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D'Angelo to coach against former team; Cranbrook Kingswood to play Country Day for first time in 20 years

Football   | Scott Burnstein

State Champs! Sports Network

Bloomfield Hills – Joe D’Angelo built Birmingham Detroit Country Day’s football program to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, guiding the Yellowjackets to state championships in 1986 and ‘95 and churning out a parade of future college players.

Now, he’s trying to do the same over at Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and he’s off to a pretty good start.

D’Angelo, in his third year at the helm of the program, will return to Country Day on Saturday with his up-and-coming 9-1 squad in tow to take on his former team in a Division 4 district final at 1 p.m.

Last week, Cranbrook Kingswood clocked St. Clair Shores South Lake 35-14 to collect the school’s second playoff victory.

Country Day (9-1), a team many pick to reach the state final, is coached by D’Angelo’s protégé and one-time defensive coordinator, Dan MacLean.

“It feels funny knowing what’s on the horizon,” D’Angelo said. “It’s going to be a little strange Saturday being at Country Day, but being on the visiting sideline. I spent a lot of years at that school and I’ve got so many great memories of my time there. Dan was my guy, we were together for a long time. I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions flowing when we finally take the field.”

What’s MacLean has done as his successor ship gives D’Angelo tons of pride.

“He’s carried on the tradition, maintained the expectation level we established when we were there,” D’Angelo said. “Dan leads that program with class and integrity. He has them at the level we here at Cranbrook eventually want to be.”

D’Angelo coached Country Day from 1977-97. Since taking over for D’Angelo, MacLean has led the Yellowjackets to five state finals. In ‘99 Country Day won its only title (Division 5) under MacLean.

After a decade and a half on the shelf recharging his battery, D’Angelo came out of retirement in 2012, accepting an assistant coaching position at Cranbrook Kingswood. Stephan Graf stepped down as head coach following that season to focus on his duties as athletic director. D’Angelo took over and began his reclamation project (Graf remains on staff as one of D’Angelo’s top assistants).

The Cranes were 2-7 in D’Angelo’s first season and last season the program took a significant step forward. Cranbrook Kingswood hadn’t made the playoffs since 2005 and, sitting at 5-3 last season, the Cranes defeated Detroit Allen Academy 29-16 to qualify at 6-3. Cranbrook Kingswood lost to Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy in the first round of the Division 4 playoffs but D’Angelo was pleased with the progress.

“We had to change the culture,” D’Angelo said. “Take small steps every day to show everybody we’re serious as a program about competing at a high level. You could see the light go on and the kids begin believing in themselves and believing in the team as a whole. That taste of success last year, winning their first league game, getting into the playoffs, drove this group to go after it even harder in the offseason.

“We’re growing a little bit each time out, it reminds me of those early days at Country Day when we were trying to get over that hump and establish ourselves. That’s the feeling that this has here at Cranbrook right now.”

Cranbrook’s only loss this season was to Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (10-0), 36-10, in week eight. The Cranes are in their fifth year of competing in the Catholic League, however, until last season, had never won a league game.

 

The quality of players at Cranbrook Kingswood’s has definitely increased since D’Angelo took over. Junior quarterback Tyler Santangelo has thrown for 1,968 yards and 25 touchdowns, and spreads the ball around. Sophomore slot back Aaron Wiggins (over 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage) rushed for 170 yards and scored three touchdowns last week against South Lake.

Defensively, junior linebacker Tristan Knoer has 80 tackles.

Both Santangelo and Wiggins are being recruited by Division I schools.

Saturday will be the first meeting between Cranbrook Kingswood and Country Day in 20 years. D’Angelo remembers a time when the two private schools squared off every year on the last week of the regular season. The last time Cranbrook beat Country Day was in 1982.

“This game used to be an annual thing, it used to be a real fun rivalry,” D’Angelo said. "Hopefully, Saturday will be a lot of fun, too."