Former Hillsdale College quarterback Chance Stewart ’19 has returned to his high school football field, but this time, he will be calling plays from the sidelines as the head coach.
The Sturgis High School Football team welcomed Stewart back in June. Since then, Stewart has been coaching the team throughout the summer and into the school year.
Stewart, who grew up in Sturgis, said he is excited for the opportunity to coach kids in his hometown and help them grow into competitors on the field and honorable men in the community.
“The biggest thing about coaching will be setting kids up for success in whatever area life leads them,” Stewart said. “Kids are so impressionable in high school, and I’m excited to be able to have that impact on them and steer them in the right direction.”
For Stewart, the community of Sturgis and the high school football team have always been important parts of his life. His father and two brothers also played football for Sturgis, and Stewart said he looks forward to being back to improve the team’s culture.
“The number of kids playing are starting to go back up, so I’m excited to see kids get motivated to come out and play football,” Stewart said. “Football is that one sport where you really have to put in the work all year, and the kids have really bought into that which is exciting.”
Despite the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s decision to cancel the 2020 football season, Stewart’s team has still been practicing. Stewart, however, said telling the seniors their fall season had been canceled was one of the hardest things he’s had to do as a coach so far.
“We get to go out there and practice, and it’s my goal to make sure it’s as enjoyable as possible,” Stewart said.
Even though his team is still able to get some work in through practice, Stewart said things feel different because of certain COVID-19 restrictions.
“When the guys do anything good at practice, I can’t high five them or jump bump,” Stewart said. “COVID has changed the way a lot of things are done at practice.”
Hillsdale College head football coach Keith Otterbein called Stewart a natural leader on and off the field. He said Stewart worked tirelessly to improve his game and encourage his team members to do the same during his time as a Charger.
“When he came in, a big part of why he ended up being such a phenomenal leader was his attitude when he got to campus,” Otterbein said. “He absorbed what the program was about. He studied the offense and just got in the mindset that he was going to wait his turn. When the opportunity came, he was going to look back and say that he had done everything he could to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Stewart got that opportunity midway through his freshman season and was a regular starter for the remainder of his time at Hillsdale.
Hillsdale College football senior Martin Petersen said he grew up attending the same football camps as Stewart before playing alongside him as a tight end. Echoing Otterbein, Petersen said Stewart set the tone for the entire team.
“It started with Chance being one of the most talented guys on our team, but he came to work and get better every single day,” Petersen said. “He always brought effort to everything he did and wanted to get better every day, and that had a domino effect on the rest of the team.
Stewart, who led the Chargers to a conference championship in 2018, said he hopes to carry this attitude into his coaching style and develop the work ethic of younger players.
“Football is the perfect metaphor for life,” Stewart said. “It’s a beautiful game. Every detail matters on the football field just like in everyday life. Every sort of action has a reaction that goes with it.”
Prior to leading the coaching staff of Sturgis’ High School football team, Stewart spent his time back home working in his family’s sporting goods store. Stewart said that he is now able to coach kids he has been seeing come into the shop his whole life.
“Now I’m not the guy selling them their football jersey –– I’m the one coaching them,” Stewart said.
Otterbein reflected on Stewart’s time at Hillsdale, adding that Stewart always went out of his way to help younger players at camps.
“He’s got that grit, toughness, and competitive edge, which he demonstrated in everything that we had associated with our football program on the field,” Ottberbein said. “But then he was also the guy that would be the first in line coaching the kids at youth camp or helping out with Victory Day and having a ball with those kids.”
Petersen said he anticipates Stewart will embrace all of the difficulties that come with being a new head coach of a football team and excel in his position because of the love he has for the game.
“The thing about Chance is he knows that he’s got to learn a lot, and he’s ready for that challenge,” Petersen said. “He loves the game of football to the point where it’s second nature, and he’s always wanting to learn more. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be an excellent coach at the high school level.”
Otterbein said Stewart also understands that his role as a head coach is about more than teaching kids how to play football.
“He’ll influence those kids and teach them the preparation it takes to win, but he’ll also help them understand that even if you come up short but you’ve given it everything you’ve got, you don’t have regrets,” Otterbein said. “He’ll do a great job in teaching those life lessons, and he’s going to be a great role model for making the right choices in the community.”