LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — When it comes to high school football teams in the state of Michigan that are known for a strong tradition, Lowell is on that list.
The Red Arrows had 19 consecutive trips to the state playoffs heading into the 2018 season. That was also when Noel Dean stepped down as head coach after posting a 219-41 record in 22 years. Not to mention the three state titles and 10 league crowns to come with it.
It was a wonder what would happen without him. The answer wasn’t anything close to what the program was used to.
The team went 1-8 and the newly hired Juston Miller resigned from the head coaching job. Then came Jacob Henige, someone who isn’t a stranger to Red Arrow football. From 2009-10 he was an assistant and then again from 2012 to the time he got the offer.
It was a big time turn around to make, and in year one, Henige did that.
The Red Arrows went 5-5, battled some ups and downs, but made the Division III state playoffs again. The Arrows got a matchup with its rival East Grand Rapids in the first round. It was all Pioneers.
EGR won handily in a 42-14 dismantling of the Red Arrows. It left a taste in the mouth of the returning members on the team wanting to see the field soon. With COVID-19 hitting, it prolonged that, of course, also making them wonder if they’d ever see a game in 2020.
Yet here it is, the first week of football. With the new conference alignment and Lowell being back in the O-K White, so is its rival, EGR, and they’re ready for a rematch on Friday at 7 p.m.
“(EGR) has been (to the state title), we’re trying to get our program back there,” Henige said. “Our kids are hungry and they want an opportunity, now we get a test Friday night against a great program.”
While Henige isn’t any different from every team dealing with the coronavirus shutdowns and startups, he admitted it made keeping momentum from 2019 going into the offseason.
Yet, he couldn’t compliment his guys enough on the effort they’ve put in when they were allowed to be together.
“We’ve had to make adjustments at the drop of a hat, but if we get an opportunity, we’re going to seize it,” Henige said. “(The players) are excited, they’ve worked so hard for this, and I’m happy for the seniors that they get to take a final season to play because we didn’t know if it would happen.”
Henige mentioned that the team had some key players returning but said the 11 on the field on both sides of the ball will make the difference.
Of course, this comes from a team-oriented player himself — Henige was a four-year letter winner at Grand Valley State. which includes three national championship teams (2003, 2005,2006). He earned All-GLIAC honors in 2006-07 as an offensive lineman.
Henige did leave for a couple years when he took a coaching position in Arizona. Now, he’s back at Lowell where he loves the football tradition.
Henige prefers not to think too much about the team’s specific record or games in the future. He’s living in the now, and he’s happy more than anything his seniors get a 2020 campaign.
“They’re getting their opportunity to play in a senior year and at one time that, wasn’t for sure,” Henige said. “I’m excited to be a part of it, we just have to stay focused every day.”
Right now, Henige and his team’s focus is on the next one up, and it just happens to be the schools biggest rival.