QB Carving Place in Pittsford Tradition

August 31, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

PITTSFORD – There’s nothing quite like the return of high school football each new season to small towns in Michigan.

There’s something about the way a town buzzes when students, parents and fans put on the spirit wear and make the journey to watch kids they’ve all known since they were born put on the helmet and play football against – usually – a neighboring school district.

Pittsford is one of those towns, and Jake Burger is one of those kids.

If it seems like Burger has been around Pittsford football forever, it’s because he has been around it for all of his life. He is two games into his senior year playing quarterback for the Wildcats – his third season as a starter – but his roots go much deeper. His grandfather, Bob Clement, coached at Pittsford for three decades. His father, Mike Burger, has been the head coach since 2010.

“I used to hang around the sidelines,” Jake said. “I’d be with my friends, and we’d be having fun. But, I wanted to be out there, to be on the field.”

These days, Burger’s grandfather usually watches games from above the Pittsford press box. His uncle, Frank Clement, another longtime Pittsford coach, is closer to the action as the Wildcats’ special teams coach. Burger’s cousin Jesse Clement is a senior linebacker. Burger’s dad – also a teacher, boys basketball coach and athletic director at Pittsford – calls the plays that Burger tries to execute on the field.

“Jake really understands the game,” Mike Burger said. “He grasps concepts quickly, and then is able to put them into action. He just wants to win, and winning with his buddies makes it that much more gratifying.”

Pittsford is coming off a 9-2 season in which it qualified for the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 14 seasons. The Wildcats are members of the Southern Central Athletic Association and reigning league champions after a year when four of the five teams in the conference reached the playoffs.

Pittsford is a community of about 1,500 people and has just 186 students in its high school. Nineteen play football including 11 seniors – an unusually large class.

“I think that helps a lot because we all have a lot of experience,” Jake Burger said. “We grew up together, playing football and basketball. We all just love sports.”

The Wildcats opened the 2018 season by shutting out 2017 playoff qualifier Morenci 28-0, and then shut out Petersburg-Summerfield 10-0 on Thursday. Burger – who also starts at safety – made a key play in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to stop a potential Summerfield touchdown.

“Early season wins are so important in getting to the playoffs,” Burger said. “I think we are going to have a really good year.”

Burger was a tight end in grade school but shifted to quarterback around fifth grade. He’s played the position ever since.

“The coach moved me to quarterback,” he said. “I love the position. I like being the field general – sort of the coach on the field. I like how you get to make decisions on the fly. Hopefully, I make the right decisions.”

Burger’s decisions are usually spot-on. He was an honorable mention choice on last year’s Associated Press Division 7-8 all-state football team after throwing for more than 1,300 yards. He already holds several Wildcats records and entered Thursday’s game with 2,910 career passing yards.

At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, Burger said he’s also not afraid to take on a would-be tackler. He has more than 1,000 career rushing yards.

“I’m not a traditional type of quarterback,” he said. “I like to pass the ball and move the ball downfield, but I’ll also run the ball. I usually don’t run out of bounds. I’m not going to juke anybody out. I’ll lower my shoulder and take on someone and try and fight for those extra yards.”

Burger grew up about five minutes from Pittsford, which is in Hillsdale County, only a few miles from the Ohio state line. The Wildcats won the 1996 Class DD championship under Clement. With the return of Burger and much of the offense and defense from last year’s playoff team, there are high hopes this season as well.

Mike Burger said it’s been a blessing to coach his son.

“Coaching your son is a tremendous experience,” he said. “I have had such a great time being able to be part of this process. Sure, it can be stressful at times with all the pressures that go with being a varsity coach and coach’s son, but it has been far more rewarding than I could ever had imagined.”

His son agrees.

“He’s always explained things to me,” Burger said of his dad. “It’s been great having him there with me. He’s a great coach. I’m grateful he is my coach.”

The two also have that bond during basketball season. This past spring, Jake developed a routine in which he would get to school by 6:30 a.m. to work on basketball, then go back to school at night to work on quarterback fundamentals. He played AAU basketball this summer and maintains a 3.7 grade-point average. He’s unsure of his college plans at this point but would entertain the idea of playing either sport at the next level – as long as the college he chooses “feels like home,” he said.

“Jake's work ethic is off the charts,” Mike Burger said. “He is a great example of someone who plays multiple sports rather than concentrate on one.  I am not sure which sport he loves the most, but I can say he loves playing both games and he plays both with a real joy.”

For Jake Burger, being part of the hometown football and basketball teams seems second nature. He wouldn’t want it any other way. Cars start filing into Pittsford football games early on Friday nights, some fans hopeful for a spot in the front row overlooking the west end zone.

“For our first game, we had a ton of people in our stands,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere in Pittsford, no matter what sport. For basketball games, the parents and fans will get into the game and cheer and the football games are loud with a lot of fans. It’s a great place to be around.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Jake Burger prepares for Thursday’s game against Petersburg-Summerfield. (Middle) Burger follows through on a pregame pass. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

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.)