2012-12-26 / Sports

Zielinski takes over

Sports Editor

CROSWELL – The Croswell-Lexington school board did not have to look far in a search for the school's new varsity football coach.

Veteran Pioneer assistant Chris Zielinski was appointed the position Monday night and takes the place of Jason VanDerMaas, his coaching cohort and friend for many seasons. VanDerMaas, after a very successful 10 years as C-L head coach, resigned recently to spend more time with his family.

The Pioneers football program has been riding a large wave of success under VanDerMaas with five straight Blue Water Area Conference crowns and, most recently, their undefeated regular season this past fall, which garnered a Division 4 No. 2 ranking in the polls.

Zielinski, the offensive line coach for Cros-Lex since 2003 and an assistant with the program since 1995, knows the formula that has worked under the VanDerMaas regime, and is not about to change a thing.

"I think everything will remain the same. I've talked to the rest of the coaching staff and all the coaches are coming back," said Zielinski.

That is an important start, but Zielinski added. "As a team, we want to do what we've done in the past. The terminology, and everything, stays the same.

"I've been involved in the TFL (Thumb Area League, youth program) over the years. I don't coach it, but I've worked with those coaches to do the same things as we do, and I think that has worked well."

While Zielinski will now call the offensive shots, Rick Patterson, another veteran on the staff, will remain as defensive coordinator.

Notably, VanDerMaas, when he took over the top spot in 2002, installed the spread offense, where he had success as the Alma College quarterback in the late '90s. With a long list of talented quarterbacks, as well as other top athletes and great numbers, in the last 10 seasons, the Pioneers have been the most explosive team around."

When VanDerMaas left the program in 2007 to take the head coaching job at Flint Carmen-Ainsworth, Zielinski remained an assistant coach and saw the team struggle to a 3-6 season, under a new scheme by the new coach. That coach, Pat Connell, now at Port Huron Northern, resigned after that campaign. Then, eventually, VanDerMaas was re-hired and returned returned the next season.

"Before Jason came back, I was going to apply for the job," revealed Zielinski. "I just wanted to keep the same thing we had (before 2007). But then, Jason came back and I stepped back because he had done such a great job before."

In the last season or so, VanDerMaas, who had moved his family to Goodrich, knew he would soon step down again.

"Jason and I had talked about it, that he would be back in Goodrich to be with his family," said Zielinski. "So, he kind of groomed me for his job. He knew I wanted it. And, now, I think it was time."

VanDerMaas agrees.

"He deserves it. He's been coaching longer than I have," he commented. "We've both learned a lot over the years. He's been responsible for a lot of things in our program. He's wore a lot of different hats.

"And," VanDerMaas added, "he's not going to change a thing, so this will not be a hard transition."

A Cros-Lex grad (1989), like VanDerMaas ('95), Zielinski works for Frito- Lay. He and his wife, Nicole, have six children, ranging from 21-7 years of age, and all comfortably settled into college or in the Cros-Lex school system.

He said he can work with his regular job to be a presence at the school, also.

"My first official duty will be to get the weight room opened up, and we're starting that on Monday," Zielinski noted. "Then, one of my commitments to the program has been to be in school more so (the players) know I'm around - checking on them, checking on grades, and so on. I can't just show up in August and say, 'here we go.' "

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