The Swanton football program’s success over the last few seasons culminated last Wednesday with two of its players signing their National Letter of Intent at Division I schools.
Wide receiver Gunnar Oakes has chosen to continue his football career at Eastern Michigan University this fall, while teammate and offensive lineman Zach Dziengelewski has signed with Bowling Green State University.
“It is such a tremendous thing for both of these guys,” said their coach the past three seasons, Mike Vicars. “It is a rare thing for a school of our size to have one player receive a division one offer, but to have two (is) extraordinary. Both of these guys are very deserving, but offers don’t always happen for deserving guys. These guys really worked hard for this, and coach (Tim) Spiess did a great job guiding them along the way and spent a lot of time and effort with them to make this happen.”
For Oakes and Dziengelewski themselves, this honor is very special.
“I was like so excited for me and Gunnar,” said Dziengelewski. “We both get the honor to (be) a D-I athlete. We’ve worked for it. Every day, all summer and all winter.
“It is a dream come true for me and him.”
“It is a great feeling,” added Oakes. “It’s shown that all of our hard work has paid off.”
College recruiting can be tough on an athlete. They must find the spot where they think they will best fit in.
So why BGSU for Dziengelewski? The answer was simple – his connection with the coaching staff.
“Mainly the way they came after me and recruited me,” Dziengelewski said of the decision. “The relationship I have with my lineman coach, coach (Stephen) Hamby. He is a great man.”
He says that the plan is for him to redshirt next season in order to grow and develop. He will then compete for a spot at offensive guard in the years following.
Oakes also developed a great relationship with the coaches at Eastern Michigan, and they took a liking to him early on in the recruiting process.
“They offered me really early. They showed that they really wanted me,” Oakes said on his choice of EMU. “They stayed in contact and I love the coaching staff. I went to their camp and loved how they coached me personally.”
EMU and head coach Chris Creighton are aiming for him to play tight end. And they will want him to put on 30 to 40 pounds of muscle prior to the start of the season.
Oakes is excited about the opportunity.
“I wanted the offensive side of the ball. I was looked at for defense, but offense is definitely what I wanted to play,” he said.
Oakes says there is a decent chance he could see the field as a freshman. And while the chance at immediate playing time was not a high priority for him when choosing where to go, it is a plus.
“Coach Creighton thinks that I’m gonna play next year,” said Oakes. “He doesn’t think there’s a very good chance that I’m gonna redshirt.
“I wouldn’t have cared either way but that’s exciting.”
Although their football careers at Swanton are now over, they leave with a lifetime of memories for all of the success they achieved. That success included a league championship and Swanton’s first two wins in postseason play.
Dziengelewski points to the positive impact coach Vicars and assistant coach Spiess had in making him the player he is today.
“It has been a great help. Coach Vicars and coach Spiess,” he said. “Just like their expertise and their past history with football. Having great programs. That’s what has really helped me. Swanton becoming a great program, (helped) me and Gunnar get recognized.”
The prosperity for Swanton, particularly over the last two seasons, is still hard to fathom for Dziengelewski.
“I could have never dreamed it,” he explained. “When I was little and growing up, I wanted to be (on) good football teams and stuff. And we had that with coach Vicars and coach Spiess.”
Both he and Oakes are hoping they can duplicate that success in college.
“We are so very proud of them both. Both young men are tremendous individuals, raised by two sets of wonderful parents,” stated Vicars. “Both are tremendous leaders, and both live with the highest character. They have all you want as a coach, classmate, and community representative. Their impact they both had on our program and our school is immeasurable. They are nothing short of amazing.”
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010