The Trojans Rise Again: Traverse City Central is the North’s Best Team

Standing on the Traverse City Central sidelines earlier this season, a nice gentleman who was a Traverse City Central fan shared with me story after story about the great Trojan teams of the past. He reminisced on many of the big wins under legendary Trojans coach Jim Ooley, who coached the Trojans for 25 years and won three state championships. As a history buff myself, I enjoyed hearing the tales of times past. But as the game in front of us unfolded, I couldn’t help but think how the 2012 Trojans would make their own mark on Traverse City high school football history. These Trojans were in the midst of beating their biggest rival by two touchdowns, but my new friend continued to share his thoughts on the good old days.

This has been part of the bigger issue for the Trojans over the last several years; they seem to always be chasing the ghosts of the past.  Before Traverse City Central and Traverse City West were their own schools, the two comprised Traverse City High School – the largest school in the state, with an enrollment of 3400 students and a never-ending stream of fresh football talent.  When the school split in 1997, Central’s new enrollment was around 1600 students with a largely decimated talent pool.

The truth is, the “good old days” are gone, but a new era of Trojan football has arrived. Current Trojans head coach, Tom Passinault, took over the reins in 2007, inheriting a team that went 0-9 the year prior. This year, the Trojans amassed an 8-1 record and a roster that boasts nearly a dozen college prospects during their best season in over 20 years.

Coach Passinault has rebuilt the foundation of Trojan Football the old-fashioned way: player leadership and buy-in, a great strength & conditioning program, and raised expectations.  “A coach once told me if your best players are your hardest workers, you have an opportunity to be really successful. Our best players have been our hardest workers this year,” Coach Passinault said of his team.

This brick-by-brick approach is time intensive, but Passinault and his players never wavered.  Neither did Traverse City Central Athletic Director, Cody Inglis. “I really think that Tom deserves a lot of credit, and with Tom, it’s truly not just about football,” Inglis said. “I think that he has truly asked his team to be representatives of Traverse City Central in a first-class way.”

The Trojans have been first-class on the field as well.  The talent is abundant on both sides of the ball.  Their success starts up front behind offensive tackles Tyler Gildersleeve and Mitch Brien. Gildersleeve is a potential Division I college prospect, and at 6-7, 280, is one of the top tackles in Northern Michigan. He paves the way for TCC’s two TJ’s – the speedy running back TJ Scwannecke and dual-threat quarterback TJ Schepperly. Schepperly seems to do it all – throwing, rushing, and leading the inspirational charge for the Trojans.

On defense, the Trojans have a great front seven led by senior tackles Jordan Lutze and David Chauvette, along with senior linebackers Nick Bonaccini and Nate Pupel. Junior defensive end Mitchell Wynkoop has emerged as a budding star, and has improved his stock in our latest Class of 2014 Rankings.

The test of any great program is consistency, and the Trojans have found a way to develop their young talent. They are playing five sophomores this season, highlighted by up-and-coming running back Ethan Campbell. Campbell had a breakout game against rival Traverse City West – scoring four TDs in four different ways.

The future looks bright for the Trojans, who will host a home playoff game vs. Bay City Western this Friday.  While TC fans and alumni should always cherish the Trojans’ storied history, they have an opportunity to embrace the current team’s quest for greatness. Who knows? History just may repeat itself.


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