Redford Union’s football turnaround spreads feel-good vibe throughout community
Former player returns to pump life into Panthers’ gridiron program
Barely over a decade after Redford Union’s football program endured a two-season stretch that included just one victory, the Panthers have flipped the script on their fortunes.
The authors of the feel-good turnaround are former player/current head coach Ian Iler and a group of student-athletes who decided to stay and play for their hometown team rather than find out if the grass was greener at neighboring schools whose recent gridiron tradition may have been better fortified.
Heading into Friday night’s home playoff game against Livonia Clarenceville (kickoff is set for 7 pm. at Kraft Field), RU is 9-0 and will be competing in the post-season for the fourth time in Iler’s five years at the helm.
Judging by Wednesday afternoon’s practice, the Panthers are a spirited group of believers — fueled by their energetic coaching staff and a level of confidence developed by hard work and loyalty.
“First of all, I’ve had a lot of help,” Iler said, when asked how he’s been able to change his alma mater’s football outlook. “I have an amazing staff. We’ve received outstanding support from the school and the district.
“What’s important, too, is we’re getting the talented kids in Redford to stay in Redford. When I played here (he graduated in 2004), there was a lot of talent in Redford. The kids who stayed shined; other kids transferred because they didn’t care for the offense Redford Union was running or Redford Union wasn’t a big enough name for them.”
Iler said he has been inspired by the community support the Panthers have generated — both reflected in the Friday night crowds at venerable Kraft Field and during the weekdays leading up to games.
“Oh my gosh, the community support has been unbelievable,” he said, his face lighting up. “We receive messages, water, food from community members — everything you can think of for a team that is trying to make a Cinderella run.
“An example is the Redford Grill. They have pancake days for our linemen who have good blocks during games. They donate the food for free. Things like that.”
Iler said the Panthers are led by a strong core of seniors, naming Jeremiah Alston-Jackson (a Central Michigan University recruit), Cory Chavis and Kyren Ware as the primary leaders.
“The key to our success has been our balance,” Iler said. “We combine a tough, hard-nosed defense with an exciting, explosive offense. Since I took over, we’ve always had a top-notch defense. Our defensive coordinator (Tim Hopkins) does a great job getting our kids ready and making sure they know their assignments.
“Offensively, I feel like it’s taken a little longer to develop because you need play-makers, but this year our offense has exploded.”
Heading into the Clarenceville game, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 374-50 and recorded three shutouts.
RU’s most eye-opening victory may have been its season-opening 26-6 road triumph over perennial Division 7 power Pewamo Westphalia. The loss was the Pirates’ first at home in 10 seasons.
“After the game, their head coach told me how much he respected the way we came out and played,” Iler said. “Maybe the most revealing thing for us was how their fans reacted after the game. I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting us to come in and beat their team like we did.
“We love playing championship-caliber teams like Pewamo because that’s where we ultimately want to be — a perennial contender. That win set the tone for our season, no doubt about it.”
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