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If its two flagship universities are any indication, the state of Michigan takes football seriously. Of course, great college gridiron heroes are formed before any acceptance letter arrives. What they do in high school can determine the path of collegiate play…and beyond.

The good news is that Michigan has no shortage of exceptional coaching talent in its high schools. Some, in fact, are particularly stellar. They not only convey the best knowledge in terms of technical skill and strategy, but they also excel in the area of character formation. Five of these top-flight coaches are highlighted below.

Ron Bellamy

Once a wide receiver for the Michigan Wolverines and several NFL teams, Ron Bellamy assumed his coaching duties at West Bloomfield High School in 2010. Within a short time, he delivered six consecutive winning seasons and five playoff appearances. The key to his success at WBHS is two-fold: he makes victory the anticipated result and never lets his players get discouraged when they suffer a loss. Building a core of premium players–and a strong second string–Coach bellamy was able to staunch the flow of talent to other high schools.

Tyrone Spencer

Detroit King High School gambled on one of its own three years ago when it appointed alumnus Tyrone Sprncer as the head football coach. Spencer brings his own history as a once unmotivated student-athlete to bear on the students he leads. He credits a number of coaches for changing his thinking and inspiring him to excel at Wayne State University. Arriving at King as a defensive coordinator, Spencer has stacked up 35 wins and only six losses as head coach, leading his team to state championshios in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Shane Fairfield

When Muskegon High School tapped Shane Fairfield to shepherd its varsity football program in 2010, it turned to a familiar figure. Fairfield had once been a defensive coordinator for the team before becoming head coach at Holton High and then leading the Muskegon Thunder, a professional squad that plays indoor football. The product of a Catholic school education, Coach Fairfiels stresses excellence in the details, the little things that make all the difference in life. Inheriting a winning program, Fairfield brought it to the next level with a 27 consecutive game winning streak and two consecutive state championships.

Mike Giannone

Mike Giannone understands the advantages of being the second choice. Formerly the leader of the Macomb Dakota Cougars–where the top pick withdrew–Giannone again stood next in line to another favored candidate at Warren de La Salle High School. That selection, too, decided against the job, leaving open an excellent opportunity for Giannone, the runner-up.

Since assuming command at De La Salle, a team that had posted embarrassing losing records, this coach transformed it into a playoff-worthy football program. In fact, only a year after coming to De La Salle, Giannone was named Coach of the Year by the Detroit Free Press, due in large part to the De La Salle Pilots’ capture of the Division 2 state championship. Adopting the De La Salle motto, “Builder of Boys, Maker of Men,” as his own, Coach Giannone stresses strong work ethic through his own rugged example.

Jermain Crowell

In 2015, Belleville High School brought Jermain Crowell on board as its head football coach. After a long career as an assistant coach at schools all over Detroit, Crowell landed at Belleville raising expectations, and the overall levels of physical and mental toughness. He tells his Tigers is that even the best players must follow the rules. Belleville now ranks #2 in Michigan.