Detroit Country Day football coach Dan MacLean said his team had their best training of the year on Friday.
This showed that the Yellowjackets (6-3) had no problem running away from Redford Union (8-2) 35-7 in the Division 4 pre-district on Saturday at Hilbert Middle School.
Country Day, who visits Livonia Clarenceville for next week’s district final, scored on the offensive, defensive and special teams. He sent injured quarterback Brandon Mann behind center, brought back full-back Parker Yearego and got an outstanding performance from Gabe Zeldes in defense.
“We had a good preparation,” said MacLean. “We raised a number of our JV kids who improved our intensity. All of them. It was just a good week. We got Brand-o back. We got Parker Yearego back. He hadn’t played for a long time. , and I think that kinda lifted us up. The guys had a really good week. It’s not usually a strenuous workout, but our Friday workout was really a good workout, and it was one. of the best of the year. “
Trust is the key for Zeldes
Zeldes did not necessarily play shy. But MacClean knows that a little more confidence could make the junior one of the toughest safeties he’s ever coached.
Zeldes likely left Saturday’s game with the confidence he lacked.
He returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and he had a 6-yard sack over Union QB Cory Chavis in the first half.
His first pick 6 totaled 29 yards and gave the Yellowjackets a 14-0 lead just 73 seconds into the game. Plus, he made an athletic game to do it. He followed the ball to the nearby touchline and extended a wide arm before bringing it back, turning his body west and rushing into the end zone.
“I’ve never had a Pick-6 before, so it was pretty cool to have two. It was crazy,” said Zeldes, who is 5’11 ”and 190 pounds. “I’m the middle guy (in high school), and I’m the wanderer. I’m just looking at the QB and reading it. I just saw his eyes (Chavis ‘) go left, and I said,’ This go left, and I just put my arm out. He fell straight into my arm, and I had good blockers in front of me.
Zeldes opened the second half with a 25-yard pick-6 that made it 35-0. Chavis threw a moon ball that security easily snatched from the air.
“He’s really helped us a lot,” Mann said of Zeldes and the other defenders. “He lightened the offensive and made it easier for us.”
Zeldes transferred to Country Day from Walled Lake Northern ahead of his second season.
He was excited about the new academic opportunities and the chance to take his baseball game to the next level. He is a right-handed outfielder and pitcher who is already arousing the interest of Division II colleges.
And after missing football in 10th grade because of the transfer rule, he had no idea where football was going to rank among his priorities on Country Day.
Now he’s shaping his game after solid former Pittsburgh Steelers defenseman Troy Polamalu. He wants to be a punchy and efficient defensive back.
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Thanks to the newfound confidence of his sack in the first quarter and his two pick-6s, he was just that for the Yellowjackets in their first round victory.
“Zeldes played very well. We always knew he was capable, ”said MacLean. “Sometimes the younger kids are a bit intimidated. He was transferred and he came with great references. We knew he was a good player. He was a good baseball player. Confidence every week, and he can do some things there. “
Mann in charge
MacLean coached the Yellowjackets for 23 years, but he barely remembers a time when Mann was not on the program, running the field in layers or leading the team as a starting quarterback.
“I watched him grow up,” said MacLean. “He just brings a ton to our team, and he adds a lot of leadership. I always refer to what my son (2021 National Day graduate Danny MacLean) would say: he was a warrior. Brandon is a warrior on the football field.
“That’s the thing: he’s a Country Day football player, and he played so hard on both sides of the ball. I remember when he was a little guy. Now he’s a big, tall and beefy . ”
This is why MacLean was disappointed to see Man injuring his shoulder against Detroit Loyola on October 16.
Kent State’s three-star engagement was injured in a failed snap near the red zone in the first half against the Bulldogs. He watched the rest of the game from the sideline while wearing a hoodie.
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He was unavailable to play in the Yellowjackets’ 24-7 loss to Brother Rice in the regular season finale.
Mann returned for Game 1 of the playoffs, however, and he looked set to bring his team back to Ford Field for the second straight season.
“Honestly, it was just great to be on the pitch after last week’s tough loss,” said the QB. “It was hard to just sit on the sidelines and watch it happen and not be able to do anything. It’s good to be here with all of my guys, and I’m happy to be a part of it again.”
MacLean didn’t ask much of his QB in his first comeback, not that some impressive QB play was necessary for the Yellowjackets to take the win.
He was 2 of 4 assists and rushed just once. He handled the game well and helped his teammates move the chains. Despite the pouring rain, Country Day escaped only once in the first half and didn’t kick for the first time until 83 seconds were left in the third quarter.
Mann leaned on Parker Yearego, who rushed 10 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns, and Gabe Winowich, who rushed nine times for 48 yards and returned a 70-yard kickoff for a score, to maintain the offensive hum.
“It’s good to know that while I’m not at my best my guys are supporting me,” Mann said. “Our attack is not oriented behind the pass. We can just line up and run the ball down the teams’ throats if we need to.”
MacLean added, “When you lose a guy like that you kind of lose your security coverage. Getting it back was huge.”
Respect your opponent
MacLean watched Clarenceville beat Madison Heights Lamphere 36-28 in the other District D-4 semi-final on Friday night. So he knew that a win over Union meant his Yellowjackets would play their second round game at Tim Shaw Stadium in Clarenceville.
Who is Tim Shaw?
MacLean spent most of his post-game conversation with his players describing him.
“I went to watch his video, and there is a very moving video that I watched,” MacClean explained as he rummaged through an accordion file and removed the chips he noted on Shaw’s impact on the local football.
Shaw played in Clarenceville before playing linebacker and special teams for Penn State. The Carolina Panthers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He recorded 127 career tackles playing for four different teams over five seasons.
In 2014, however, Shaw was diagnosed with ALS, the neurodegenerative disease that affects the use of muscles.
Clarenceville named its stadium after its former All-State runner in 2017.
“I wrote it all finished,” MacLean said. “I couldn’t really give the speech I wanted. But there is a slogan he used in this video.”
“Did you write it to tell your plays?” Asked a reporter.
“It’s what I always do,” MacLean replied. “That’s what I did.”
MacLean grabbed his notes and read them to the handful of people still standing on the ground at Union.
He said, ‘Begin to live. Live your best life today. Enjoy it all. What’s important is your relationship. Have a nice day, ”MacLean said, looking up from his notes. “It was very emotional. It was very good. I just thought, ‘Dude, that’s a good message for these guys to hear before next week.
“I’ve been going so far back with all the training I’ve done, and what a hell of a kid this guy was. What a great guy. What a great athlete.”
Brandon Folsom covers high school sports on the Detroit subway for Hometown Life. Follow him on twitter @folsombrandonj.