by Ben Murphy
From pretty much the time he was big enough to lug a bottle of water across a football field, Steven Spranger has been a part of the Clare football program. So, when hall of fame head coach Kelly Luplow retired recently, there was really no doubt in Spranger’s mind that he wanted to take over the program.
“It only made sense,” he said. “This program has given so much to me, and it has always been my goal to return the favor in whatever role possible.”
Hitting the rewind button to those long ago days, and fast forwarding to the present, is quite the venture for the new coach.
“Starting as a waterboy in second grade, to then being a player, to an assistant coach, to now head coach,” Spranger said. “It is kind of surreal to think about. This program has been a huge part of my life.”
Spranger graduated from Clare in 2008, and from there played a season of football at Alma College. He returned to Clare as an assistant football coach in 2011, and has helmed the program’s junior varsity team the last several seasons, accumulating an 86-26 record.
Perhaps no one is better suited to replace Luplow than someone who has gotten to know him quite well.
“Lups is so much more than a half of fame coach to me, so it is (meaningful to take over),” Spranger, who also teaches health and physical education at the school said. “I have a two year-old little boy that I would have loved to be coached by him. But with that being said, I am excited for the challenge.”
Having been such a huge piece of the puzzle, Spranger isn’t going to have to look far when he needs help.
“I’m blessed to be walking into a situation that not too many first year head coaches get to experience,” he said. “I have a great staff already in place like longtime assistants Doug Haggart and Rob Wise, a couple of young Clare alums like Aaron Haynak and Jordan McConnell, an all Mid American Conference receiver Jesse Kroll, and knowledgeable guys like Justin Cole and Kurt Boyd. We’ve all worked together and will continue to.
“I told the team that the values and pillars of the program won’t be changing, they obviously work,” he added.
And with Spranger getting hired in time for most of the team’s off-season activities, you had better believe he is going to put his team to work well ahead of the upcoming season.
“We finished up a great camp (on Tuesday) that is put on by the coaching staff of the defending Division II National Champion, Ferris State University. We kind of use that as a kick-off to our summer work.”
Spranger is anxiously awaiting the team’s season opener, roughly two months away against Freeland.
“One of our mottos is ‘tradition never graduates’’, we are always striving to be the best in everything that we do,” he said. “(We want to be) coming together as one. Our best teams in the past have been close-knit, player coached teams. We’re trying to get to that point.”