By Allen Wright
As the Chelsea varsity football team begins its playoff run, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on the Bulldog football program.
Many of the players are born and raised in Chelsea and have played in the program since middle school. All Chelsea players live in Chelsea since there is no school of choice or open recruitment.
And for many of them, their high school football careers began as a freshman under Head Coach Dennis Strzyzewski.
The 2017 freshman football team is coming off its second undefeated season in the program’s rich history. The only other freshman team to go undefeated was the seniors of the 2016 team, who went to the state championship game. Strzyzewski has been coaching the freshman for 15 years, and with great results. His only coaching style is that he tries to be as honest as possible with the kids. He works to get them to demand more from themselves.
“My biggest goal is that everyone on the team always puts the team needs in front of their individual wants,” Strzyzewski stated. “We also try to make everything competitive and fun. We are blessed to have a lot of really smart kids in Chelsea, so we are able to ask them to do some pretty complex things at a young age.”
Strzyzewski began his football career at Manistee, Michigan. When he’s not coaching on the gridiron, he coaches boys and girls basketball at the middle school. He has coached basketball for 14 of his 19 years in Chelsea.
He’s also the popular Beach Middle School guidance counselor.
This year was a spectacular season for the freshman Bulldogs beginning with the first game of the season. The Bulldogs fell behind Monroe 14-0 within the first 5 minutes of the game. Monroe actually scored on the first play of the game. But the kids just kept playing, battling back, listening to assistant coaches Adam French, Jared Beaver, and defensive line Coach Mikal Nelson and ended up winning 36-28.
“After losing big in middle school, which is expected, we didn’t know how our kids would respond to the rough start,” Strzyzewski said. “But they stepped up to the challenge.”
Fast forward to the last game of the season, which was eerily similar. The Bulldogs were down 7-0 after the first play and 14-0 four minutes into the game at Holt. Again, the kids just kept competing.
Down 21-7 at the half, they came back to take a 28-21 lead in the third. But again, they fell behind 37-28 with 5 minutes left. And, as they had all season, the kids kept believing eventually scoring with a minute left to win 38-37.
“That was probably the most fun I have had coaching a freshman game,” said Strzyzewski.
He says, “I keep getting older, but the kids stay the same age.”
He explains that the freshman are fun because they are so raw when he gets them in August, but then he gets to see them build confidence as they improve. By the end of the season, they are a completely different team.
Strzyzewski says it’s hard at times because every year, they are kind of starting over, and they need to remember that although they have done this a thousand times, it is the first time for this group of kids.
The great thing is that they get to know these kids in a whole new way, and they have a ton of fun. Every day there is something to laugh about, and he feels like he builds relationships with the kids and that is what really matters.
“People talk about the lessons we learn from football,” Strzyzweski says. “I think our kids learned that if you just keep playing, keep competing, things often work out. You can’t win all of the time, but continuing to battle will give you a chance to be successful. My hope is they apply this to school, jobs, and relationships. Everything they do (they) will have a chance to be successful as long as they just keep pushing even when it seems too difficult.”