MUSKEGON – In Oakridge’s postgame huddle Saturday afternoon following a 26-8 Division 5 regional finals loss to Gladwin, Eagles defensive coordinator Tim Parker revealed that he had contemplated hanging up his whistle following last season.
The younger of his two sons was a senior last year, so it would have made sense for Parker to walk off into the sunset following the 2021 season. But something pulled him back. It’s pretty clear what it is.
It’s family. That’s what Oakridge football is about. It’s woven into the fabric of the program from the figurative and literal senses.
Coaching continuity is a big reason that Oakridge’s football program has been a model of consistency for the better part of four decades. But it’s also the way the Eagles take care of each other, whether they’re related by blood or not.
Saturday at Russell A. Erickson Stadium, Oakridge offensive coordinator Nate Danicek was experiencing the emotions to which Parker can relate. The younger of Danicek’s two sons, Matt, was a senior quarterback and defensive back and it was his final game in an Eagles uniform.
His older son, Jacob Danicek, graduated two years ago and also starred in the Oakridge football program.
You could hear it in Nate Danicek’s voice when it was his turn to address the team in the Eagles’ customary postgame huddle in the end zone.
“It will definitely be different. I’ve always seemed to have one of them coming up or coaching them,” Nate Danicek said. “I’m thankful to be able to be part of a community that rallies around the students and the athletes. It’s a special place that you really can’t understand unless you’re a part of it and I’m lucky enough to be a part of that.”
Oakridge (10-2) dictated the game in the first half Saturday and held an 8-6 halftime edge over Gladwin (12-0). The Flying G’s struck first, but Eagles workhorse running back Trever Jones scored on a 3-yard run and Matt Danicek tacked on a two-point conversion run to put his team ahead with 4:29 left in the second quarter.
The tone of the game changed immediately in the second half. On the first play from scrimmage, speedy Gladwin senior Earl Esiline busted a 62-yard touchdown run and the Flying G’s added the two-point conversion run for a 14-8 lead.
Listen to an audio replay here:
Oakridge appeared to have tied the game on its ensuing drive, but Jones’ 12-yard TD run was wiped out by a penalty. A few plays later, on fourth-and-2 from the 5, the Eagles were dropped for a loss of five.
Gladwin flipped the momentum and mounted a 90-yard scoring drive, capped by Esiline’s 13-yard run around the right side for a 20-8 lead with 3 seconds remaining in the third.
Esiline finished with a team-high 140 rushing yards on 10 carries. Jones led all rushers with 162 yards, including a 3-yard TD run, on 26 attempts.
Danicek was 6-of-10 passing for 36 yards with an interception. It’s not the way that he and the Eagles wanted to go out. They were going for the program’s first regional title since 2013.
Gladwin, which earned its first regional championship since 1998, will face juggernaut Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1) in the state semifinals at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Ithaca.
Photos by Emily Vanderstelt for CatchMark
The run has to end sometime, for everybody, but it always feels so abrupt when it happens. The Daniceks experienced that.
“It goes by quick,” Matt Danicek said about his time as a high school football player for Oakridge.
It’s not just the games that the Daniceks will miss. It’s all of the stuff in between.
“Just the love of the game that we both have for it. Just after the games, watching the highlights, all of that,” Matt Danicek said. “Talking about the next game and talking about other people playing. Definitely going to miss that the most.”
Nate Danicek, a 1995 Fruitport alumnus, was hired by Oakridge in 2000. He taught math for 21 years, then recently switched over to physical education.
Nate and Kim Danicek’s sons did not begin playing football until their sixth-grade years. Jacob Danicek now is an assistant coach in the Oakridge football program.
Football will look a little different for the Daniceks now. Father and sons will still be able to share their love of the game, but it will never be the same as when Jacob and Matt suited up for the Eagles.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different. Parker understands.
“Amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Nate Danicek said. “To be able to coach both of my boys and their friends growing up, nothing I’d ever take back. You know, a lot of hours put into it, but the time spent out here, you just can’t replace it.
“Just being able to be with (Matt) on the field and share these experiences with him. I’m hoping he takes some of the life lessons learned out here and can be successful outside of here. Just spending extra time with him – a lot of different moments we were able to spend together, both of my sons, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Photos by Scott Robar for CatchMark
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