Even in death, Wesley coach Mike Drass brings people together

DOVER — Chip Knapp jokes that he and Mike Drass didn’t know what they were doing.

Not back then anyway.

In 1993, the two young football coaches were just trying to get their feet underneath them after Drass was named Wesley College’s head coach.

“We were like, ‘We’ve got to come up with a philosophy,’” said Knapp. “Me and him, we’re down in the basement, down in our old offices. We’re like, ‘We’ve got to talk to the parents about something.’ Let’s really figure out what we’re all about.”

What the two men came up with was pretty simple.

They’d try to do things the right way, not cut any corners, and success would follow.

On Monday night, at the end of arguably the saddest day in Wesley College football history, came the proof that Drass was right.

In the growing dusk, a few hundred former Wolverine football players and coaches and friends stood on the turf in the center of Miller Stadium.

They cried, they laughed, they told stories, they shook hands and they hugged — all because of Mike Drass.

The impromptu vigil was put together to remember Drass, the longtime Wesley coach who died suddenly on Monday morning at the age of only 57.

There were undoubtedly hundreds — if not thousands more people — who have liked to have been there to show much Drass meant to them.

When the gregarious Drass passed away, his Facebook page listed 2,541 friends. On Monday, it seemed like every one of them wanted to write something about him after they heard the stunning news.

They were all floored by it, of course, gut-wrenchingly shocked to hear that Drass was gone.

“I love this man please don’t let it b true,” wrote one.

“My friend, Mike Drass, died today,” posted Charlisa Holloway Edelin. “I really don’t know what else to say.” 😢

Over and over, former players and friends, men and women, tried to put into words what Drass meant to their lives.

“I graduated from college because he wouldn’t give up on me,” wrote Shaun Clark. “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. This is a sad day …”

Nobody posted about Drass’ enviable 25-year record of 229-69-1 or the six times he took Wesley to the NCAA Division III semifinals. They talked about what a great guy he was and the impact he had on their lives.

Like Knapp, assistant coach Steve Azzanesi had been at Drass’ side for a lot of those victories. The former Wolverine quarterback watched Drass first as a player and then as a coach.

“He’s always been that way,” Azzanesi said at the vigil. “Former players were flocking back to Wesley. It’s because of the relationship that he built with them.

“Sure, he loved football, but he loved his players more than anything — besides his wife (Laurie) and (daughter) Molly. It all about his guys.

“There were so many people that he helped — things that people don’t even know about. He just helped people be the best they could be. He stressed getting their degree more than anything. I mean that’s all he talked about with those guys.”

And Drass always seemed to take genuine pride in his former players’ and coaches’ accomplishments.

It didn’t matter whether it was somebody getting a coaching job or a former player simply getting a good job.

“He was one of the first people that called me when I got the job,” said Wesley grad Mike Judy, now the head coach at Smyrna High. “He had me on speaker phone, yelling and screaming, with ‘Az’ in the background. He was always quick to celebrate all our accomplishments and where we were in life.

“He had that funny knack of knowing everybody, knowing your family and knowing everybody’s name. It’s amazing to think, over the 20-plus years of coaching, how many men he changed.”

Demetrius Stevenson was one of Drass’ first big defensive stars at Wesley, earning Division III All-American honors as a defensive lineman.

Now a City of Dover policeman, Stevenson faced the difficult task of spreading the news of Drass’ death to many in the Wesley community on Monday.

“It was a punch to the gut,” Stevenson said at the vigil. “I wasn’t expecting that call this morning.

“I lost a father — he was a father figure to me. It’s still a shock. It hasn’t quite set in yet. We’ll get through it together.”

The irony in all this — both with Monday’s vigil and with the bigger memorial service that is sure to follow — is that Mike Drass wouldn’t have wanted anybody to make a big deal about him.

He had been uncomfortable when the field at Miller Stadium was named after him three years ago.

“He’d definitely say, ‘Don’t worry about me,’” said Knapp. “He didn’t want anyone to concern themselves with him — ‘You just keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing.’ That was his mentality.

“That was part of his personality. And the other part was that he was truly driven to make people’s lives better through football. He wasn’t just trying to win a game. That’s why his success was so consistent throughout the years.”

On Monday night, the Miller Stadium scoreboard read, “Love you Coach,’ with the year, ‘2018’ in place of the score.

Before the gathering broke up, Knapp brought everyone together, just as Drass did with his players after every game.

Then he called out, “How will we win?”

And the players answered, “Together.”

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