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Program offers players second chance

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By Austin Metz
Editor In Chief

The football program under Coach Tony Annese at Grand Rapids Community College has become a place for players to surround themselves with a positive support group to ensure future success on and off the football field.

“I believe in second chances,” Annese said. “My obligation is to talk to our leadership and get as much information about what happened to get them in trouble. Sometimes I feel that they don’t deserve a second chance.”

Richard Haley just finished up his second year as a GRCC football player and he used the community college as a place to improve his grades and overcome personal issues.

“As a freshman in high school I had a 0.7 GPA,” Haley said. “My coach served as my father figure throughout high school and after that year my GPA was always above a 2.5.”
Although Haley’s grades continued to improve, he still needed a 17 on the ACT to be accepted into Cincinnati to play football.

“I took the ACT four times and got a 16 on the first three and finally got a 17 the fourth time,” Haley said. “However, because of my scores on the English portion I was not able to go to Cincinnati.”
“My coaches encouraged me to come to Grand Rapids Community College so I could get my grades up and play somewhere after two years,“ he explained.

It was at GRCC that Haley began to turn his life around.

“The team made me realize how serious I needed to be about my future,” Haley said. “The coaches are on you to get good grades but a lot of people still fail because of not going to class, smoking weed or other issues.”

Before his sophomore season that Haley’s character was tested more than his academics.
“My uncle and my cousin passed away in the same week and then my other uncle was shot 19 times by an AK-47 but survived,” Haley said. “I now play for them because I feel they are alive through me. I’m trying to take a negative and turn it into a positive.”

Coach Annese and his staff start working with players as soon as they arrive on campus to ensure that students coming from suspect backgrounds ranging from academic to criminal to even personal and family issues know what is expected of them.

Criminal situations players on last years team have been involved in range from felony weapons charges, armed robbery charges, drug possession charges and DUI’s.

“We like to make the players very clear about what we expect,” Annese said. “These players are often in a city by themselves for the first time so we spend about 40 hours in orientation to get them prepared to be college students.”

The first way this is done is through the Grand Rapids Raider Football Success Handbook.
The handbook, which is handed out to each player at the start of the season, contains everything from the top 10 reasons for players to fail, overall expectations for each player and also assignments players are required to do throughout the year.

Also included in the handbook is what Annese called an “Individual Improvement Plan.”
“To the best of my ability I try to give players thought-provoking questions that make them think,” Annese said. “Young people need to sustain a focus and this touches on everything from spiritual to academic.”

Casey Therriault is a former quarterback at GRCC who has experienced this first hand. Therriault spent six months in jail for involuntary manslaughter but was given a second chance on the football team.

“I was contacted by the coaches to come down for summer practices and it kind of went from there,” Therriault said. “Coach Annese has good judgment of character and he allowed me on the team.”

Football became a form of escape for Therriault.

“What helped me was actually getting on the field and not having to worry about the off-the-field issues,” Therriault said, who is now playing at Jackson State. “No one ever asked me about my off-the-field issues and the supporting cast of coaches and players helped.”

Phil Lewis is another former player who struggled academically but was given the tools he needed to succeed at GRCC.

“For me, the mandatory study tables helped a lot,” Lewis said, whose struggles were more academically based. “I was able to get the help I needed with reading, writing and math.”

Having struggled with reading and writing throughout his educational career, it was the one-on-one tutoring as well as the support of the coaches that made all the difference.
“I became very close with Curtis Andrews and Tim Johnson,” Lewis said. “They recruited me and were very helpful in helping me succeed.”

Lewis was quick to emphasize the impact Coach Annese had on him not only as a player but also as a person.

“If Coach Annese sees you have talent and are a good kid, he will help you get a tutor,” Lewis said. “To him, it’s about being a good person and a good player.”

The other motivator for Lewis, who has moved on to play at Toledo, was simply looking around at other players.

“I would see past teammates in class failing and complaining and that makes me work harder,” Lewis said. “Community College is the last chance for most of these guys so I used that as motivation.”

While Annese has had success with players, there are still the exceptions.

“We have had to dismiss a player but it’s a case by case thing,” Annese said. “These players today are dealing with circumstances that I never had to deal with.”

“Often times these players are worshipped at the high school level,” Annese said. “I hear players all the time saying, ‘My community blew my head up.’ We need to make sure students don’t lose their perspective of why they are here.”

The reason why the players are there is laid out on one of the first pages of the Success Handbook.

The first goal coaches have for their players is to earn their associates degree.

“Our purpose as a coaching staff and an institution of higher education is for you to commit to excellence in all your personal, academic, and athletic endeavors,” said Coach Annese in his opening letter to players.

Having awarded many players a second chance, Annese has seen both the positives and the negatives.

“There are issues all the time but that is why you do it,” Annese said. “You get broken hearted with the loss of players and I have had people not make a life out of themselves who could have.”