TRAVERSE CITY — Kelly Clark sees similarities between this year’s Traverse City Trojans and the one he won a state championship with in 1988.
After all, Clark is the only one on the Central coaching staff to be a part of both its last regional championship team and the one that ended a 32 season drought in 2021.
“They’ve got that same bond to one another and that same belief,” said Clark, the ex-Traverse City Central head coach who hired current head coach Eric Schugars as a position coach.
Half a dozen Trojans from the 1988 team went on to play football at the collegiate level — Mark Burkholder, Mike Nadlicki and Josh Wuerfel all went on to play for the Michigan Wolverines.
This year’s Trojans are led by Josh Burnham, a four-star recruit with offers from both teams that played in the College Football National Championship, and a Western Michigan OL commit Carson Briggs. Clark said even though the focus has been on Burnham, the team has plenty of talent that surrounds him.
Clark said the dream when he got hired in was to return the team to the level of competitiveness the 1988 team. Two more wins amidst the COVID-19 shutdowns and the ‘88 Trojans will no longer be the last to do it.
The ‘88 state title was the third in 10 years — but also the last. The Trojans went on a 21 year drought in the playoffs, losing every playoff game they were a part of between 1991 and 2012.
“I just would really like to see a team finally do it,” said Erik Jensen, OLB/DE on the ‘88 team and a current TCAPS parent. “It’s time to pass that torch onto somebody else, and I’m really glad to see them progressing.”
Eric Breithaupt, backup quarterback on the ‘88 team, is the father of current Trojans senior wide receiver and defensive back, Nolan Breithaupt. He thinks the two teams are similar in that they both had a big leader — Nedlicki in ‘88 and Burnham this season — but also that everyone is playing to the best of their ability.
“We got to play almost every game, we’d be up and coach (Jim) Ooley would put everyone in,” Breithaupt said. “We were told in 9th grade by our coaches that we were a special class, and they believed we were going to win it. From then on they just believed it as much as we did.”
Joe Soffredine, defensive tackle in ‘88, now coaches freshman football at Traverse City West. He finds it significant that it’s not only Central vying for a state title this late in the postseason, but Traverse City St. Francis too.
“You think back to the 80s, it would be us or St. Francis,” Soffredine said. “St. Francis would have a really good year, the next year Central would have a really good year.”
Clark said whoever wins this season will be remembered in the Michigan history books.
“Some people are gonna say, well, ‘you should put an asterisk next to it,’” Clark said. “I’ll tell you what: Yeah, you should, and it should be noted as one of the finest coaching and playing performances in the history of the game.”
Father-son coaching duo coach in Muskegon
Jack Schugars, special teams coach, returns to Muskegon to coach from an opposing sideline for the first time since he left the helm of Oakridge after 32 years. It’s there where he won three state titles (1997, 2005, 2008) to be the Muskegon area’s all-time winningest coach with a record of 262-78 spanning 1979-2010.
Coincidentally, Mona Shores defensive line coach Kyle Brott played on Jack Schugars’ first state-title team in 1997.
Eric has never coached a game in his hometown of Muskegon.
His Mom, Julie, passed away in August from a complication following an injury, so using the word “homecoming” to describe the game is kind of an understatement.
“He’s kind of like a kid waiting for Christmas Day,” Eric Schugars said of Jack. “Football has filled that void. The loss of my mom, it’s given my Dad a sense of purpose being around young people.”
About the Sailors
Ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press, Mona Shores (10-0), the defending state champions in Division 2, beat East Lansing on a field goal as time expired 24-21 in the quarterfinals.
The Sailors are looking for their third straight trip to Ford Field.
Led by all-state quarterback Brady Rose, a Ferris State commit, the Sailors roster the Associated Press Division 1-2 player of the year who was also nominated for Michigan’s Mr. Football award.
“Just an outstanding athlete on both sides of the ball and every facet of the game, he really shows up,” Schugars said, “but there’s certainly a lot more talent on them then him, they’re offensive line is pretty stout, pretty tough, physical.”
Schugars said the Trojans have tallent of their own that can contend.
“They love the fact that they get the opportunity to play down in Muskegon to prove themselves against a team like Mona Shores for a shot at the state championship, what more could you ask for?” he said.