By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — In an effort to raise funds for the football program the Traverse City Central Football Boosters are hosting a golf outing at the Grand Traverse Resort’s Spruce Run Course on Sunday, an event that will feature former TC Central football star Gary Rakan.
Rakan, who starred for the Trojans in the mid to late 80s, then went on to start and become a team captain at Central Michigan, will play in the outing as well as speak to the assembled group.
“I think it’s something I would want to readily be involved with. For whatever reason, whether I was unaware they were ever doing it, or no one ever asked or I never enquired, it never came up,” said Rakan. “Then when coach (Tom) Passinault extended an invitation I felt honored to have an opportunity to come back. Sports played a big part in my life. I feel obligated, quite honestly, to come back and try to help and do whatever I can to help them raise funds and get a chance to talk to the kids and things like that.”
Rakan lives in the Lansing area with his wife Suzy Merchant, the head women’s basketball coach at Michigan State, and their two sons, but says he isn’t able to get back to Traverse City as often as he would like. So when the opportunity to return for the outing came about, he was thrilled it was going to fit into his schedule.
“This time of year an opportunity to come back to Traverse City is going to be hard to turn down,” he said. “It worked out from a timing standpoint and I was happy to have an opportunity to get up there. Coach wanted me to say a few things and talk a little bit about my experience and talk about the history of Traverse City football.”
Rakan attended high school in Traverse City from 1985-88, during the heyday of the Trojans’ storied gridiron past. The Trojans won state titles in 1978, 1985 and 1988 under legendary coach Jim Ooley. Though he lives more than three hours away, Rakan said he still does what he can to keep up with how Traverse City’s football programs are faring each fall.
“I still have a lot of family in the area so they give me a heads up on what’s going on at Central and at West. A lot of guys that I grew up with, their kids are now playing so I sort of follow it indirectly,” said Rakan. “I pay attention from a distance.”
Rakan feels the success his high school had in football led to his opportunity to play at CMU, where he was part of a MAC championship and California Bowl team in 1990. In 1992, Rakan’s final season in a maroon and gold uniform, he was honored with the program’s Kurt Dobronski Award, given annually to the Central Michigan senior football player who demonstrates great effort, intensity and appreciation for the CMU program. Dobronski was a two-time all-MAC linebacker for the Chippewas between 1978-81. He later died in a plane crash in 1987.
“(Head coach Butch Jones’) last year there was the last time they had a championship caliber squad. They’ve struggled a little bit since then,” said Rakan. “Last year they were .500, or a little above that. (Head coach) Dan (Enos) is a good guy. I’ve known Dan a long time. Obviously knew him when he was at Michigan State. You want to see them do well also. Central was a phenomenal experience for me and I know they’re certainly capable of doing great things, and you’d like to think they’re on the uptick. Their young players are gaining experience and they return quite a few starters on both sides of the ball, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of progress they make from a pretty decent team last year.”
Rakan said it’s a different era in Mount Pleasant from when he played, particularly when you consider the Chippewas had the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft in offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs.
“To me, it’s amazing,” he said. “The perception of the players in the Mid-American Conference has changed so significantly. Think about guys like (Traverse City resident and former CMU offensive lineman) Greg Sherwin. You know, Greg would’ve been a draft pick had he played now. Back then guys weren’t getting drafted. They were getting opportunities as a free agent. Greg was a free agent with the Jets. Now you see guys like Brock Gutierrez and others who went in and had success at the next level. The whole landscape changed. Now those guys aren’t overlooked. It probably just shows you the competition levels have narrowed.”
From a competing perspective, football has taken a backseat in Rakan’s life to golf, which he’ll be playing at Sunday’s event. He’s also eager to see old friends from his hometown.
“I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a lot of the old Traverse City Central guys,” he said.
Registration for the outing begins at 8 a.m. on Sunday with a shotgun start to follow at 9 a.m. To register call (231) 838-7521.