**ARTICLE BY JOSH LONGSTRETH**
Head Coach Marc Jarstfer comes into his 4th season as the head man at Gladwin High School. Having some great mentors and being involved with a Clare program that is widely respected helped mold this head man. He knew he was ready to take the reins of his own program and help build in his vision.
The Gladwin Flying G’s might be the best story in the state this season. Gladwin has worked their way gradually over the last few years, and they are now really starting to see that pay off. They were able to take down a perennial power in Grand Rapids Catholic Central last week that sent Michigan High School Football in a tailspin. But should it have? Gladwin has dominated many of their opponents all season. They’ve also had close games over excellent opponents and came out on top. They’re battle tested. You could sense it last week right from the opening kickoff. A sense of urgency and it paid dividends from all the hard work. Their special season continues as there is something special brewing in Flying G’s country.
Jarstfer knew it wouldn’t be easy when taking over the helm, but if you were to look at a blueprint for building a program, they’ve done it the right way. Jarstfer knows that, and knows their program wouldn’t be where they are without the kids, community, and coaches buying in. “We’ve had a chance to really build this thing for the last four years now. You know, obviously that first year is always a transition for everyone involved. We came in with a very young team that season and although it didn’t translate into wins, we knew what guys we had buying in, and they’ve really been big with building the culture. We kind of came in late that year so that was tough, you get off to a later start than other teams when that happens. Then the next season we really started progressing. We had a chance to have a pretty good season and we kind of knew that we might be on the right track when we had a chance to play Dexter who is much bigger school. Both teams were young, and we thought it was a great opportunity to see where we stand, and we battled and were able to come out on top. That was big for our program. That was another tricky year with COVID and what not, but we really just kept building. Then in 2021. we put together an undefeated season and the guys in the program set a lot of accolades. I do think we became a little content in that and sure enough we had a chance to play Clare again in the first round and they really gave it to us. I think that opened a lot of guys eyes even more. Like this is nice, but we believe we can achieve much more than that. We have a great community that has been so helpful. Great coaches that really work their tails off. And the kids, I mean we had about sixty guys in the offseason who were regulars coming in and working in the offseason. They work their butts off”.
Although it’s great to have kids buying in, sometimes that won’t always pay off. Jarstfer knew that they would really have to challenge themselves every day to get where they wanted to be. “The biggest thing was building the culture, that’s something you always have to have and it’s something that can be hard. But our guys have bought in and that has only helped the progression of that culture. We kind of look at it as what kind of individual do you want to be? That’s our biggest goal as a staff is building the person. Then you obviously have to have that drive and they do. A lot of these guys have been that way even a few years back. They don’t take anything for granted and don’t buy into the hype if people are noticing that Gladwin is pretty good. They hold themselves accountable each and every day”.
If you’re watching Gladwin, it’s a team that has only gotten better throughout the season. It’s a team that comes out with a hunger for victory. In asking Jarsfter if they ever have a bad day as a program, he chuckled. “We do, we definitely have our days. But we always try and challenge them to get better each day. They don’t take any of the time for granted. It’s a group that, even when fatigue creeps in, they really just drown it out. They always want more. Coming to the early workout sessions, everything in the off season, to now, there’s no complaining and they are very passionate in working to meet their goals. It’s one thing to have high level athletes, and we have that. But if those athletes aren’t working and become complacent, it doesn’t matter how great of an athlete you are. You have to have that will. When you have that and their athletic ability, it’s just brought out more and more positive things along the way”.
Gladwin can be a force both offensively and defensively, and a lot of teams might not realize how fast they are until it’s time to take the field. They even looked the part in matching up physically with Grand Rapids Catholic Central. I asked Jarsfter about some of the things they’ve looked at to help that. “We’ve really taken pieces here and built it into our vision. You know you want the bigger, faster, and stronger aspects but you also want to be able to translate to being more dynamic. Being more athletic that’s been our biggest goal. A lot of these guys are multiple sport athletes, and they succeed at that same level in those sports.”
There are points in a long season where teams at any level realize they might just have what it takes to be one of the best. There was a moment mid-season where Jarstfer believes that came to fruition. “You know, we knew that we had a chance to be a solid group early in the season by getting past some of the teams we did. But the big moment, and we kind of had a feeling that this game would tell us a lot, was the Notre Dame Prep game. That’s a team that is typically a perennial power and just on another level than some. I think the fact that we were able to go down there and come out the way we did told us a lot. We really said, ‘hey we might be able to play with anyone’. Playing a really good Standish team late in the season was another great test. Those guys made a deep run last year and we knew what they had. They just gave us even more confidence heading into the playoffs. Playing an Ogemaw Heights team who is vastly underrated was another great test to start the playoffs”.
There was a moment last week where many thought at any point in the game that Catholic Central would make their run. But unless you were there, you might not have seen what others did. It was a dominant performance where Gladwin never seemed to sway. “It was a tough game the entire way, and we really just stayed the course. We knew that even if we got off to the start that we wanted, they could take the momentum back at any time. There were times where we could have given into that. We really focused on telling the guys, have more good plays than bad plays. We knew that’s what we were in for and neither team was going to walk over the other. We had the big plays that really built the momentum early, but they had theirs as well. Especially late, it was really fitting. We made our mistakes and the guys being who they are bounced right back. Guys picking each other up. Nick Wheeler late, you know had the mistake, and Logan Kokotovich picked him up right away. Then right after that, Nick gets the interception to seal the game. It was fitting”.
When you get to this point in the season, there are some brutal days of practice. Fall has passed us by, and winter is coming. Gladwin was able to manage just fine in less-than-ideal conditions last Saturday. Teams now get a chance to make their way indoors, and Jarsfter acknowledged the team’s process in preparing for that this week. “We get to head indoors now and that’s how the practices will be this week. Really trying to get used to being in a warmer atmosphere indoors. Conditioning and mentally preparing, things along those lines. We had a chance to work at Saginaw Valley and Northwood this week. Then we have our character development days, video, and working on things trying to hammer down what we feel we need”.
Two teams are left in Division 5, and it’s fitting that those two teams might be like looking in a mirror. Gladwin has rolled for much of the year. They’ve had their tough battles. They’ve been through it all. Now they might just face a team that has had a similar path to Ford Field. Jarstfer used a lot of the traits he used for his own team when talking about Frankenmuth. “Very, very similar, really. They’re extremely physical. Very well coached on both sides of the ball. We have a lot of respect for what they’ve built there and what they represent. The offense is big time. They’re tough as heck. It’ll be a great matchup to see where we stand against them”.
No matter what happens on Saturday, the season is over. It has a chance to end in a very surreal moment for Gladwin. Many have said it’s a ‘Cinderella story’. Unless you have seen this team play, you might see a little more than that. Making gradual strides each year, Gladwin has made their third straight playoff appearance this year. It’s a great story, but many will find out you might be hearing about Gladwin football for many years to come. There’s something special brewing for the Flying G’s.