GOBLES — Football season may be over for players at Gobles High School, but the Tigers do not have much time to relax.
For coach Greg Eichler, the season never really ends.
The Tigers made it to the MHSAA 8-player Division 1 Regional Finals before losing to reigning champion Martin two weeks ago.
While some of his athletes are preparing for their various winter sports, Eichler has been sitting down with players and coaches to “identify what went well, what didn’t go well this season and what are we going to do to address those things.
“For our kids, it’s setting goals athletically and academically. What are they looking to do the rest of the school year in their other sports and classroom and as individuals, as human beings? Our goal is to make sure that they grow in that aspect more than anything.”
Eichler also will talk with his coaches to “figure out what our shortcomings were and how we can improve on that in the offseason and make 2024 even better.”
That’s just the beginning for the third-year coach.
“In November and December, it’s equipment and helmet reconditioning, our banquet, sending out thank yous to our sponsors,” Eichler said.
“I’m going to communicate with our alumni. I always send out a state of the program, a whole write-up of what we’ve done and where we’re going.”
With his coaches, Eichler will evaluate game film and break it down, finalize stats and plan offseason workouts with the Tigers’ two strength and conditioning coaches.
“In January and February, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff,” he said. “That’s clinic season, that’s going to listen to other coaches, visit other staff, learn new things we can bring back to Gobles among a million other things.”
Starting from scratch
When Eichler – who is also the district’s K-12 assistant principal – took over the 8-player football program in 2021, he had just 10 varsity players.
The team folded after seven weeks.
“We had to start from scratch as far as building a winning mentality,” he said. “It started with getting in the weight room and lifting, getting bigger, getting stronger, getting faster. Building that winning mentality so that when we step on the field, we expect to win.
“Our kids had to learn how to raise the bar against those better opponents.”
This year’s team, with 24 players, made strides toward the ultimate goal – a state championship to go with the program’s 11-player Class D title won in 1984.
The Tigers finishing 8-3, defeated Mendon for the first time since 2005 and advanced a round further in the playoffs after losing in a Regional Semifinal a year ago.
“Progress is being made,” Eichler said. “It didn’t end the way any of us really wanted, but it’s going to make us stronger, make us better. It’s going to motivate us going into 2024.”
Building on experiences, setting examples
One player who brings MHSAA Finals experience to the team is junior Mason Mansfield. He placed eighth at the Division 4 Individual Wrestling Finals last season at Ford Field.
“Wrestling actually prepares you for football,” said Mansfield, whose winter season starts this week. “You’ve got to be tough in wrestling – six minutes tough. You’ve got to be tough to wrestle, especially to place and finish in the top of the top at Ford Field.”
While he wrestled at 150 pounds last year, he has moved up to 165 for this season. Eichler said Mansfield is one of the top athletes at the school.
“He is energetic and brings that into our locker room and our team,” he said. “Other kids feed off that.
“He’s very positive and brings an attitude of ‘we can overcome any challenge.’ He enjoys facing really good competition, and I think that wears off on the rest of the team and helps us elevate our play.”
Another junior, Jackson Geiger, will begin practice on the varsity basketball team next week.
“I feel like right now I’d rather be playing football because I have two weeks to spare until basketball starts,” said Geiger, who expects improvements from this season’s basketball team coming off of a 4-19 finish.
“Last year (basketball) was more of a bonding experience,” he said. “We played really well in practice, but at game time didn’t really show up.”
As for football, Eichler said Geiger embodies the "Tiger Way."
“Jack is an extremely hard worker,” he said. “He really dedicated himself to the weight room, so I thought he brought that work ethic.
“He leads by example. He’s great in the classroom. Not only on the field, but off the field, he’s a great role model.”
After playing varsity football this season, sophomore Nathan Ray will play junior varsity basketball. He started the 2022 football season on the junior varsity before being called up to varsity for the last two games of the season.
“The players (on varsity) are a lot stronger and faster,” he said. “It’s a different level of athleticism, but the game is still the same.”
Eichler said Ray is very coachable.
“Nathan puts his head down and works,” the coach said. “He’s great on and off the field and great in the classroom. He’s dedicated himself to the weight room and has committed to making himself better every day.”
Looking back on the football season, Eichler said: “I’m really proud of how far our program has come.
“If you look back two years ago, we barely could field a team. And now we’re a Regional finalist.”
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) Gobles junior Jackson Geiger (74) squares up to make a block during his team’s game against Concord this season. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Gobles coach Greg Eichler, Geiger, Mason Mansfield and Nathan Ray. (Below) Mansfield, left, wrestles during the first round of last season’s Individual Finals at Ford Field. (Top photo by Kathie Brown/Creative Photography. Head shots by Pam Shebest. Wrestling photo by High School Sports Scene.)
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.)