Chelsea is a very quaint city of roughly 5,100 people located about 15 miles west of Ann Arbor. It is full of friendly people, a vast array of eclectic shops and restaurants, and many parks and lakes. It is a very warm and inviting community and if you are new from out of town you are accepted right away because once you embrace the blue and gold colors of the Bulldogs, the school’s mascot, then you too are a Chelsea Bulldog.
Highlighting the community are the Chelsea schools. They are very diverse, educational learning facilities, especially the High School which is voted every year in the top 20 schools of Michigan and in the top 700 in the nation! Their test scores are some of the highest in the state, along with their college readiness, and proficiency in reading and math. Along with the pride they feel of high educational values they have much pride in the athletics.
Chelsea can be known as a city of championships. They have achieved many, many championships in all sports over the years. Just this fall sports season alone the first year Field Hockey team won the Division 1 regular season championship and went to the State Championship game. The volleyball team won the SEC Conference Title, the Girls Cross Country team won the Conference Title, the soccer team won Conference, the boys Tennis won, and the Swim and Dive team finished eighth place in states. And the Football team will be at Ford Field in Detroit Saturday evening to take on Orchard Lake St. Mary’s for the Division 3 Championship.
Although Chelsea Football has won championships in the past, they have never made it this far in the the modern playoff era. And this is a great group of kids and the whole area supports them. You will not see this team throw fits, or throw helmets. If they make a mistake, they shake it off and learn from it and move forward. You will not see them arguing, cussing, or calling out other players in a negative way. You will not see them breaking team rules or slacking in their studies. They do not skip school, they do not start fights, they do not break the law. Many on the team are member s of National Honor Society and on honor roll. You will not see them padding their own statistics. You will however, see them helping each other, encouraging each other, supporting each other as a brotherhood. When you watch Chelsea football, you see a complete team with no weaknesses of great young men. And that comes from coaching and parenting!
“My husband and I have had all three of our sons grow up being part of Chelsea and the Bulldog Experience,” said Senior Defensive lineman Quinn Kelly’s mother Christine. “The coaching and mentoring here goes above and beyond. My boys have learned many positive things especially dedication and hard work and how rewarding the payoff can be. The lessons they have learned here will last them a lifetime.”
That is very much the general consensus of the community and team parents, past and present. There is much pride and respect in the sports programs of Chelsea, and right now especially in the football program. The fans have poured into opposing team’s stadiums outnumbering the home teams on many occasions, even in the playoffs. They are loyal. They sit in the freezing cold, in the snow, and they travel far to do it. And the faithful fans are very thrilled and excited for this team.
“Many of the seniors’ parents have been impressed with this group of boys for quite some time,” stated Johnny Packard, Senior lineman Jay Packard’s father. “We kept seeing many of the same boys since Chelsea’s U8 Rec Leagues (baseball, basketball, flag football…). They were good, athletic and talented. But it was that undefeated freshmen year that the talk began: these guys are something special, a real team, they really care about each other, having fun and celebrating each other’s accomplishments,” Packard continued. “They were fun to watch. Then they got broken up. Some of the boys got taken up to varsity. That JV squad was still good but the parents were chomping at the bit , waiting for their senior year. And here it is. WOW! Everything we hoped for and then some. They are out there again having fun and celebrating each other’s accomplishments. These are a great group of kids, all 70 something of them. The kind of kids you can’t help but be proud of, regardless of their accomplishments. But what a great accomplishment; making it to Ford Field and accomplishing the goal of play 14”
#Play 14 is the manta of the team beginning last summer. It refers to the number of games a team must play to get to the championship game. And these players, their fans, and parents are living the dream. They are playing 14.
“This is a great group of young men, you’ll never find any better,” Mike Shegan, father of Junior Defensive Tackle Cash Shegan proudly proclaimed. “These kids deserve this, they’ve earned it and I can’t be more proud of them.”
“This is very exciting for the whole community,” Jerry Kingsley, father of Senior Defensive End Trevor Kingsley said. “I especially like how Coach (Head Coach Brad Bush) has made it about the team. They’ve done a great job and this is a big learning experience in many ways that they’ll always remember.”
The whole city is proud, even non football fans. They are planning to line the streets Saturday at 4 p.m. as the team buses carrying the players drive through the city. The school sold out of tickets in one day, 2,000 tickets! And local businesses Advanced Dental Group and Steele Heating and Cooling gave away free tickets to all the Juniors and Seniors. Many more people will be travelling Saturday in droves proudly wearing their blue and gold and hoping to watch a great team of excellent young men put the positive finishing touches on a storybook season.
