From the Sports Editor: Drass made every player feel special

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)

DOVER — Three thousand miles separated Rocky Myers from Mike Drass.

But the miles didn’t seem to put any distance between the former Wesley College football standout and his old coach.

“Coach Drass was one of the few people that I gravitated to, that I maintained that connection, that relationship with,” said Myers. “When I was having successes or something good was going on in my life, I always did want to share it with him.”

So the phone call that Myers got in Los Angeles on Monday hit him like a ton of bricks.

Coach Drass was dead.

“I was just thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to call him,’ “ said Myers. “And then like two hours later G.R. called me. I thought it was my brother calling to say, ‘Hi.’ He was like, ‘Coach Drass passed away.’

“I tell you what. … you’re never ready for it. You think it’s still always 10 years away. One of the hardest things to deal with is, the last time I was home, I didn’t get to see him. I was home for the holidays and we were supposed to have lunch and we got a snowstorm.”

Myers is telling the story in Wesley’s Wentworth Gym on Friday night, surrounded by scores of other former Wolverines.

They’d all come together to tell stories and remember their coach, Drass, who died suddenly on Monday at the age of 57. Drass spent 29 years coaching football at Wesley — including the last 25 as head coach.

What was pretty clear was that, like Myers, they all felt a personal connection to Drass. And that’s not an easy bond to create in a sport where he might have over 150 players on the roster.

The scoreboard overlooking Drass Field honors the late Wolverines coach during Saturday’s tribute. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“It didn’t matter what it was, Coach knew everyone’s problem,” said Lake Forest High grad Andre Summers, another former Wesley standout. “I remember specifically, one semester I didn’t do so well. He got me up at five o’clock in the morning and we went downstairs.

“I got to watch him work out while I got to study. He made me study. But that’s the kind of person he was. He wanted to make sure that everybody was going to succeed. He always had a solution for everything.”

Long after he graduated, Summers said he’d still get a text from Drass every year on his birthday.

“Happy birthday ‘25,’” the text would read, referring to Summers’ jersey number. “He was just a genuine person … a genuine person.

“It’s still a shock,” said Summers. “Something you’ll never forget.”

Like Myers, former star quarterback Joe Callahan was a winner of the Gagliardi Trophy — the top award in Division III football.

Of course it’s not surprising that Drass kept in touch with Callahan, who recently signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. But Callahan said Drass had that connection with countless other players, too.

“He treated everybody the same way,” said Callahan, who was on hand Friday. “No matter who you were or how much you played, he kept in touch. He was calling and he was involved in your life. I don’t think you get that type of coach and friend if you go to any other school.

“He was one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet in your life. I was just talking to him the other day. He called me on the phone and was congratulating me. He just made an impact on so many people’s lives.”

Indeed, some of the former Wolverines who got up and spoke on Friday freely admitted they weren’t particularly good players. But it didn’t seem to diminish the affection they held for Drass.

Players talked about how Drass found ways to keep them in school, either financially or academically.

One player told the story of hearing someone opening his dorm-room door at eight in the morning. It was Drass, telling the youngster he had 10 minutes to get ready for class.

There were stories, too, about Drass’ days as an offensive lineman at Mansfield State, where he was a relentless competitor on the field and the life of the college social world off it.

Some speakers got choked up and had to regain their composure before they could finish. But there were also plenty of laughs and smiles at the Drass stories that players — some separated by a quarter century — could all relate to.

And that was one of Mike Drass’ special gifts. He could make the countless people he came in contact with feel like they had a personal relationship with him.

Because, in a lot of ways, they did.

After getting the phone call from his brother on Monday, Myers said he couldn’t even tell his wife the news right away.

But, when it came to making the unscheduled cross-country trip to be here this weekend, the Bowers Beach native didn’t think twice.

“There wasn’t even a hesitation,” he said. “There’s no way I would have missed it.

“It’s funny,” said Myers. “You listened to Coach Drass and he would know all his players’ names, all their parents’ names, what school they went to, what year they graduated … and I was always thinking, ‘How does he do it?’ He’d tell me about people and I’m like, ‘Coach, that was 10 or 15 years ago.’

“The only way that’s possible is because he truly cared about each and every one of us.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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