FOWLERVILLE — Jon Fletcher is less than a decade removed from his days playing football at Haslett High School.
Thursday, Fletcher, 26, will coach the Fowlerville Gladiators for the first time — against his alma mater.
And he’s ready.
“We feel good with where we’re at,” he said. “The kids are working hard, the coaches are working hard, so now it’s just a matter of doing all the little things we’ve got to do to prepare.”
Fletcher took over in the offseason for Bret Shrader, who stepped down after leading the Gladiators to their first playoff berth in six seasons last year. Shrader remained with the program, this year as the freshman coach.
Fletcher, a teacher at Fowlerville, was the defensive coordinator last year, and that along with the return of most of Shrader’s staff has led to a smooth transition.
“Basically, everything is the same,” senior Mitchell Bishop says. “Our offense is the same. Our defense is the same. Everything is basically the same.”
“We might do some things different,” Fletcher said of he and Shrader. “But our coaching styles are similar. We’re very energetic and we have a lot of the coaching staff back. We feel we have a lot of continuity from last year and familiarity. We feel it’s a good transition.”
The Gladiators were hit hard by graduation, losing quarterback Nick Semke and wide receiver Josh Nabozny, among others. But Fletcher and the Glads are confident going into 2017.
“The seniors were a great group of young men who worked really hard and got us back to the playoffs,” Fletcher said. “Now we want to build on that.”
Fowlerville went 7-2 last season, with both losses coming to perennial CAAC White powerhouses Portland and Lansing Catholic on the road.
“We learned last year not to underestimate the power of away games,” Bishop said. “You’ve got to take those and muscle through the drive, if it’s a long one, and keep pushing.”
This year, Portland and Lansing Catholic come to Fowlerville, with Lansing Catholic being the Gladiators’ homecoming game.
Fletcher is emphasizing attention to detail in his first season,
“We’ve been locking in on trying to finish football games,” he said. “We had a really good record and made the playoffs. We’re trying to build off of that, but finishing games is a big focus, especially in big games.
“We’re trying to do the little things right,” he continued. “Limit penalties, finish drives. All of those things matter in a key game, and in every game.”
Bishop and Trevor Miller are mainstays on the line on both sides of the ball for the Gladiators, as is Trevor Brock, who returns for a third year as a starting linebacker. Geoffrey Knaggs, who started a game when Semke was injured last year, takes over at quarterback. Alex Brownlee returns in the backfield, while J.T. Maybee and Marty Menard will also see plenty of action.
“I was excited when I got the job,” Fletcher said, “and every day there seems to be more energy. I’m excited with where we’re at, and excited to have the coaching staff back. That meant a lot.”
Brock believes last year’s playoff berth, which ended with a first-round loss to Mason, gave the Gladiators momentum going into this season, too.
“I know all the juniors returning from last year who are seniors now are definitely riding on that,” he said.
After several years of struggle, the Gladiators feel they’re back on the right track and intend to stay there.
“It’s my first crack as a head coach,”Fletcher said. “I’m learning on the fly. I’ve got a really passionate and poised coaching staff who have a lot of years under their belts. I lean on them a lot and we feel we’re doing a great job right now. I’m excited for the season.”