When it comes to the sport of football, each position is just as vital as the next. And when it comes to a band of brothers the defensive back’s of Chelsea are just as solid as any other unit on the team. They have played together for several years. They know where each other will be on the field. They know each player has their back.
The squad is led by Seniors Defensive Captain cornerback Ryan Stasiak, safety Graham Kuras, and safety Jacob Rhodes. All 3 were selected All Conference with Junior cornerback Cam Cooper being named honorable mention. Cooper and Stasiak are two of the best shut down corners in the state according to many of the coaches and players they have come up against. They are a strong unit and can substitute in many players including Seniors Jordan Haber, Leland Allison, Parker Dye, Nathaniel Bauer, and Peter Koseck.
“We all play together cause we’ve grown up together and are tight off the field too,” stated the junior Cooper. “We don’t hesitate to call each other out if we aren’t doing our job or slacking. We all have a swagger that nobody is better than us and with that attitude we play like it too. It truly comes down to the fact that we just like to ball. We understand that when we play as a unit we can compete with anyone, anytime, anywhere. We play together as brothers and treat each other as so. No one can have a bond as we do and it brings us closer off and on the field.”
This unit has played strong this year hitting hard and forcing many turnovers. Every play, every down, they will give there all. You will not see them giving up or getting turned around on a play. And when they play Orchard Lake St. Mary’s this Saturday at 7:30 at Ford Field, they will be bringing their A game because that is all they know how to do.
It was the legendary Alabama Head Coach Bear Bryant that said, “Offense wins game, Defense wins championships.” And the Chelsea Bulldogs have proven that all season long against some very highly ranked, high scoring offenses. At one point in the season the Bulldogs defense went 22 quarters without giving up a point, 5 and a half games. In the playoffs against their opponents that were averaging almost 35 points scored a game, the defense has given up an average of 10 points a game, and most of those points were given up late in the game. And they have faced some really good competition.
The defensive front 7 is led by All Conference and Ann Arbor Area best defensive player of the year Ty McTaggart. Also up front are All Conference players Trevor Kingsley and Quinn Kelly. Not only is the Chelsea defense big, but they have a lot of speed and a good nose for the ball. They play as one solid unit.
“Our defense is definitely a tight knit group,” Senior Defensive End Kingsley said about his defense this season. “We focused on something every coach said every week which was “Do your job”. We really bought into that and we trusted each other knowing that the other 10 guys on the field were going to do their jobs. There’s no real way to describe the brotherhood we have, we just knew it was there. Every time we were on the field we could look at each other with out saying anything and we would know we had each other’s back. We play with more enthusiasm than I could’ve ever imagined and it’s not just enthusiasm for yourself it was for everyone. We understood playing together which made the brotherhood the strongest.”
This team has grown up together on and off the field over many years. There is no real way to describe the brotherhood. They all come from different areas of the city, different walks of life, but all have the common bond. To do the jobs they are assigned.
“We are a brotherhood, we have each others backs no matter what. We know we can trust each other out there,” Junior Defensive Tackle Cash Shegan stated as he and his father unloaded 2,000 pound hay rolls for their horses on a cold afternoon. “I’m so excited for this game. I’m anxious. I can’t wait, I’m ready to go. Go dogs,.” Shegan said as he smiled.
“This is going to be a good game,” Junior Defensive tackle Kyle Bell stated. “They’re a good team (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s). But our defense is strong and ready and we’re a good team too and we are very confident.” Then Kyle started talking about Ty McTaggart and how he was selected defensive player of the year. That’s how this team is. There are no big egos, no one trying to achieve big statistics. Each one will name another as who they feel is the best player on the team.
“Saturday’s game is going to be a great challenge, OLSM is a very talented team,” Senior linebacker Caden Murphy said. “Our defense has worked well together all year. We have a good understanding of each other and we are excited for a good challenge. The atmosphere Saturday is going to be exciting and nothing like we have been involved in before which will be very cool.”
Many pundits have not given Chelsea much credit to even get this far. They have claimed inexperience, can’t compete with the offenses, can’t stop the run, and many other reasons. But each and every week Chelsea has proved them wrong. And all the so called “expert sports analyst” this week have them losing to OLSM, and in many of their picks they have them getting blown out.
“That’s okay, they can say what they want, we don’t pay attention to any of that,” said Senior Defensive End Quinn Kelly. “We do our talking on the field. We do what our coaches say and we only worry about our team and our play. We are a brotherhood and will go out Saturday and do what we do best.”
The Bulldogs take on the Eaglets Saturday night at 7:30 at Ford Field. Tickets are available at the gate for $10, cash only. Chelsea will be on the north side of the field, the visitors side.
