Lenawee Christian Earns 1st Title Triumph

January 16, 2021

By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half

BRIGHTON — Adrian Lenawee Christian coach Bill Wilharms liked his team’s chances going into the 8-Player Division 1 Playoffs.

When the championship game was switched from outdoors in Midland to indoors at the Legacy Center in Brighton, he liked them a whole lot more. 

“We’ve got power, but speed is what we base ourselves on,” he said. “And the whole thought of basketball-on-grass when we’re on offense helps.”

The Cougars (11-0) took advantage, overwhelming Suttons Bay from the start in a 47-0 win in Saturday’s Division 1 Final.

Lenawee Christian put that speed to good use early, getting its first touchdown after a blocked punt by Jameson Chesser, and picking up its second with a 36-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ashur Bryja. 

The Cougars never looked back, putting the game out of reach on the arm and legs of quarterback Landon Gallant, who threw two touchdown passes to Chesser, of 57 and 22 yards, and ran one in himself to give Lenawee Christian a 33-0 halftime lead. 

Meanwhile, the Cougars’ defense was seemingly everywhere. 

Suttons Bay had just 52 yards in total offense, and completed only 2 of 14 passes while getting sacked seven times. 

“They closed on the ball very well,” Norsemen coach Garrett Opie said. “They’re fast, they’re athletic and they did a great job. We were trying certain mixtures in plays and feeling things out at the beginning of the game, and they did so well against many of our looks.”

The Cougars, meanwhile, piled up 400 yards in total offense, 289 of that through the air. Gallant completed 14 of 21 passes for 267 yards, while Bryja was 4-for-4 for 22 yards. 

Chesser finished with four catches for 127 yards while also rushing for 52 yards. Elliott Addleman had four catches for 116 yards.

In fact, Suttons Bay’s biggest play came late in the game via its defense, when Michael Wittman picked up a fumble and returned it 37 yards before Bryja knocked him out of bounds, preventing a touchdown. 

It was the first title for Lenawee Christian, which completed its first season of the 8-player format.

“it feels great,” said linebacker Brandon Scott, who led the Cougars with 10 tackles. “To do it with this team makes it a lot better. All the things we went through, all the pauses, who’d have thought we’d be finishing high school football in January? And indoors?”

“It’s tremendous for the Adrian community,” Wilharms said. “In Lenawee County, we’re pulling for Clinton next week to win it in (11-player) Division 6. We’re a brotherhood. It means a lot to us.” 

Opie, an Adrian High School graduate who went to school with Wilharms' wife and sister-in-law, saw his team lose in the Division 1 Final for the second year in a row, but took the loss philosophically.

“They’re a phenomenal team,” he said of Lenawee Christian. “They had a lot of talent on their team and did a fantastic job. I’m very proud of our team for our 10-0 season. This is a very tough loss. We don’t want to go out this way, but it’s a privilege to be here, so we’ll take it with us and be very happy about it."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Lenawee Christian’s Clay Ayers breaks through an opening during Saturday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Cougars’ Elliott Addleman hauls in a pass. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.

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

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

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.)