Uzelac provides spark for Bears turnaround

"Our mindset probably wasn't right. We hadn't had a winning season; we hadn't won too many games,” St. Joseph senior wide receiver Brad Guinane said reflecting back on two years ago.

That year, St. Joseph did not win a single game. They were 0-9.

That's when a new head coach, Elliot Uzelac, came on board looking to change things.

"Everyone was blaming someone else for their failures and I told them, "until you take responsibility for your own actions, you as an individual can't improve and we as a team can't improve,’” Uzelac said.

Uzelac, who was a former assistant at Michigan and head coach at Navy, also brought back a bears legend.

Ike Muhlenkamp, who served as St. Joe’s head coach for 33 years until 2001, is currently the team’s quarterbacks coach.

"Elliot pulled into my driveway,” Muhlenkamp said smiling.

“He also called me on the phone and said, 'Would you help?' I said 'glad to.' I tell him everyday that he's ruined my golf and now I'm back to football."

Together the two coaches brought a certain level of enthusiasm their players had not seen before.

"Him and coach Ike really get us fired up,” senior quarterback Ethan Schweir said. “It's nice to see older guy, not old guys, with all that energy."

When told about Schweir’s reference to him being an ‘older guy’, Uzelac completely lost it in laughter.

"I told these guys, when they are my age, they are going to pushing tulips on their chest,” Uzelac said jokingly firing back. “They better get some fire in their bellies."

As if they didn’t right when he came on board as head coach.

In the team’s first season together last year, they had a major stride, producing a winning season (6-5). Not bad for a team that did not win a game the year before.

"Basically he told us, you’re going to be winners if you just trust me,” Guinane says.

“And we did and it’s going pretty good so far."

Winners they are. They're now playing for a spot in the state championship.

St. Joe faces East Grand Rapids Saturday at 1pm at Otsego High School.

Beyond winning, the team has developed a great bond amongst its players and coaches.

"I love this football team.”

That quote was from Uzelac. It didn’t come with a mic on. It came under his breathe after his kids did something he appreciated during practice.

Schweir says what he has learned from Coach U and Coach Ike off the field will be the lessons the whole team takes with them to the future. He says, football is just one of the many things the coaches have don’t them.

At this point, everything moving forward seems to be gravy.

The Bears are just hoping to have some gravy left for a Thanksgiving Day practice.


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