Blissfield s Mike Leking tries to avoid an Ida defender last week.
Normally this time of the year the Blissfield community isn't all caught up in a frenzy about Blissfield High athletics.
That typically occurs in the spring when the Royals' perennial title-contending baseball program takes to the field in pursuit of another state title.
However, the Royals football team this fall has raised more than just a few eyebrows, off to one of its best starts in school history dating to the 1950s. The Royals are 7-0 overall and 5-0 against Lenawee County Athletic Association competition.
"It's awesome because right now we're the center of attention," Blissfield senior Andrew Estes said. "Blissfield football has never been the center of attention."
Blissfield coach Ron Estes recognizes the increased spirit in support of the Royals.
"We've got a tremendous following," said Estes, in his fourth season overseeing the Royals program. "We're really spoiled by the support. But that's what it's really all about. It's like we're a family."
Not too long ago Blissfield had been drowning in a school-record 33-game losing streak.
The Royals face Clinton tonight one victory shy of finishing undefeated in the conference and winning the LCAA championship outright. The last time the Royals won at least a share of a league title was in 1977.
There are 21 letter-winners back from a year ago when the Royals qualified for the playoffs and finished the year 5-5 overall and 3-3 in LCAA action.
"We figured we'd be right in there, right in the hunt [in the LCAA]," the Blissfield coach said. "I wish I could say I had said we'd still be undefeated right now."
The Royals, anchored by a group of 20 seniors, are coming off a 14-6 victory over Ida that secured them at least a share of the LCAA championship.
The defense hasn't allowed more than 13 points in a game this season and only one second-half touchdown. They also called on their offense to play ball control.
Nonetheless, the Royals defensive unit has been key. The Royals have limited their opponents to an average of just under 10 points a game. Linebacker Andy Ford, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior, was the leading tackler a year ago and again this season. Fellow linebacker Dean Schnieder, a 5-8, 160-pound sophomore, ranks No. 2 in tackles.
John Estes, a 5-9, 145-pound defensive back, leads the Royals with three interceptions.
"It's really been our team defense," the Blissfield coach said.
"We've given up some yards, but we've kept people out of the end zone."
Andrew and John, sons of the coach, have been key players.
Andrew starts at quarterback, but has been able to make an impact on defense and special teams. The southpaw plays in the defensive secondary as well as returns kickoffs and punts. The quickest player on the team, he's made more plays with his feet than his arm, including running back a kickoff for a touchdown against Dundee.
"He's a typical left-hander," the elder Estes said. "He's kind of a free spirit. He's a risk-taker. He does a lot with his feet.''
Andrew has scored seven rushing touchdowns while passing for four and also catching one from his younger brother, who is his backup at QB.
"The coaches want to get me touches and I'll do whatever they want me to do," Andrew said. "I'll play on the offensive line if they want me to because it's not about my statistics.''
Dustin Gardner, a 5-7, 180-pound senior, isn't on pace to gain 1,400 yards rushing as he did a year ago, but still leads the team with more than 600 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
"The camaraderie and chemistry is something we all have," Andrew said. "It's like we're all brothers and we're fighting for each other."
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