Cooper Rush, 6-4/230, sr. (217 for 371, 3,714 yards, 45 TDs passing; 103 carries, 711 yards, 15 TDs rushing); WR/DB Matt Macksood, 6-0/170, sr. (88 receptions, 1,528 yards, 21 TDs receiving; 74 carries, 808 yards, 10 TDs rushing); RB/LB Dan Liesman, 6-3/225, sr. (99 tackles, 6.5 sacks).
Outlook: Rush and Macksood will graduate with their names all over the MHSAA record book for both single-season and career feats. Rush was named The Associated Press’ Division 5-6 Player of the Year on Wednesday and will sign with Central Michigan, while Macksood made the all-state team and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Two other receivers have at least 35 catches, and junior Jack Swain has scored 14 times. This could be a crowning achievement for Ahern, who is 225-133-6 in 35 seasons total, including 32 at Ithaca from 1972-2003.
Record/rank: 11-2, unranked
Coach: Shawn Griffith, seventh season (71-14)
League finish: Tied for second in Kalamazoo Valley Association
Championship history: One championship (2004), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 42-25 over No. 5 Grass Lake (Regional), 45-44 over Ecorse (Semifinal), 28-21 and 37-30 (2 OT, District) over Schoolcraft.
Players to watch: RB/LB Payton White, 6-1/230, jr. (226 carries, 1,374 yards, 23 TDs rushing); Tommy Reed, 5-8/170, jr. (44 of 92, 787 yards, nine TDs passing; 108 carries, 504 yards, 10 TDs rushing); RB/LB Ben Mallo, 5-8/165, jr. (148 carries, 993 yards, 11 TDs rushing).
Outlook: Constantine has rolled since starting 1-2 and is perhaps most dangerous in a close game – the Falcons have won four of their last five by seven or fewer points. They’ve done it by running the ball behind big blockers like seniors Jacob Mechling (6-2/250), A.J. Cox (5-8/265) and Joe Wuthrich (5-11/240) for more than 3,900 yards. Those two losses were to Battle Creek Pennfield – No. 3 in Division 4 heading into the playoffs – and reigning Division 5 runner-up Olivet.
Record/rank: 13-0, No. 1
Coach: Terry Hessbrook, eighth season (72-17)
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference West
Championship history: Won championship in 2010.
Best wins: 28-13 over No. 2 Montrose (District), 22-19 over No. 7 Montague (Regional), 28-0 over No. 3 Iron Mountain (Semifinal).
Players to watch: QB/DB Travis Smith, 6-1/180, soph. (144 for 209, 2,011 yards, 22 TDs passing; 136 carries, 925 yards, 23 TDs rushing); RB/LB Garrett Miniard, 5-11/210, sr. (167 carries, 1,268 yards, 16 TDs rushing; 108 tackles); WR Charles Schnetzler, 6-2/190, sr. (58 receptions, 858 yards, 12 TDs receiving); LB Lucas Slater, 6-2/215, sr. (127 tackles).
Outlook: The Yellowjackets returned most of their starters from last season’s championship team and are hoping to finish undefeated for the second straight season. The most impressive part of this run has been how the team has worked through two new starters at quarterback – 2010 Finals hero Alex Niznak graduated in the spring, and his replacement David Brown was injured on opening night. Smith has starred since, but Brown, a senior, will still be one to watch Friday – a dynamic playmaker, he ran for 129 yards and three scores at quarterback on opening night, and had his best receiving game last week with five catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Miniard was named all-state as a linebacker, and also averages nearly eight yards per carry.
Record/rank: 13-0, No. 6
Coach: Brad Weber, fourth season (35-9)
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 22-14 over No. 3 Hudson (Semifinal); 15-14 over Division 8 No. 9 Fowler.
Players to watch: QB/CB Justin Thelen, 6-2/190, sr. (39 for 81, 814 yards, 12 TDs passing; 118 carries, 740 yards, 13 TDs rushing); TB/CB Alex Thelen, 5-7/150, sr. (231 carries, 1,650 yards, 23 TDs rushing); OL/LB Gavin Smith, 6-2/202, sr.
