As a senior at Sterling Heights Stevenson during the 2009 season, Jason Fracassa lit up the high school football world with his aerial display.
Fracassa shattered the MHSAA career totals for passing yards and touchdowns held by Mill Coleman of Farmington Hills Harrison. Fracassa also etched his name into the national record book in three career passing categories before the remarkable run ended with a 31-21 loss to Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 Final at Ford Field.
The numbers he posted at Stevenson indeed were staggering. And just more than a decade later, after securing two undergraduate degrees and a masters in finance from Walsh University in Ohio, Fracassa lives in Auburn Hills and continues to crunch numbers – now for a development company in Birmingham – while also planning for a Sept. 12 wedding to fiancé Kelsey Torzy.
Fracassa has always been a highly-motivated person, and that held true in the classroom and as a three-sport varsity athlete and continues now in the business world. But while driven by success, Fracassa doesn’t dwell on what he accomplished in the sports world – which also included Division II college careers in both football and baseball. What was important then remains so now, and those are the relationships he built through trust, hard work and having a little fun.
“I miss going to practice each day and hanging out with my friends,” he said. “Just walking around school and trying to set an example to the kids, that’s what was important. I’ll go to the golf course now and I’m with all of my friends. That’s what it’s all about. That was the best part. We had the best relationships, no matter if we won or lost. Playing for Coach (Rick) Bye and your friends, that’s the best memories I have.”
A four-year varsity starter for Bye, Fracassa led Stevenson to a combined 23-3 record over his last two seasons, culminated by that fourth trip in program history to an MHSAA Final.
During his junior season, Fracassa threw for 3,353 yards and 34 touchdowns over 12 games. He then took aim at Coleman’s career passing records for touchdowns (77) and yards (7,464), records that had stood for 20 years.
Fracassa and his teammates put on a show that 2009 season as he threw for 4,433 yards and 44 touchdowns. His career (10,615) and single season (4,433) passing yards remain MHSAA records, the career total by nearly 2,000 yards. Fracassa also continues to own the records for career passing attempts (1,104) and completions (656), accrued over 44 games, and he briefly held the MHSAA record for career TD passes with 97 before it was broken in 2013. The career attempts and yards and senior-season yardage all rank in the National Federation record book as well.
Fracassa credits the coaching staff at Stevenson for the success he and his teammates enjoyed. He couldn’t have imagined playing for anyone but Bye and his staff. Fracassa said he’s spoken with many of Bye’s former players, and they all agree playing for Stevenson and Bye was a phenomenal experience.
Like Fracassa, Bye – who retired after 2009 with a record of 268-94 over 35 seasons – also keeps tabs of his cronies by playing golf once a week with former assistants like Ken Fiott, Jerry Lajeunesse, Larry Zimmerman, Joe Emanuele and D.J. Hill among others. Bye is quick to point out that many of his former players, including Fracassa, keep in touch on a regular basis.
“I saw (Fracassa) at a Stevenson playoff game,” Bye said. “He calls me at least once every two months or so to see how I’m doing. I appreciate that. He was always a highly-respected kid. He’s not a kid anymore.”
Bye recalls hearing about Fracassa when Fracassa was in the eighth grade at St. Lawrence in Utica. Fracassa enrolled at Davis Junior High, Stevenson’s feeder school, for his ninth grade and tried out for the football team not knowing whether he’d make the varsity or not.
“His dad wasn’t pushy one bit,” Bye said. “(Rick Fracassa) asked if Jason was going to be on the JV. A big reason he wanted his son to come (to Stevenson) was Joe Emanuele, who was our baseball coach, and Rick knew Joe had a good program. He wanted Jason to play baseball, too.
“Jason came out and won the (quarterback) job. He proved himself. And he had to win over our seniors.”
Jason Fracassa said that was the hard part – convincing a group of seniors that a freshman could come in, start at quarterback and lead the team can be daunting.
“I knew I could compete at that level,” Fracassa said. “It was more of my getting to associate myself with the older players. That was the most difficult part. The coaches were always there to back me.”
Stevenson made the playoffs that 2006 season finishing 5-5. The next season was rough as the Titans lost a number of close games and finished 2-7. Stevenson improved substantially to 10-2 in 2008, losing to Lake Orion, 38-36, in a Regional Final.
That all built up to the memorable 2009 season, which included a tense Semifinal game against Clarkston won by Stevenson 37-35 on a Fracassa scoring pass on the final play.
Emotions also ran high the game before when Stevenson took on Detroit Public School League power Detroit Southeastern, led by Michigan State-bound and now-NFL defensive end William Gholston. Fracassa threw for a career-high 494 yards, and Stevenson defeated Southeastern, 38-32.
After a busy and accomplished prep career, Fracassa maintained a hectic athletic schedule in college first at Northwood University – where he started on the baseball team for three seasons and was a member of the football team for two.
After sitting out a term, Fracassa transferred to Walsh, located in North Canton, Ohio. There he revived his football career starting at quarterback his last two years. Walsh, then a recent addition to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, nearly upset conference power and undefeated Ferris State in Fracassa’s final game. Fracassa threw his second touchdown pass of the game to give Walsh a 42-32 lead with 9:38 left before Ferris State came back with two touchdowns, the second with 36 seconds left, to win 46-42.
Fracassa hasn’t completely abandoned football since his last game at Walsh. He and his father coached the Oakland University club team in 2018 and that team reached a championship game. Jason was the offensive coordinator, his father the head coach – branches from the coaching tree rooted with Jason’s grandfather Al Fracassa, the second-winningest high school football coach in MHSAA history and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice legend.
Jason’s competitive juices continue to flow.
“We had a great run,” Fracassa said, “and any other year could have taken the championship trophy.”
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Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Jason Fracassa rolls out during the 2009 Division I championship game at Ford Field. (Middle) Fracassa and fiancé Kelsey Torzy. (Below) Fracassa drops back to pass while playing for Walsh. (Middle and below photos courtesy of Jason Fracassa.)
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.)