By Ariel Christy
That is GRCC Head Football Coach’s Tony Annese’s overall high school coaching record throughout 22 seasons of play. He has led his teams to two undefeated seasons, 15 playoff bids, two state semifinals, three state titles and impacted more young men then most do in a lifetime. With such an impressive record and respect by all, it is no surprise that Annese will be inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“It is very humbling to be honored with this award,” Annese said. “There are many people who share in this award including all the assistant coaches and the players.”
His initial decision to coach came from his father, Nick Annese. He witnessed the influence his father had on young people and followed in his footsteps. Nick Annese coached at Corunna High School and passed away in 1983.
“I chose the career path of being a teacher and a coach because of the impact I saw he had on young people,” Annese said. “He was the biggest inspiration on my life and being a coach.”
In 1985 Nick Annese was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, as a 23 year old first year coach Tony Annese accepted the award on behalf of his father.
Now 27 years later, although he still follows in his father’s success he will accept his own award.
Annese graduated from Corunna High School, attended and played football at Alma College where he earned his Bachelors Degree and then went on to Central Michigan University to earn his Masters Degree.
His 195 high school football wins have come from all over the state of Michigan. He has held head coaching positions at Montrose, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Jenison and Muskegon.
Annese is clearly driven by success and the will to win. Rob Zeitman, current Northview High School Head Coach, saw this first hand while working for Annese as an Assistant Coach at Muskegon High School from 2001-2004.
“He used to use the term competitive beyond stupidity, and that’s exactly how he is,” Zeitman said. “Regardless of any obstacle in his way he is always competitive to win. He is that competitive in everything he does. All of those things combine to make him successful.”
In his early days of coaching Annese led the 1989 and 1991 Montrose High School teams to a 9-0 season, however they were not granted an opportunity for postseason play.
Jeff Klopf played quarterback for Annese in those successful seasons at Montrose and he is one of the many young men that Annese has impacted.
“Tony Annese impacted my life more than my football career,” Klopf said. “Football helped keep me focused, but I gravitated toward his personality. I had to work hard, keep my grades up to play and through football with him I was introduced to other successful avenues in life I would not know about. I excelled at football not just because of him as a coach but more as a person.”
Klopf went onto Eastern Michigan University then transferred to Saginaw Valley State University for football where he was granted All American honors. After college he also played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns.
While at Muskegon Annese led the Big Reds to Division Two State Championships in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
Despite his success on the field Annese was not only teaching the game of football but also how to be successful in life.
“He taught us how to study the game and our position, from breaking down film and knowing different outcomes to the plays,” said former inside linebacker and 2002 Muskegon High School graduate Larry Petty. “He not only taught us football but also traits and characteristics that we as men need in everyday life.”
Petty went on to play at Dakota Wesleyan University and is currently working on his Masters degree at Eastern Michigan University.
Although the glory of big games like those at Muskegon can be glamorous, Annese finds his time well spent on the practice field.
“Everyday I enjoy going to the practice field,” Annese said. “I’m not a person that enjoys a game more than the everyday interacting with the kids. The practice field is like my sanctuary.”
The setting in the sanctuary that he creates on the practice field is a demanding one.
“He makes an environment that you know you are going to work harder then you ever have before, but you are also going to get a good laugh or two,” Klopf said. “His intensity and humor are what sets him apart among many other things.”
On the practice field is where he is able to connect with his players outside of the pressures and distractions effecting young men today.
Nick Scott, an offensive tackle for Annese and recent transfer to GRCC, connects with Annese and his system. Despite the incredible demands in and out of season, Scott is there everyday working hard for Annese.
“He pushes us to be great not only on the field but off of it too,” Scott said. “He drives us to be successful men in life.”
“He does whatever it takes to connect and reach the kids on their level,” Zeitman said. “He always takes the time to develop relationships with his players. It’s easy to get lost in the x’s and o’s of the game and system and he doesn’t, he maintains the relationships.”
The relationships that develop prove to be invaluable in times of need for any of his current or former players, they always know who to call.
“He genuinely cares about his former players and wants them to excel in whatever they do,” Klopf said. “Anyone that plays for him knows if they get in a bind they know they can call him.
He was always there for me, no matter what the problem was like girls, academics, or football. If I had a bad day I wouldn’t call my parents, I’d call him. He really was a second dad to me.”
Currently Annese’s record in his third year at GRCC is 20-3 and is obviously continuing his winning ways.
He has won over new players with his intensity, passion for the game and demand for success.
“He works us so hard but is always consistent with what he says, I like that in a coach,” GRCC running back Chris Walker said. “Not to mention he doesn’t take any excuses from anybody.”
Many of Annese’s former players appreciate all he dedicates to them personally and the game. They hope those playing for him now realize the opportunity they are granted with such a coach.
“Players now are in the presence of greatness,” Klopf said. “They should relish it and take it in. Seize every moment and never take advantage of it.
Even 21 years after he played highschool football for him and his award winning college career, Klopf wishes he could be there to see the coach that he loves enter the hall of fame.
“I wish I would’ve taken more snapshots in my head and taken in more from him. I wish I could’ve played for him forever.”