Outlook: P-W is one of two teams from the Central Michigan Athletic Conference that have reached Detroit this weekend. Although this will be the Pirates’ first Finals appearance, they have a proud history with 16 straight winning seasons and 13 playoff berths during that string. Although there are only nine seniors, the class is loaded with talent – Smith has earned all-state recognition multiple times, Alex Thelen is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and Justin Thelen moved from receiver to quarterback this fall and is a speedy two-way threat.
Record/rank: 12-0, No. 1
Coach: Michael Boyd, 12th season (116-26)
League finish: Plays as an independent.
Championship history: Two championships (most recently 2007 in Division 6), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 55-14 over Flint Powers, 48-12 and 14-3 (Semifinal) over No. 4 Traverse City St. Francis, 28-0 over No. 7 Harbor Beach (Regional).
Players to watch: RB/DB Bennett Lewis, 5-9/181, sr. (173 carries, 1,877 yards, 31 TDs rushing); QB/DB Joseph Buchalski, 5-9/161, sr. (74 for 122, 1,345 yards, 16 TDs passing; 35 carries, 514 yards, four TDs rushing; 3 TDs receiving).
Outlook: Many eyes will be on Lewis, The Associated Press’ Division 7-8 Player of the Year. He’s the main reason Nouvel is playing for its third MHSAA championship in six seasons, although hardly the only one. The Panthers are giving up only 7.5 points per game despite a strong schedule against teams from all over the Lower Peninsula and parts of Canada. Five of six regular-season opponents (Nouvel played two Canadian teams) ended up making the playoffs, including Division 5 finalist Powers.
Record/rank: 11-2, Tied for No. 9
Coach: Craig Koenigsknecht, second season (20-3)
League finish: Third in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Four championships (most recently 1998 in Class D), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 45-8 over No. 4 St. Ignace La Salle (Semifinal), 24-21 over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (District), 34-18 over Beal City (Regional).
Players to watch: RB/LB Mitch Thelen, 5-11/185, sr. (149 carries, 1,379 yards, 17 TDs rushing), RB/LB Tyler Koenigsknecht, 5-8/175, jr. (195 carries, 1,433 yards, 13 TDs rushing; 134 tackles); OL/DE Cameron Bongard, 6-1/220, jr.
Outlook: Fowler had a few uncharacteristically tough years over the last decade, but won 11 games for the first time since 2002. Its losses were by a combined two points – and both to Division 6 teams, including finalist Pewamo-Westphalia. Tyler Koenigsknecht, Bongard and quarterback/cornerback Dustin Wirth are among a strong group of juniors who became starters last season and have helped bring the program back to elite status under Craig Koenigsknecht, who played on the 1993 championship team. Although the Eagles beat just one ranked team, they faced a number of larger schools plus 2010 Division 8 Semifinalist Fulton during the regular season, and Fulton again in the Pre-District.
Record/rank: 13-0, Tied for No. 1
Coach: John Schwartz, 23rd season (236-39)
League finish: First in St. Joseph Valley League
Championship history: 10 championships (most recently 2007 in Division 7), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 28-21 over co-No. 1 Muskegon Catholic Central (District), 35-10 over No. 8 Climax-Scotts (Regional), 34-13 over No. 3 New Lothrop (Semifinal), 56-7 over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.
Players to watch: RB/DB Tyler Harris, 5-6/140, jr. (212 carries, 1,776 yards, 32 TDs rushing); QB/DB Chance Nightingale, 6-1/180, sr. (42 for 77, 1,048 yards, 14 TDs passing; 98 carries, 993 yards, 20 TDs rushing); RB/LB Tanner Cook, 5-9/175, sr. (140 carries, 1,025 yards, 10 TDs rushing), LB/TE Cody Bingaman, 5-11/210, sr. (113 tackles, five TDs receiving).
Outlook: Mendon beat all of its regular-season opponents by at least 28 points, then took out two more top-three teams during the playoffs. Nightengale and Bingaman were named all-state earlier this week – Nightengale running an offense that averages 46 points per game, and Bingaman leading a defense giving up 7.5 per contest. With another championship.
Full speed ahead: Marine City and quarterback Adam Kroll hope to claim their second MHSAA championship in five seasons Friday against Zeeland West. (Photo courtesy of Port Huron Times-Herald.)
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.)