Writer-Turned-Coach Enjoys Debut

November 3, 2016

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA — Sam Eggleston has seen high school football from two drastically different viewpoints. Now, even though he is an unpaid volunteer, he enjoys being on the sideline as a coach.

Eggleston just completed his first season as a high school head coach, with Eben Superior Central winning its final three games to finish 4-5 in 8-player football. The Cougars were among the first teams in the state to join the 8-player format in 2010, their first year of football.

Eggleston was a sportswriter before becoming a coach, giving him different perspectives to watching the same event.

The 1998 Rock Mid Peninsula High School graduate worked at newspapers in Escanaba, Kenai, Alaska; Northville and Novi, and Marquette before becoming a freelance writer and website blog editor in 2008. He started the writing phase of his career in 2000 with the Daily Press in Escanaba, under my direction.

He served as a volunteer assistant football coach in Northville, then moved back to the Upper Peninsula and became a volunteer coach at his alma mater in 2011 when the Wolverines went to 8-player football. He joined Superior Central in 2014 and spent two seasons as a volunteer aide until landing the head job just two weeks before the 2016 preseason began.

“In both careers … you took a shot on me and I ran with it, and the same with coaching; they gave me a shot and I’ve run with it as best I can,” he said.

In addition to his unpaid position at Superior Central, in rural Alger County, Eggleston is responsible for fundraising for the self-funded football program, a major priority for his offseason.

“My coaching is over (for the season) now and the majority of my time will be spent on raising funds so we can get new helmets, get new pads to replace ones that are broke, spending money we don’t have so we’ve got to make that up now,” he said. “We have to win now to have successful fundraisers.”

As a sportswriter, Eggleston would simply switch gears and move on to coverage of the next athletic season, for instance once fall sports moved into winter. He also never had to worry about how coaches managed off-field X’s and O’s once their seasons concluded.

Life was totally different as a reporter. “I had a different approach, different viewpoint, different mindset to a game as a writer,” said Eggleston, who still has the heft of when he was a lineman but now looks like a lumberjack with his bushy beard and build.

“Now I have to worry about every kid and every position,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t even see the end result of the play because I’m watching the line play. I don’t even know how well my running back did until I see where they moved the stick.”

He may also be working on an injured player while the game goes on, trying to make play calls and other decisions at the same time.

As a sportswriter, he would be jotting down notes between plays or perhaps checking the result of a picture he took of the previous snap, totally unaware the coach was monitoring several assignments.

“I look back at the writer I was and as a coach now, and I would hate the type of writer I was,” he said. 

Eggleston would analyze why a coach would switch to running a sweep rather than the counter that had been working, all while the coach may be working on an injured player that caused a change in offensive plans.

“As a writer I never had the insight to see everything. I just saw the overall game and kept track of every yard,” he said. “As a coach I can’t even tell if the play went five yards because I have three plays stacked up as the game goes on.”

While he was writing sports in the metro Detroit area, his weekly paper often covered games also being covered by the Detroit Free Press or the Oakland Press, with those stories appearing the next day. Eggleston’s story would appear maybe five days later, after everyone knew what happened. 

“I had to come in with a different angle. I tried to be a little more analytical and focus on strategy versus the flourish and try to get the meat of the game rather than get to the flowery parts,” he recalled. “I tried to take a different approach and make my stuff more interesting.”

His style apparently worked as the paper received several journalism awards and subscriptions remained strong.

Writing also provided some interesting backdrops. He had to use small charter planes to see some games in Alaska, or get to Nome to handle features about the Iditarod sled dog race. 

He recalls covering a high school hockey game on an outdoor rink in Alaska and said “it was the first time I saw wind shear affect a hockey game.”

Eggleston also covered a football game where a kicker booted the ball off the uprights, then off a fence, and it bounced into the ocean in Homer.

He reported on a murder trial at that paper, where he would work the news desk in the morning, take time off and then handle sports at night. “It was super stressful,” he said.

Now walking the sidelines as a coach, he said “it definitely does feel like I’ve seen both sides of the coin, and I understand both sides of them better.”

He remembers just giving “little more rounded answers and (to) give both sides of the story” in postgame interviews. “A lot of coaches give canned answers. I try to be a little more in-depth and help try to write the story.”

In his early days as a sportswriter, he said “I would see the game unfold and see the pressures and why a coach would make a decision to go for it (on fourth down). I was a bit more critical of the coach and their decision,” he said, adding “I would probably have been a little more biting about it when I wrote the story.”

He admits in those days “I thought I knew everything there was to know about football. I played it,” he said. “I always approached the game like I was the professional and knew everything about the game. Now as a coach there are a host of responsibilities during every game. I am in completely different waters now. The hardest thing is keeping the kids pointed in the right direction as things go wrong. 

“You’ve got the entire team and you’ve got to keep moving in a positive direction, keep the focus going forward. Forget the last play and work on the next one and get the kids to buy into that philosophy.”

He also compares his first writing assignment at the Daily Press with his first game this season at Ontonagon. “I did a (men’s baseball) story about the Escanaba Polecats, and you read my first line and said, ‘Did Yoda write this?’ I thought, oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The Cougars lost their opener this fall 36-8, and Eggleston said “after being an assistant for four years, I still wasn’t prepared going into that Ontonagon game. We lost, and as I look back, if we played them right now I think we would beat them. 

