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Foster: Success of Clarkston football starts at home

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Detroit – Clarkston quarterback D.J. Zezula broke into the open on a surprising quarterback draw that caught the tenacious Saline defense by surprise.

He ran in open spaces during his fourth-quarter 70-yard touchdown romp, but he did not run alone.

Zezula carried a village with him as Clarkston (14-0) won its second straight Division I football championship, 33-25 over Saline (12-2) on Saturday afternoon at Ford Field. It is different in Clarkston, 40 minutes north of Detroit.

Once you become a member of the family, you are always a member of the family.

Families in this small town raise future Clarkston football and basketball players. They push them through the system, and watch them win championships as varsity players. And when their children are off to college or careers, those parents still show up for games wearing Clarkston's yellow and blue.

That is what right tackle Adam Matich plans on doing. He will graduate in the spring, go to college, get a job and be a proud dad in the stands even before his kids are school age. He is ingrained in the community because it raised him the Clarkston way.

"Clarkston is a community that stands together no matter what," he said.

'I just show up and eat'

It has been said it takes a village to raise a child. That is certainly true in Clarkston, the close-knit small town that sends its residents off to work in places like Detroit and Flint.

They hold fundraisers, raise money for cancer research and fill the stands in the fall for football and in the winter for basketball.

Every season, the school allots a certain amount of money to fund meals for nine regular-season football feasts. By the first playoff game, the money is gone. But food continues to show up. This past Friday night, Clarkston players munched on steak, macaroni and cheese and salads in the school cafeteria.

Coach Kurt Richardson didn't have to ask if there would be a meal for his players. He knew it would be there because he knows his town better than most. The food just shows up, whether from one of the restaurants in town or from some moms' kitchens.

"I just show up and eat," he said.

He added: "Anytime we need something, people are there for us. You don't ask for it. And the great thing about our community and our parents is they do things and they don't ask for anything in return."

This town supports at least two legends. Basketball coach Dan Fife celebrated his 600th victory at the school last season and he is entering his 33rd year as coach. Richardson is just a young buck. He has coached 28 years and now owns a 217-77 record.

It's a big deal to be part of the Clarkston athletic community, whether you're a coach, player, parent, restaurant owner or retiree. People wear the school colors year-round.

Left tackle Cole Chewins noticed it even when he was in third grade. He was playing youth football with many of his teammates. He was taught how to play football the right way as a youngster. And he was encouraged by town folks at the ice-cream stand and while eating dinner. And that carried over to this season, when he could end his career by saying he played on the best Division I team in the state.

"The community is great," he said. "It brings a lot of energy to the team."

'Someone is missing out'

Saline is a similar community. About 400 people gathered at the high school Saturday morning to send the team off. The players are small and tenacious, and the defense played well for much of the game before it was worn out by a devastating 14-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:56 off the clock.

That's when Clarkston's Nolan "Touchdown" Eriksen took over. He led his team with 172 yards rushing and three touchdowns. In his last six games, he recorded 1,033 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns.

Afterward, Richardson did his part to be a good community man. Zezula does not have an offer to play quarterback in college, and Richardson thinks that's a shame.

"He is 39-2," Richardson said of Zezula's record as Clarkston's quarterback. "Thirty nine and two. Now that's a football player. Someone is missing out."

They stand behind each other in Clarkston and the support never ends.