Al Gulick was presented with a package to open by his Warren Woods-Tower football players and assistant coaches in the moments following the regular season finale win over Sterling Heights.
The third-year head coach of the Titans opened the gift and inside he found a black-and-white photo of the back of his head, wearing a hat and the coach headset on a game day. It was autographed by every Woods-Tower varsity player and coach, showing their appreciation to the man who helped orchestrate a turnaround from a 1-8 team two years ago to what is now a playoff-bound 7-2 squad.
The present clearly meant something to Gulick, who immediately strung together a “wow, this is incredible” among other appreciative phrases upon opening it.
Gulick is a 1985 graduate of Ithaca High School, classmates with Yellowjackets head coach Terry Hessbrook and High School Sports Scene publisher Randy Miniard.
He has lived in the Warren area since 1997 and teaches at the middle school while also coaching, inheriting a Woods-Tower varsity program in 2015 that was inexperienced but full of hope.
The one-win season of ‘15 was improved on last year with a 3-6 mark, but the uptick has been far more significant this year as the Titans have reeled off seven wins and outscored opponents a combined 304-141.
What has been the key to the resurgence?
“We returned 16 starters from a year ago,” Gulick said. “Eight on offense, eight on defense. We have 20 seniors on the team and 37 total kids. Four players have been with me all three years. All that experience is a huge key.”
The four players who have been on varsity with Gulick for the duration are senior middle linebacker/fullback Trey Barbour (37 tackles, one INT), quarterback/defensive back Matthew Byrd (987 passing yards, 13 TDs; 1,182 rushing yards, 17 TDs), senior wide receiver/safety Jajuan Lovejoy (25 catches, 405 yards, 6 TDs; 28 tackles, 2 INTs) and junior running back/middle linebacker Joel Radvansky (45 tackles, one INT).
Following back-to-back losses, Woods-Tower got back on the right track Friday night with a 63-14 thrashing over winless Sterling Heights.
“We had a good week of practice and the kids were focused,” Gulick stated. “My biggest fear was that Sterling Heights was coming in at 0-8 and that we wouldn’t have focus and we’d come in and make a bunch of mistakes. We had one turnover, but we didn’t make a lot of mistakes and I was happy with that.”
Lovejoy had touchdown receptions of 63 and 10 yards in the first half to play a big role in the blowout.
“Our passing game has been up-and-down this year so it hasn’t always been there for Jajuan,” Gulick said. “But he showed in this game that he can make big plays when we’re able to get the ball in his hands.”
Woods-Tower now gears up for the postseason, which could include a rematch with crosstown rival Warren Fitzgerald. The Titans downed the Spartans by a count of 21-14 earlier this year.
“There are only 32 teams left and we’re going to hang our hat on that,” Gulick added. “Hopefully we can win a couple. We’ll probably get Fitzgerald again and it was a heck of a ballgame last time. I wouldn’t expect anything different.”