“I had no clue coming into that first game and didn’t have any idea how to get us back on track.”

He eventually figured enough out to finish 4-5 and found plenty of ways to enjoy being a coach.

Eggleston tries to eat lunch with his players every day, and he pays for his own meal.

“I want a family environment there; we all sit at the same table,” he said. “What I get back is relationships I never had before. I feel like I have 21 kids, and I love every minute of it.”

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Eben Junction Superior Central football coach Sam Eggleston speaks with some of his players during a game this season. (Middle) Eggleston monitors the action on the field. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

Record-Setting Viney Gained Lifelong Confidence at Marine City

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

July 17, 2024

Olivia Viney didn’t have to look far for inspiration while taking on the challenge of applying to veterinary school.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 2015 Marine City graduate and record-setting placekicker simply drew from her own experience as a high school athlete.

“It just really taught me that I could do hard things,” Viney said. “I was very involved when I was in school. I did soccer, theater, travel soccer and then football. Especially with football, I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That helped me to excel in undergrad. When it came time to get accepted to vet school, it was like, ‘This is what I have to do,’ and I did it. That was very confidence-building. It taught me that I really can do hard things.”

Viney, who graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in 2019 and Michigan State Veterinary School in 2023, is now working as an associate veterinarian at Deporre Veterinary Hospital in West Bloomfield. 

Accomplishing her goals is nothing new to Viney, and not at all a surprise to those who watched her come through the Mariners athletic program.

“She was very serious, she was focused and she was dialed in,” said Dave Frendt, who coached Viney in both football and soccer at Marine City. “She knew what she wanted to accomplish, and she set out to do that. She was a fierce competitor and very driven. She was a good leader in that way where she was kind of feisty, but the team would follow that.”

Viney was an all-state soccer player for the Mariners, leading them to a pair of District titles and a Macomb Area Conference Gold title during her four years as a varsity player. It’s the sport she grew up playing, but the one she was most known for after graduation was football. American football.

The 5-foot-1-ish center attacking midfielder found herself in the MHSAA football record book after hitting all seven of her extra point attempts in the Mariners’ 2013 Division 4 Final victory against Grand Rapids South Christian.

“I think it makes sense,” she said. “There were lots of great soccer players, even that I played with. Great players that had gone through school, so I don’t think it’s weird that people remember me for that. When I talk with people, they’ll connect the dots – ‘Oh, you played football.’

“I was more accomplished as a soccer player and had more accolades. But I’m prouder of my football accomplishments, because it was really setting a pathway for girls that wanted to get into that. It’s so much more common now, or accepted. Even though it’s been almost 11 years since we won at Ford Field, I’m so proud of high school Olivia and what she did, the courage she had. She wasn’t scared of anything.”

Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. Viney joined Marine City’s football program as a sophomore, playing on the junior varsity squad. While she was there only to kick, she was all in when it came to practicing.

“Coach (Joe) Fregetto made me do tackling drills and drills in the mud – I really did earn my spot on the team,” Viney said. “I think it was mostly because he didn’t know what to do with me, so I guess just do everything that the guys do.”

She handled varsity kicking duties the next two years, setting the school record in 2013 for most extra points made during a single season – a record that still stands. Former Mariners coach Ron Glodich said that Viney actually never missed an extra point that season, as the four failed attempts were never even kicked.

It was her performance in the Division 4 Final that gained her statewide acclaim, as she hit 7 of 7 attempts, tying a record for most extra points made in a Finals game. It stood until a pair of kickers hit eight in 2022.

One record that never will be broken, however, is Viney becoming the first female to score a point at the Finals.

“Everything was so surreal, I was so nervous,” Viney said. “One of my most vivid memories was that day, or maybe the day before, Coach Glodich said, ‘Just so you know, when you get to the field, the goal posts are two feet narrower on each side. But that doesn’t matter if you kick it in the middle.’

“We got there and watched the team before us so we could get used to it, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so narrow.’ … Seeing myself up on the big screen was kind of almost a little embarrassing, because I knew people were talking about me being the girl. But once we were in the game, it was a lot like any other game. I was just waiting for my turn to go on the field and do my job.”

Viney later was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” – ironically, right below current U.S. Women’s National Team forward Mallory Pugh – but she wasn’t looked at any differently by her teammates, and she wouldn’t have wanted to be.

“That team was all about sacrifice for the team,” Frendt said. “For them to realize, ‘None of us can do what she does, so we better embrace it, because no one else can do it.’ They really made her feel like part of the team. They wanted to protect her, too. But she was tough. She wasn’t going to take anything.”

Viney went to SVSU to study biology and played for its club soccer team. During her time there, she volunteered at an animal shelter and made the decision she wanted to help animals in her career. She works in general practice at Deporre, and would eventually like to work in shelter medicine.

She and her husband Matt, who were married in May, live with their three dogs. She’s not far from home, and in the spring of 2023 she visited Frendt’s college and career readiness class to speak with students at her alma mater. Her presentation and the attention to detail and hard work she put into it, Frendt said, blew his students away. Not that it surprised him.

“That’s poured into her life after sports,” he said of her work ethic. “She just kept plugging away. She’s awesome.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Marine City’s Olivia Viney kicks at the 2013 11-Player Football Finals, also during her spring soccer season, and cares for one of her patients as an associate veterinarian. (Middle) Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. (Photos courtesy of Olivia Viney.)