LO grad embraces coaching
October 19, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Brian Litten's return to Ford Field last fall was surreal.
The Lake Orion High School grad played there in 2008, as a senior on the varsity football team that went to the state championship game. He was not on the field last November, however, to root for the Dragons on their return trip to the Division 1 state finals.
Only a couple years removed from his playing days, Litten was now an assistant coach at 160-student Sacred Heart Academy in Mount Pleasant. The Irish were playing for the Division 8 state title.
"It was a really unique experience," Litten said. "I was humbled to have been there as a player and coach. There aren't too many people who've had such an opportunity. I will cherish that memory for the rest of my life."
Given his recent experience in the finals, the coach and Central Michigan University student said he shared his memories and what to expect at Ford Field with his new team.
"I told the team you can't take anything for granted, for this could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Litten, who noted the fact that his fellow Sacred Heart coaches were making their first trip to the finals, which made him feel even luckier.
Whatever the former Dragon player said to the team, it obviously helped. The Irish soundly defeated Saugatuck, 42-21.
Nobody was more happy for Litten and his team than his former coaches in Lake Orion.
"We were very happy for Brian," said Head Coach Chris Bell. "In fact, we all felt like proud fathers. He was a tremendous leader for us when he played here, mature beyond his years, and it was great to see his team be so successful."
Litten, who also is the head coach of Sacred Heart's junior varsity team, traces his interest in the sport back to eighth grade at Scripps Middle School. There, he said he drew up football plays in between classes.
It was not until tenth grade, however, under Junior Varsity Head Coach Jason Larsen, that Litten says he realized he wanted to coach after graduation. Litten's mother credits Larsen and fellow Lake Orion coach Eric Jennings as being role models for her son and encouraging him to pursue his dream.
Jennings said Litten did not have a great work ethic as a freshman but, through football, he learned to work hard and become the best football player he could be. He added that about tenth grade, the coaches could also tell Litten had what it takes to be a coach.
"Brian was like a sponge: he absorbed everything you told him," Jennings said. "He paid great attention to details. He took great pride in the football team and understood the value of team goals. That experience helped make him what he is now – a student and football coach – and he is doing a great job."
During his senior year in high school, Litten's mother asked Bell to help him reach out to coaches in the Mount Pleasant area to help her son land his first coaching job. The coach worked with Litten to prepare a resume and cover letter and mail it out, with three schools interested in meeting him.
"Quality assistant coaches are hard to come by, especially at smaller high schools," Bell said. "He knew the game and how to coach it the right way. The only thing he lacked was experience. I thought Sacred Heart would be a great fit for him to have the most impact."
He started college and coaching at Sacred Heart later that fall. Two years later, he was back at Ford Field – obviously wanting to play, but thoroughly enjoying the experience as a coach, he said. Last week, the Irish captured their fourth consecutive Mid-State Activities Conference title.
The Dragon and Irish programs are similar in respect to the fact that "kids are kids and they want to have fun," Litten said. But, he thinks, it is much harder to coach at a smaller school.
"Lake Orion coaches can really get on a kid because there's always somebody behind him who wants to play," he said. "Here, you can still get mad, but you have to ride them and build them at the same time, because there's nobody behind them to take their place."
Litten returns home when he can to work with Lake Orion football players. "When he walks in the door, he is known as Coach Litten to the kids," Jennings said. "Brian will always have a home here as one of our assistant coaches. He knows our system and we trust him completely with our kids."
Jennings has had the opportunity to meet some of Litten's football players at power-lifting meets across the state. (Litten also coaches the Sacred Heart team in that sport.)
"You can tell he's their coach, just in the way they talk and act," he said. "Brian does things the right way."
Ironically, during one of Litten's first college classes, he met a kid from Rockford who played in the championship game against him in 2008. Litten was wearing a Lake Orion t-shirt; the other kid was wearing his championship ring.
"Oh great, I thought, here we go," Litten said. "But we've become really good friends. We're both in the teaching program. He's coaching with me now at Sacred Heart." (Litten also has brought on fellow Lake Orion alum Kyle Larsen to help him coach there.)
Litten watched Lake Orion win the state championship last year over Plymouth with his little brother, Jeffrey, who is now a junior on the Dragon football team. Given his unique understanding of how special it is to play and coach in such a game, he was thrilled for the team and coaches.
"Some of the guys were on the field with me the first time we played there," he said. "I was happy for them. Lake Orion is one of the best programs in the state. You learn to respect the game, others and yourself."