MUSKEGON – Roger Dailey remembers Cary Harger as a “big and buff” assistant coach for Oakridge’s football program in the mid- to late-1990s, fresh off his offensive line days at Hope College.
More than two decades later, Harger is still a prominent figure in Oakridge football history. Tonight, the 12th-year Eagles head coach will be inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Harger, 50, is entering the MHSFCA Hall of Fame in the 2022 class, which will be celebrated at the Best Western Premier Executive Residency in Southfield. He is one of 14 inductees for the 2022 class, which also includes Spring Lake’s Jerry Rabideau. Fourteen inductees for the 2021 class will be inducted tonight at a different location in Lathrup Village.
The Hall of Fame ceremonies are in conjunction with the MHSFCA East-West All-Star Game, which takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lawrence Tech in Southfield. Oakridge’s Ethan Jozsa and Montague’s Hayden McDonald, along with Fruitport’s Gavin Reames and Mona Shores’ Demetri Roberson, will be suiting up for the West squad. Harger also will be announced as a Hall of Famer at halftime of the all-star game.
“Cary coached me for two years when I was in high school, so he was the cool guy coming in,” said Dailey, a 1998 Oakridge alumnus, who played on the Eagles’ first state title team in 1997. “We knew he played football. We may have watched him when he was in high school. He came from Hope College and at that time he was big and buff and he was our linemen coach.”
It’s never easy to follow a legend and that’s what Harger did as Jack Schugars’ successor.
Schugars, who was inducted in the MHSFCA Hall of Fame in 1993, guided Oakridge to three state championships in his 32 years at the helm. He was 262-78 overall and led the Eagles to 19 West Michigan Conference titles, 20 playoff appearances and five state finals trips.
Harger, a 1990 Oakridge alumnus, is 98-24 overall in his first 11 seasons in charge of the Eagles program. He has guided Oakridge to nine or more wins in eight of those years. The Eagles have captured six conference titles, four Division 5 district championships and one regional crown.
Prior to his current post, Harger served as an assistant coach in the Oakridge program for 16 seasons. He returned to his alma mater in 1995.
Harger said he was in “complete shock” over the MHSFCA Hall of Fame nod, although a little birdie (Oakridge assistant Tim Parker) may have let the cat out of the bag a little early.
“It’s definitely not alone,” Harger said about earning the distinction. “One of the biggest things when I got hired was, after that was announced, I kind of looked around and all the coaches at the different levels, nobody went anywhere.
“That was a relief to me that there was still the belief in me to be able to run the program. Maybe they were just giving it a year, I don’t know,” Harger said with a smile. “They stayed put and, for the most part, we’ve had a very solid staff over those 11 years. That’s been a huge confidence-builder, just having these guys around, really good friends of mine.”
Dailey is among those “really good friends.”
Dailey has been with the Oakridge program for a couple decades himself, so he also knows exactly what it means to be an Eagle and carry on the tradition.
“He’s carried on the tradition and trying to follow the blueprint that Jack built for us,” Dailey said about Harger. “There are some small changes here and there, but really not too far off the path. It’s still family, it’s still brothers.”
In addition to crediting Oakridge’s assistant coaches, Harger tips his cap to the players that have come through, bought in and kept the Eagles program at a high level.
It’s been a memorable 10-month stretch for Harger, who last September received the Detroit Lions High School Coach of the Week award and was honored on the field at Ford Field in December.
“I’ve been absolutely blessed and very honored and humbled. It’s just been awesome,” Harger said. “It’s nice because it does reflect the fruits of your labor that people recognize those things, what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do it the right way. An old saying, ‘There’s never a wrong way to do the right thing.’ That’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
JOZSA, MCDONALD JOIN FORCES
Oakridge’s Ethan Jozsa and Montague’s Hayden McDonald were two of the more dominant linemen in the West Michigan Conference the past few years. They’ve likely encountered each other on the field at least once or twice.
Starting this week, they’re roommates – and not just as teammates for the MHSFCA East-West All-Star Game. Jozsa and McDonald also will be roommates as football teammates at Hillsdale College.
Both players were All-West Michigan Conference, all-area and all-state performers, so they have a lot in common. Both of them are also on the quiet side – make that, very quiet.
“Well, it will be a good place to study, I guess,” Harger said with a chuckle, referring to Jozsa’s and McDonald’s dorm room at Hillsdale. “It’s cool, that conference relationship going to another college like that. I’m happy for them. It will be cool.
“It will be interesting to see who says the first word,” Harger added with a grin.
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