Chelsea head coach Brad Bush with his offensive line
They are often overlooked when it comes to interviews. Many photographers don’t focus on them. You will rarely hear their name mentioned over the speaker system or hear it mentioned in conversation. And that’s just the way they like it. They accept it, they understand it, because they have a job to do and the Chelsea Bulldogs Offensive line does it well!
They are big, strong, smart, and some of the toughest players you will find. They have an assignment and job to do and whether they’re holding back the defense to protect their quarterback or pancaking players to open up holes for their running backs, they enjoy what they do. They do not play for statistics, for accolades, for recognition. They play for the team.
“We play for each other, not for recognition. Each person has their role and there is never conflict. That’s because we’re a brotherhood,” stated Jay Packard Senior right tackle.
There is nothing better than playing with a group of unselfish guys that don’t worry about the stats or who gets their name in the newspaper.” said Senior Center and Captain Collin Steinhaurer. “That’s whats great about it, you don’t need that when you have a brotherhood.”
The Chelsea offensive line has been beside each other since middle school and have really meshed together as a tight unit over the years. The players hang out together, have meals together, and each week have an “o-line party” hosted by a different player.
“Chelsea football itself is a tight knit family so it’s saying something when your position group is an even tighter knit group of brothers.” Nick Whitesall Junior Center proudly proclaimed. “These guys are fun to be around, and I’ll have lots of good memories with them.”
They have created memories for the team and fans as they done a great job opening holes for their backs to get through and giving their quarterback plenty of time for passing. They do not give up sacks and do a great job of getting the big push up front and have dominated some very top ranked defenses all season. They get hit but hit back and hit and block harder.
“When you put your hand on the ground you know that your four other brothers got your back,” said Chris Childress Senior Left Tackle. “We are more than friends and teammates, we are a band of brothers.”
And this band of brothers will be out there Saturday at Ford Field in the State Championship game doing their jobs. You might not hear their names, they might not get noticed, but that’s okay with them as long as they are able to do what they do best and lead the team to victory.
The players learned of their first-round matchup with Romulus that night, and it was the only Division 3 playoff game that mattered to them at the time. Coach Brad Bush quietly looked further down the bracket.
“You know who the best team in the state is, right?” he asked the lone reporter in the room as the final few players trickled out. “It’s Orchard Lake St. Mary‘s. I tell you what, they’re real good.”
Four weeks later, Bush watched his Bulldogs knock off previously-unbeaten Coldwater, 35-7, at Jackson High School a day after the game was postponed by heavy snow. Most people expected a closer semifinal, but Chelsea dominated from the start.
Shortly after celebrating, the 19-year Chelsea coach began preparing for his program’s first state championship appearance against none other than the team he talked-up most on Selection Sunday.
“I’ve watched them play the last two weeks, and I still think they’re the best team in the state,” Bush said again Sunday. “They’ve won six titles, they have great talent. They’re by far one of the best we’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
Bush hasn’t made it a point to refer to his team as the underdog during the week leading up to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff, but he hasn’t sugarcoated it either. After all, it’s no secret that St. Mary’s has been a dominant program for more than a decade.
The Eaglets (11-1) are the Division 3 defending champions. They’ve reached the final in 11 of their last 17 seasons, winning four of them, and are considered by many to be the favorite again this year.
That being said, Chelsea has proven it deserves its spot in the championship game. After beating up on Romulus and Trenton by a combined score of 58-22 in the districts, the Bulldogs beat Allen Park, 35-12, to earn their first regional title.
Sunday’s beatdown of the Cardinals was the second straight game in which Chelsea took an early lead and didn’t look back. By the fourth quarter, the reserves were in and gaining valuable playoff experience.
“The last two weeks we’ve had the running clock in the quarter and semifinals, so we’re pretty good too,” Bush said. “Our guys know the challenge is there and they know how athletic (St. Mary’s is), but I’m not going to sell us short either, that somehow we have to do something above us to play with them.”
Saturday’s final will feature a pair of shutdown defenses, and two offensive units that do a good job mixing run and pass. Chelsea has been known to lean more heavily on its pass game, while the Eaglets use more of a power run scheme to wear down opposing defenses.
Preparation for the indoor final will be slightly different after playing all season outdoors. Chelsea will try to get used to being inside by practicing this week at Eastern Michigan’s indoor facility and the Legacy Center in Brighton.
Bush said the last week of practice is bittersweet, but the team’s focus remains on going out on a strong note, making school history in the process.
“Every week we talk about our schedule and now it’s six days until we collect equipment,” Bush said. “Fourteen straight games is a long season, we’ve been at it as a team for almost six months. I love being around these guys, but I know the finish line is near and you just want to finish the best you can.”