GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Union football program is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since the 1998 season, after beating Ottawa Hills in week one, 35-34, and Ypsilanti, 42-14, on the road in week two.
Second year head coach Don Fellows has led a big turnaround already.
"To be honest with you, I think the success has been so fast because our kids have really bought and we have a great senior group," Fellows said. "A lot of people say, 'well my kids show up,' but our kids have really been I mean, since I've been there, our core group of kids have not missed a day, and that's in the weight room and learning football. Overall, our kids are fully invested and our administration is, too."
Fellows took the Union job after an outstanding run at Grand Rapids Christian, where he led the Eagles to a state championship in 2012.
He says the Red Hawks opening stood out to him when he knew his run was coming to an end at Christian.
"We were looking at everything," Fellows said about him and his family. "Was I gonna go back to college coaching? And what jobs are out there? We had a friend approach Patty and I one, we went to dinner and they brought up the Union situation and, you know, I think most people understand my heart and my brother's heart."
Fellows says his background is similar to some of what his players are going through.
"We come from a single mom," he added. "She pretty much raised us and sports were everything."
He understands the challenges within the Union program, but he's embraced them head on.
"A lot of people are looking at this as a black and white thing, I look at as more of a social economic piece of this, so I grew up in a situation where things didn't come easy for our family and if it wasn't for football, I'd never be in the situation I'm in now," Fellows said. "I won't say it was an easy decision to take the job, but once I got my hands into it and we started being around our kids, it's been a great calling for us."
Fellows says his biggest thing has been about preaching discipline with his players.
"It's holding kids accountable, get them to the weight room and if you miss practice you said a half in a game," Fellows said. "It's (a) hard job to do that but you're teaching life lessons along the way and I have a great coaching staff that's picking kids up, making sure they're at practice, it's making sure they get the proper nutrition and sleep, then taking kids home afterwards. At the same time, the car rides are the best part, that's when you're developing relationships with these kids."
Union has now won back-to-back games for the first time since 2003 and Fellows says he's hoping to raise expectations within the program.
"It started on day one of start believing in yourself having confidence in yourself," he added. "Things happen where the players have to feed off of our personalities as coaches, I don't care if it's checkers or we're going out today on the lake, I don't care what we're doing, it's going to be competitive. We've had two of those games, now we're gonna get into big boy football, and we're going to deal with some adversity and I'm kind of embracing that."
The Red Hawks will take on Mona Shores in week three before Holland, Zeeland East, Zeeland West, Wyoming and Reeths-Puffer to end the season.
"What kids are gonna step up? Like I said we're going to give everything we've got," Fellows said. "We're not going in like, 'eh, we'll see what happens,' we're going to try to win football games."