PARCHMENT — Nothing beats Friday night lights, said Parchment senior Will Kovl.
“The fans, the atmosphere, scoring a touchdown, nothing beats it. It’s amazing,” he exclaimed.
What is amazing is that Kovl, who has become one of the Panthers’ top receivers, never played football before this year.
In fact, Kovl is one of nine seniors who are playing their first season of football for coach Brian Huberty.
During the summer, athletic director Brennan Davis heard rumblings about the seniors trying out for the team.
“My initial thought was disbelief because I hear a lot, so my mindset was ‘I'll believe it when I see it,’” Davis said.
“Once football started working out this summer, I heard these kids were actually attending and at that point it became a reality. We have a quality senior group, and those kids have a very strong bond. It is a special group of young people.”
Senior tight end/linebacker Jacob Guzior said it was definitely a group decision.
“At first it was a joke,” he said. “Eventually it turned into ‘We are actually playing football now.’”
The other senior newbies are kicker/cornerback Mason Ragan, wide receiver/linebacker Blake Smith, defensive back Breckyn Bootland, defensive end/tight end Ashtian McClanahan, wide receiver Tanner Slack, kicker McKaylah Shank and team manager McKenna Nunn.
Huberty, who teaches in Plainwell and is the interim coach at Parchment, said he is not sure where the team (4-4 overall, 2-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore) would be without those nine.
“We would have had a team, but we would have been a lot younger and we would have had to pull a few more kids up, and that’s not what you want to do,” he said.
“You don’t want young kids having to come compete against 18- and 17-year-old kids.”
Kovl said senior quarterback Aaron Jasiak was instrumental in peaking his interest in playing this season after Jasiak scored the winning touchdown in last year’s homecoming game.
“I remember it like it was yesterday; it was awesome,” Kovl said. “The student section was bigger than ever, and I was in the student section.
“We rushed the field. He told me to play football (my senior year), and the story wrote itself.”
One aspect of the game was a bit daunting for Guzior.
“At first (hitting) was hard to get used to. Now I do like hitting people,” he laughed.
“It was a rough first week. By second week we were starting to get the hang of it, and by week three it felt like I’d been playing a while.”
Bootland is using football to help him with hockey.
“Hockey gave me a base idea of hitting in football, but hitting in football is going to take my physicality in hockey to another level, which is my biggest weakness on ice,” he said.
However, “the biggest shock for me was how analytical it is to make plays and how much smarts it is over pure athleticism.”
Huberty said Bootland was a surprise.
“He’s a hockey kid,” the coach said. “He surprisingly adapted well to playing defense. The physical part, it surprised me how he’s embraced it.”
Although she is not on the field, Nunn keeps everyone on time and on task as the team manager.
Her job varies during the week.
“Sometimes I get equipment out for them,” she said. “I’m usually taking pictures because I run our social media pages.”
Huberty said she also keeps him on task.
“She is so amazing to have here,” he said. “I give her a practice schedule, and she lets me know when our sessions are done.
“We have a drone we sometimes run at practice, and she’ll run the drone for us and record practice.”
Ragan, who is Parchment’s leading goal-scorer in soccer, said “I never imagined myself on a football field in my life. I like it. I think it’s really fun.
“Football has definitely helped me with soccer. It’s made me more physical on the field for sure. I think that’s definitely a benefit.”
Huberty said Ragan, who booted a 25-yard field goal two weeks ago, “came out just to be a kicker. We got him out playing defense, and he liked it.”
Smith had some experience after playing football in middle school. But after watching the Panthers games, he realized he missed it.
“Wish I had played before,” he said. “I recommend playing football all four years. It’s a great experience.”
Kovl, who pulled in eight catches for 96 yards two weeks ago, said his best game was in a losing effort against Kalamazoo United.
“I had 126 yards, six receptions, two touchdowns,” he said. “It was a tough loss, but it was definitely one of my best games.”
McClanahan spends summers in Tennessee and made the choice to return to Parchment early this time so he could play football.
“I definitely like the energy we get at practices and during games with all my teammates,” he said. “A lot of my friends were coming out, so I decided I’d just hop on the train and come out.
“We’ve been close since sixth grade and anything one does, we all do together. We’re a really close friend group.”
Two more seniors, Slack and Shank, are juggling first-year football with other fall sports and sometimes miss practices.
“(Slack) has really started to emerge as a guy who can contribute to the team,” Huberty said. “He caught a touchdown pass against United and is starting to emerge as a guy who should start getting more playing time.”
Shank is the second-string kicker and also balancing a club commitment this fall.
“She runs cross country, her primary sport, and also does travel soccer in the fall,” Huberty said. “She comes when she can be here.”
As for the veterans on the team, “They have done a great job of embracing those first-year kids,” Huberty said.
“There’s no real wedge between kids who have played in the past and those who haven’t.”
Now that they've tasted success on the football field, the "Senior 9" all agreed on one regret: Waiting until their senior year to play football.
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) Parchment’s Jacob Guzior (83) prepares to defend from his linebacker spot during a 21-17 Week 7 win over Allegan. (Middle) Front, from left: Mason Ragan, Blake Smith. Back, from left: McKenna Nunn, Will Kovl, Jacob Guzior, Breckyn Bootland and Ashtian McClanahan. (Below) The Panthers’ Will Kovl attempts to pull away from a Tigers defender. (Action photos by McKenna Nunn; group photo by Pam Shebest.)
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.)