Remembering Mike Drass: Hundreds mourn Wesley College football coach

Current and former football players joined hundreds of others that attended the memorial service for head coach Mike Drass Saturday. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Mike Drass made his living as a football coach but, cliche as it may seem, he was clearly much more.

More than a dozen colleagues, family members and friends praised the late Mr. Drass Saturday in a memorial service held at Wesley College, where he worked for 29 years, the last 25 as head coach.

He was, speakers said, a family man, a brilliant football mind who truly loved his players, an energetic personality and the “epicenter of the Wesley family.”

Lori Drass, widow of Mike Drass, is comforted by a friend who attended the memorial service Saturday.

 

Mike Drass, shown coaching the Wesley College football team during a game last November, took the Wolverines from a small-college afterthought to a program that reached the NCAA Division III semifinals six times between 2006-14. (Wesley College photo)

“We stand in the shadow of an exponential impact of a coach who was a champion in sport and a champion for people,” former Wesley chaplain Randy Chambers said.

Mr. Drass died Monday at the age of 57. The cause of death has not been disclosed. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ann, and daughter, Molly Ann, as well as five siblings and his father.

Hundreds of people came to Scott D. Miller Stadium, where the field bears his name, despite the threat of rain, and although the skies did open up during the two-hour service, the stands remained crowded until the very end.

It was a testament to the impact Mr. Drass had on so many.

“He made everyone feel like they were best friends. He made everyone feel special,” said Wesley offensive coordinator Chip Knapp, who has been at the college since 1991.

Mr. Drass started at Wesley in 1989, six years after graduating from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, where he was a two-time all-conference selection as an offensive lineman. He had previously worked at North Penn High School in Blossburg, Pennsylvania, and Mansfield.

He spent four years as Wesley’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator before being named to the top job.

Wesley College president Robert Clark adds his personal tribute to the memory of head football coach Mike Drass, who passed away suddenly this week.

Just the third head coach in the small school’s history, he turned Wesley into a Division III powerhouse, leading the Wolverines to the playoffs in every one of the past 13 seasons, including six appearances in the semifinals of the playoffs. His record at Wesley was 229-61-1, making him one of 89 college football coaches with at least 200 career wins.

His players received 125 All-American honors and two won the Gagliardi Trophy, given to the best Division III player every year.

But, according to many, describing what he did on the gridiron leaves out a substantial part of his legacy.

Colleague after colleague, most of whom coached under or played for Mr. Drass, said Saturday he loved them and was not afraid to show it.

“I walked through hell because Coach Drass told me I could,” former Wesley player and coach Steve Scanlon said, relaying a story of how Mr. Drass helped him beat cancer.

“The lessons you gave me for free most people would pay for,” Tim Kane, who played and coached at Wesley, said.

Some speakers struggled to find the words to describe how much Mr. Drass meant to them, and it was clear many lives had been touched by the man described as a wonderful son, brother, husband, father and friend.

“His passing leaves us feeling like a piece of ourselves is missing,” sister-in-law Jennifer Drass said.

Hundreds attended Saturday’s memorial service honoring head coach Mike Drass despite heavy rain.

Mr. Drass almost never started at Wesley, according to Mr. Knapp, who told the audience how the man who would go on to become one of the most successful Division III football coaches ever nearly missed his interview at the school.

In the end, of course, things worked out both for Mr. Drass and for Wesley — and for the many players and coaches he mentored over the years.

Former player Bill Strickland shares his thoughts and the dedication head coach Mike Drass had for his players during the memorial service Saturday.

“I think the best yardstick for coach Drass is to look at the number of people he had a positive impact on,” former standout safety Rocky Myers said.

Wesley College has been in mourning since Monday, and the scoreboard in Miller Stadium for several days has read “Love you Coach” where the team names would be, with “2018” in place of the score,

On Saturday many people wore shirts with Mr. Drass’ name and collegiate number, 73.

He is a member of the Rose Tree Media School District and Mansfield hall of fames, and former Wesley player and coach Jason Bowen said he belongs in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Nobody in attendance Saturday would argue that.

“He always knew this was what he was supposed to be doing,” Mr. Bowen said.

Instead of flowers, his family has asked well-wishers to donate to Wesley’s football program. Mr. Drass, several people said, will be looking down on his family and his beloved college from above.

“Heaven is hung in Wolverine blue and white right now,” Wesley President Robert Clark said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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