Ypsilanti Lincoln turns its football program around

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Ypsilanti Lincoln football coach Chris Westfall has turned the program around.

In 2005, Ypsilanti Lincoln started a streak for the ages.

Unfortunately, it was a losing streak that lasted 30 games.

But to open the 2008 season, Lincoln snapped that skid with a 38-22 victory over Tecumseh, leading Andrew Dillon, one of its players at the time, to say, "It feels like we just won the state championship."

It was Chris Westfall's second season as Lincoln's coach. And it was the team's lone win that season.

In 2009, Lincoln went 2-7 and went winless in 2010 before a 6-3 record and the school's first playoff appearance in 2011.

Now, state playoff appearances are expected at Lincoln, which will be competing in postseason play for the third time in four years.

Lincoln, which has won consecutive Southeastern Conference White titles, plays at Wyandotte on Friday in a Division 2 matchup.

News staff writer David Goricki sat down with Westfall, who also is the school's athletic director, on how he has turned the program around.

Q. Knowing Lincoln's history, the lack of success, why did you decide to become the coach?

A. I played at Ann Arbor Pioneer, then coached at Pioneer for 14 years, starting right out of high school on the JV team, then offensive coordinator the following year at the varsity level. I wanted to be a coach and it was a great opportunity for me to get experience and stay local. I brought a lot of guys from that (Pioneer) staff with me, including my brothers Eric (offensive line) and Jeff (defensive backs) and George Michos, who is my offensive coordinator. It was important to keep the staff together.

Q. What was the biggest challenge?

A. The biggest thing was changing the culture, having the kids believe they could win. Our first group of kids had never won a game at any level. They had scored five touchdowns the year before we got there, been outscored 432-33. That affects the kids in a lot of ways. Really, it's painful.

Q. How did you turn things around?

A. The biggest thing was having my staff, guys were totally invested in the program. It was like being in a foxhole together. We have high character people on that staff and we handled it right.

We were like 3-33 after four years and during that 0-9 season in 2010 we had a real good defense, probably could have won four or five games, but we turned the ball over. That was the groundwork for the next season.

Q. What was the difference the following year, to make the playoffs?

A. We learned to finish. We still played well defensively, but we took care of the ball.It was so gratifying, seeing the kids get rewarded, how the community responded, all the support made it so much fun.

Q. How has the culture changed?

A. We had been without a conference championship since 1987, that was until last year, and then we won it again this season. Now, the expectations have totally changed to where the kids think they can just show up and win at times and that becomes a problem.

Q. Coaches face transfer issues throughout the state, talk about yours.

A. We had five transfer after last year, three to IMG (Sports Academy in Florida) and two to Milan. We just coach the kids who want to be there and don't talk about the others.