By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Eventually, Andrew Copp may be best-known as a hockey star. His spot on the USA under-18 national team development program squad marks him as one of the top players his age in the country.
But he’ll be remembered as one of Ann Arbor Skyline’s first standout athletes for another sport he simply couldn’t give up.
Bittersweet and heart-breaking are how Copp described the end of this football season. The MHSAA playoffs begin this weekend, and he hoped to be a part -- a possibility that was likely closer than Skyline’s 3-6 record might imply, given four of those losses were by four or fewer points. And that’s not the worst part. Even if Skyline had earned a berth, Copp would’ve been forced to watch after breaking his right collarbone in multiple spots three weeks ago.
Still, there will be plenty to remember fondly for the first quarterback in his school’s four-year history. Two MHSAA records and his school’s first varsity football wins will top the list, even as the combination of football and the injury will force Copp the miss the first half of his USA team’s season.
“It means a lot, starting something new and trying to put your stamp on it,” Copp said. “As the quarterback, it’s a lot of weight on your shoulders to start something that 10, 20 years down the road people are going look at.
“Last year, when I got offered to play (USA) but had to quit football after the first game, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t quit on the team.”
That kind of leadership was “worth its weight in gold” for a school and program only just getting started, Skyline athletic director John Young said.
Copp likely would’ve attended Ann Arbor Pioneer -- like both of his parents had -- had Skyline not opened in fall 2008.
The Eagles’ football program started that first fall, but didn’t field a varsity team until 2010. Copp was the quarterback all four years until his he was injured on a run during the first quarter of his team’s Week 7 game against Temperance Bedford.
Two weeks earlier, against Ann Arbor Pioneer, Copp had thrown for an MHSAA record 557 yards and record-tying seven touchdowns. In six games this fall plus a few minutes of that seventh, Copp completed 96 of 156 passes for 1,732 yards and 27 touchdowns. Those season touchdown passes also qualify for an MHSAA record book listing, as do the 31 completions that led to his record-setting numbers against Pioneer.
“Obviously, I can’t throw for 557 yards without my line doing a great job, my receivers catching balls and making plays. And probably the most unsung heroes on our team are the running backs, who were blocking for me,” Copp said. “I just remember everything going our way, almost like a recess football game.”
But it took some flexibility from USA hockey and a tough decision by Copp to make it possible. Usually, USA players aren’t allowed to play other sports, Copp said, but he was granted that exception. He joined USA hockey after his junior football season, and this summer started that team’s workouts at 8 a.m. before then moving on to workouts and film study for football. This fall, after his five classes at Skyline to start the day, he’d work out for hockey from 1:30-4 p.m. every week Monday through Wednesday, then start football practice at 4:30. All while remaining a strong student and adhering to a hockey-imposed 9 p.m. curfew.
Ironically, the 6-foot, 185-pound Copp joined the football team to become more physical for hockey on the advice of his father Andy, a successful youth hockey coach. Andrew has seen some similarities between the two sports -- as a hockey center he also controls play. Hockey helped Copp be ready for a fast pace of play and developed the quick decision-making necessary to thrive at quarterback.
His football mind helped him help the Eagles when he could no longer lead them on the field. “He had surgery on Tuesday, missed Wednesday, and was back at practice the next day,” Skyline coach Rodrek Jones said. “That was the same day my offensive coordinator was not able to come to practice, and (Copp) called the entire practice for me. He stayed very focused.”
Copp still can’t carry his backpack around school, but hopes to play hockey by January. He is almost assured of an outstanding college hockey opportunity, and Jones thinks he has the ability to play college football as well. Young said Copp, along with receiver Jordan Woods (committed to Purdue) and volleyball player Maggie Halloran (committed to Michigan State), has put Skyline on the map. Despite the tough end this fall, it’s a legacy Copp is glad to leave for those who come after him.
“He’s one of the most popular kids in school, on the Homecoming king court ... a typical All-American kid,” Young said. “I’m extremely happy for him. I was disappointed he broke his collarbone, because he was on track for a more spectacular year. But he helped, along with other players, to elevate their play this year.”
Skyline quarterback Andrew Copp (9) takes a snap against Ann Arbor Pioneer on Sept. 23. Copp threw for an MHSAA-record 557 yards and a record-tying seven touchdowns in a 52-49 loss. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Lepley. Head shot by Pete Draugalis.)
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.)