Fenton JV Football SPOTLIGHT

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Fenton Football JV Coach Anthony McMillanAnthony McMillan, like so many folks in south central Michigan, works at a vehicle assembly plant helping to build cars for one of the
big three manufacturers. But, it’s what Anthony does after work that sets him apart as a significant contributor to the Fenton Community. Around the Fenton High School campus, Anthony is known as Coach McMillan and you can find him there, after work, every day from March thru November. Coach McMillan wears a number of hats; in the spring he is the Head Coach for the boys Track Team at Fenton High. As spring transitions to summer Coach McMillan carries the responsibility of Head Coach for the Fenton Junior Varsity Football team and he also fulfills duties as an assistant coach for the Varsity squad. Most days Anthony leaves work in Flint at 3:00pm, drives home to Fenton, changes clothes, and heads out for the practice fields at the High School. After arriving home at 7:30 to 8:00pm he somehow finds time to watch game film of the week’s opponent and develop a game plan for the offense to execute in their matchup on Thursday evenings. Coach McMillan is paid a stipend for his efforts, but if you divide that income by the number of hours he dedicates to his “2nd job” you would wonder why anyone would take a position that falls far short of minimum wage standards. You don’t have to talk to Anthony for very long to understand why.It’s Wednesday afternoon, the day before the Junior Varsity’s next home game, Clio High School is the visiting opponent. Coach McMillan is a bit nervous, or maybe anxious is the proper description. The boys are running non-contact drills, Coach is barking out play calls, the guys are checking their wrist bands for the proper formation and position responsibilities. Clio has a new coaching staff and Fenton’s request for film of prior games was ignored; so the Coach McMillan is unsure of what to expect from the Mustang’s offense. The Tiger’s defense will have to rely on their mantra of “play angry.” So Coach is making sure the offense is prepared to execute the game plan to perfection to assure their best chance of coming away with a victory. When a running back turns the wrong way as he breaks through the line Coach stops the action and points out where he will be most effective in gaining additional yardage based on the blocking scheme in place.Fenton High School JV FootballFenton runs a fairly complex read option offense that places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback to make a decision to hand the ball to his running back, keep the ball and run it himself, or forgo the run and drop back to pass. Logan Welch is the sophomore student-athlete that holds the starting quarterback position for the Tigers and you only need to speak with him for a few minutes to understand why Coach McMillan trusts him to run the offense. This is a young man with a solid head on his shoulders, Logan is bright and confident, he has a demeanor that is polite and respectful, no doubt from parents that have taught him well. His leadership is apparent when he interacts with his teammates and his 3.75 grade-point-average speaks to his intelligence. Coach McMillan’s assessment is that Logan could very well earn the opportunity to play at the college level, but it may be on the diamond instead of the gridiron as Logan’s athletic abilities extend as much to the baseball field as football.Practice is starting to wind down, but the intensity isn’t. Coach runs through a few more plays to make sure everyone understandstheir responsibilities and then calls the team in to take a knee and listen. He emphasizes the need to be precise in their blocking assignments, pass patterns, and running lanes; “if we execute properly, we can dominate their defense” is the mission statement for tomorrow night. Coach McMillan will tell you he is a teacher, that is what coaching means to him. Zach Pierson is one of the team captains, he plays running back on offense and strong safety on defense. Zach is responsible for making the defensive play calls on the field during game action. Zach describes Coach McMillan as tough, but calls it “tough love” adding that “he cares about each of his players individually.” That’s a remarkable statement from a 15-year-old kid. Every coach wants to win, regardless of the level of competition they are engaged in. But to impress these young men with the understanding that he wants them to succeed independently and only then can they succeed as a team is a tribute to the character of the man who leads them.Game night. The freshman squad takes the field first for their game against Clio, kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 and Coach McMillan spends the first half of that game in the coach’s box, above the grandstand, wearing a headset and calling out observations of the action down to the freshman coaches on the sidelines. At halftime, he heads down to begin preparations for his game at 6:30.The Junior Varsity squad warms up before their game out behind the grandstands, coach meets with his assistants to talk strategy, and everyone gets together just before game-time to review assignments; “Be focused from the start” is the message delivered to players as they get ready to face the Clio Mustang’s JV squad. The Fenton Freshman hold on to defeat Clio 21-20 on a blocked extra point. Will the Junior Varsity game be as competitive a matchup?The sun is starting to set and the stadium lights are turned on for the start of the game; there looks to be maybe 100-150 fans in the home grandstands. The team gives them plenty to cheer about right from the start as quarterback Logan Welch throws a touchdown pass to Ryan Miller midway through the 1st quarter to give Fenton an early 7-0 lead. That score is soon followed by another TD completion to Cameron Steeves as the Tigers post a 14-0 score at the end of the first quarter. The offense continues to click in the 2nd quarter, three more touchdowns result in a 34-0 halftime lead. The only negative in the first half is a brief injury timeout as one of the Clio players is attended to on the turf. Thankfully, after determining the injury is not serious, the young man gets up and jogs off to the sideline.Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game of football and they can happen at any level of competition. Brendan Cruz had been playing center on the offensive line until coach moved him to guard for this week’s game. When asked about his hopes for the remainder of his football career at Fenton High, Brendan says he would be “happy to play all four years without getting injured.” Brendan has some experience with the realities of the game having previously broken his arm. There are currently 21 kids on the JV squad, so some boys have to play both offense and defense, Brendan is one of those guys. When Clio has the ball Brendan plays on the defensive line, which he prefers, he would rather “deliver the blows than have to absorb them.”Halftime takes the boys and coaches into the locker room, a few hit the bathroom as the coaches talk 2nd half adjustments. Coach McMillan, ever the teacher, reminds the team of the last time they had a big lead at halftime only to see it melt away in the second half. “Maintain the focus” is the important halftime message. “Go back onto that field as if the score was 0-0” is the challenge for both the offense and the defense.As the second half kicks off it seems the players lose a little of that focus as fumbles and interceptions slow the offense. But, the defense still “plays angry” keeping Clio off the scoreboard. Another injury timeout stops play and this time one of the Tigers is the player lying on the field. The spectators collectively hold their breath as the medical staff and coaches attend to the young man who’s hurt.The crowd is now down to less than 100 people as some of the students have left, parents from the earlier game confident in theoutcome head home, and some of the Freshman team leave to catch up on homework assignments. One of the spectators remaining is Logan’s mom, Susan Welch, she is not hard to find, Logan had said: “just look for the lady ringing the cowbell.” Interviewing a mom when there is an injured player being attended to on the field is cause for some sensitivity to the situation. The Welch’s have an older son playing football at the collegiate level for Hillsdale College and a younger son coming up behind Logan. Susan’s husband Matthew is a football coach, so the game is well vested in their family. When asked if she worries about the possibility of her sons getting injured, given the violent nature of the sport, she gives a remarkable response. “I’m sure every parent worries that their son might be injured, the risk is there but fortunately it’s relatively small. The way I look at it, this is a chance for them to do something they love. It is the only time in their lives that they get to do this. There are adult leagues for men’s baseball, softball, basketball, even soccer, that provide opportunities for them to keep playing those sports when they get out of school. But this is the only time they get to play tackle football, so let them go ahead and enjoy playing the game while they can.”Coach McMillan continues to emphasize the need to focus and for the players to keep their heads in the game. Frankie Shehorn is Coach McMillan’s son and he plays wide receiver. Frankie says his dad is “fun to play for,” a sentiment held by the team as a whole. But, when a play breaks down due to a mental error everyone, including Frankie, gets called out to “think about what you are doing, run the pattern, find your man, make the block, execute, that’s how we move the ball.” The offense gets back on track and Fenton scores 20 points in the second half while the defense preserves the shutout, final score Fenton 54, Clio 0.As things wrap up on the field it is almost 9:00pm, Coach McMillan will be back at it tomorrow night as the coach in the press box helping the varsity team execute their offense and breaking down the opponent’s defensive scheme. Anthony says he could not do this job without the support of his family, especially his wife Courtney. Anthony and Courtney met while Anthony was already a member of the coaching community, so she “knew what she was getting into” as he says. “Courtney has a good understanding of the game, more-so than she lets on; and yes I will occasionally get the “what were you thinking” when I make a call that does not work out the way I expected.” “She shares my love for the game and my love for the kids; you truly could not put forth all the effort required of this job if you did not feel this way” is how Coach McMillan sums up his commitment.With four wins in five games, the Junior Varsity squad is having a solid season, a 36-34 loss to Bedford is the only blemish on the record to date. Every young man who tries out for the football team makes the roster, no one gets cut. When the season ends the players graduate to the varsity squad, the exposure preps them for the following year. For the past 5 seasons straight, Fenton has made the playoffs, this experience is something the players and coaches really enjoy. Coach says that this is the pinnacle for most of these kids, the memories they make, the stories they have to tell will last a lifetime. Maybe three to five boys each year will have the opportunity to continue playing football for a college team at some level. Only one young man, during Coach McMillan’s tenure at Fenton, played under a full-ride scholarship at a Division 1 school. It’s extremely difficult to make it at that level, not just from a skill standpoint but from the mental and physical commitment it takes to be successful there. Would Coach McMillan like to go to that next level in his coaching career? “Maybe at some point” he replies, based on the success achieved interacting with his players and how that translates to success on the field, it seems only a matter of time until that opportunity presents itself. The Fenton community is fortunate to have men, like Anthony McMillan, with the dedication to teach young adults how to become contributing citizens.“Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” – Vince Lombardi

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Steve Sweitzer
Steve is the Sports Editor for the Lasco Press and highlights our coverage of NASCAR and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Steve is a nationally published author of automotive related articles for industry trade magazines, a freelance technical writer, and a contributing author to a consortium that provides “how to” articles for eBay Buying Guides. A 25-year resident of Southeast Michigan, Steve’s passion for reporting on our community, it’s residents, and our automotive connections allow us to use his skills to cover a number of events. Steve’s ability to seek out the unique behind the scenes accounts that tell the often-overlooked aspect of a story makes for entertaining reading. Follow Steve on the Lasco Press with weekly NASCAR updates and featured articles.

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