The family dynamic: How to balance life on and off the football field – Hometown Life

Posted: September 28, 2019 at 5:42 pm

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JakeKelbert takes the snap.

The Livonia Franklin quarterback fakes a handoff to the wide receiver on anoption sweep and rolls to the right. After a 5-yard gain, he hears the whistle and an ensuing voice.

Youve got to look inside, bro.

Kelbert jogs back to the line of scrimmage towardhis head coach, clad in gym shorts and a Franklin t-shirt, with the whistle around his neck and his arms crossed.

Livonia Franklin quarterback Jake Kelbert stands with his father and head coach Chris Kelbert(Photo: Colin Gay |

Shortly after practice, the head coach calls for his captains, yelling Kelbert in the direction of his quarterback. The senior obliges, jogging over for a quick meeting.

On the field, the relationship between the head coach and his quarterback is already close, with Kelbert entering his third season as the varsity starting quarterback.

When exiting the field though, the relationship changes. The head coach and his quarterback walk off the field together,toward the parking lot.

CoachChris Kelbert is JakeKelberts ride home.

To be a coach's son could seem like a good idea, in theory.

But for two area families, the Kelberts and the DeWalds Jim DeWald coaching his two sons, Caden and James, at Birmingham Seaholm this is reality, and it is something they had to get used to.

When driving towarddowntown Birmingham, the DeWaldname is plastered at many points along the side of the road. It wasnot referencing the Seaholm football program, but rather Erin Keating DeWald, the area realtor.

Erin grew up in Birmingham, graduating from Seaholm prior to attending Western Michigan, where she met her husband Jim.

When she's not working, she spends much of her time in the football stands, watching Jim coach, dating back to whentheir two boys roamed the sideline as ball boys.

Football was ingrained inthe DeWald family, although it was never pushed,and Erin knew that both of her children would play on Friday nights in the future.

They look up to their dad, Erin DeWald said. Its just like if their dad was a doctor or something. Its kind of like the boys mimicked and follow in their dads footsteps.

Jim DeWald, head coach at Birmingham Seaholm, stands with his two sons: Caden and James.(Photo: Colin Gay |

What she did not know was her husband would eventually coach both of her sons ather alma mater, a momentshe called surreal.

As both Caden and James grew up, in age and in size, it became more of a reality for the family that Jim would have to coach them at some point.

I had a lot of people say that it was going to be hard," Jim DeWald said."I go, No, it should be simple because you coach the film and you do what you do.

Actually, early on, it was actually harder than I thought.

Both Caden and James DeWald call it the outside noise. JakeKelbert did not have a name for it, but experienced it: the notion of favoritism associated with being a coachs son.

All three heard it in the locker room and in the hallways: "they did not earn their respective spots" or "they were only there because their dads wanted their sons to be successful."

Its a perception both coacheswantto avoid, both admitting that they treattheir sons more harshly thanthe other players. Both expectmore out of their sons on the football field.

Hes like, Ill send your ass back to J.V.'

If the team sees that I have these crazy expectations for him, then they are going to see that we need to rise to the level, too, Coach Kelbert said.

James was the first of the DeWalds who experienced this from his father.

Promoted to the varsity level during his sophomore season, the now-senior linebacker said it was difficult for him to deal with the expectations that his head coach gave him, along withdealing with that "outside noise" for the first time.

Especially early on, James DeWald felt as though he had to prove his spot.

At first, I was close to not even being on it, so thats when he was really on me because I was doing stuff wrong, James DeWald said. Hes like, Ill send your ass back to J.V.

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It was not only on the players to prove their worthiness of the varsity level. It was on the head coaches, their fathers, to make sure the expectation of the quality of play remains the same despite the familial connection.

Chris Kelbert never pushed football onhis son. Much like the DeWalds, Jake served as a ball boy from an early age, finding his way onto the field behind center in elementary school. Jake enjoyed playingquarterbackfrom the moment he took his first snap, but it was never something that his father thought would be long-term.

Jake Kelbert stands behind the fence, watching his father Chris Kelbert coach on the sideline.(Photo: Jennifer Kelbert)

But with the more camps Jake attended and the more training he had behind center, the more apparent it became to Chris that a decision would eventually have to be made: to start his son or to leave him on junior varsity.

The whole situation was hard on Jake Kelbert.

The Kelberts live in the Farmington school district where Jake attended school. With Chris Kelbert teaching at Franklin, Jake transferred to Livonia PublicSchools.

In the summer before his freshman year, just prior to that move,Jennifer Kelbert found Jake in his room crying.He said teammates were telling him he would never get anywhere, and the only reason he had an opportunity was because his dad was the head coach.

Chris Kelbert had the same worry in Jake'ssophomore season.

Many of his assistant coaches wanted to bring the younger Kelbertup to play varsity quarterback earlier. But because of who he was and what the perception could be,the decision was especially taxing on the head coach.

If Jake was not his son, he would have, without a doubt, pulled him up when he did. But because he was his son, I think he had a harder time doing it because of what others would say. They would say he just pulled him up because of who he was, Jennifer Kelbert said. But then after a couple of games, they realized why he did it.

In his first season as the Patriots starting quarterback in 2017, things were not perfect for Jake Kelbert.

He completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,089 yards, averaged 6.12 yards per carry and accumulated 15 total touchdowns.

Jacob Kelbert, far left, sits with his father - Franklin Patriot coach Chis Kelbert, right, and Seth Winter, (#55) on Sept. 20 as the offense goes over a play early in the game.(Photo: John Heider |

However, more importantly for Chris Kelbert and for Franklin, Jake Kelbert was a winner, finishing 7-2 during the regular season, advancing the Patriots to the Division 2 state title game before losing to De La Salle.

Franklin found its quarterback. And it happened to be the son of its head coach.

In those times where emotions run high on the football field, both head coaches realizedthey might not be able to be the familial support for their sons.

That is where Mom comes in.

She would be the balance, Chris Kelbert said. He gets the tough, stern approach from me, and then Mom is his sounding board. She will listen to what he has to say.

Chris said his wife Jennifer tells him to chill out at times, allowing Jaketo find his own way of addressing what he is feeling.

The role of the mother is not only as the one to keep the familial atmosphere alive between a head coach and his player, to make sure feelings are heard and support is given.

It is to be the cheerleader.

Erin DeWald stands with her two sons, Caden and James.(Photo: Colin Gay |

Its great when you get chewed out on film and you come to your mom and she says You had a great game, Caden DeWald said. I say, Yeah, I know I did.

But its not like the father takes a back seat when any praise comes towardhis son.

To Jim DeWald, he believes he put both of his sons on the Seaholm varsity team for a reason. Instead of just giving James and Caden praise, he lets their actions speak for itself.

I would go to him as a parent/coach and ask do I deserve it? Caden DeWald said. And he would show me the film.

As soon as James and Caden DeWald took their first snap at Seaholm, as soon as Jacob Kelbert threw his first pass at Franklin, both families knewthe clock had started.

On a team usually filled with juniors and seniors, all three players took the field for the first time on varsity as underclassmen. For James DeWald and JakeKelbert both in their senior season the time on the clock is running out.

And its something that Jennifer Kelbert is not ready to face.

The Kelberts stand in front of their house.(Photo: Colin Gay |

I dont ever want the season to end, she said. I dont know how to put it into words.

Jennifer said she doesn't know how Chris Kelbert will do next year without his son on the football field, pointing to the fact that both do everything together during the year: from watching film and working on plays to driving to school together.

However, when Chris thinks about the end of JakeKelberts tenure at Franklin, he is focused on what the Patriots will lose on the football field.

Chris said he has never seen a quarterback pick up an offense as quickly as his son did, crediting how long Jakehasbeen around the program, after attending his first football game two weeks after he was born.

Jake just understands what is expected.

Thats what Im going to miss: just his ability to run the offense and his knowledge of what we are looking for, Chris Kelbert said. It makes our job as coaches, easier.

But the Kelberts are not done with this process. Both of Jakes brothers Drew and Ethan play football, as well, possibly becoming the next in line to add the family name on the Franklin roster one day.

Jennifer Kelbert said Chrisjokingly was saying he would quit his job as the head coach of the Patriots and move on to college next season, taking Jake with him wherever he goes.

I was like, No, you are not going to move to college, because you have two more kids that are just as excited to have you coach them, Jennifer Kelbert said. So now you have to wait.

For the DeWalds, they dont have time to wait.

Im trying to enjoy the moment, but I do get sad because this is the end.

James currently is playing his senior season for the Maples, while Caden has one more season to go. There'sno other siblings waiting in the wings to get their shot to be coached by Jim DeWald.

The Seaholm head coach said he has tried to make an effort to be more of a father on the field towardboth of his sons this season than he has in the past.

For Erin, there is a sea of emotions attached to her two sons. She said she will continue to go to Seaholm games to support her husband, but, when James and Caden go off to college, she will make an effort to support each of them fromthe stands.

But to Erin, it will not be the same.

Im trying to enjoy the moment, but I do get sad because this is the end, Erin DeWald said. Back-to-back, you know? This is the end.

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During the football season, Saturdays in the DeWald and the Kelbert homesusually are determined by the success of Seaholm and Franklin the night before.

A win leads to a normal weekend for the families, a lively house usually dominated by college football and rest. A loss leads to a bit more of a quiet atmosphere.

Caden and James DeWald talk to their father Jim on the sideline of a football game.(Photo: Erin DeWald | Special to

Erin DeWald wants to make her home feel inviting and comfortable to the rest of her family, describing it as a place to relax, a place to forget about the stresses of what happened on the football field.

Erin said its something she wants to bring other people into, encouraging her sons to invite friends over, even though, she said, no one usually takes James and Caden up on the offer because of who their father is.

In the Kelbert house, Jennifer knows what to expect on aSaturday in the fall. She said she expects to hear Jakecall his dad coach, something that happens each football season.

One night, (Jake)made a comment that he thought it was funny that his coach is dating his mom, Jennifer Kelbert said. Im like I dont think Im dating your coach. I think Im married to him.

But win or loss, the feeling is the same in each household: leave it on the football field, be a normal family.

And maybe see which team is on the schedule for Seaholm and Franklin next week.

Reach Colin Gay at, 248-310-6710. Follow him on Twitter @ColinGay17.Send game results and stats to

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The family dynamic: How to balance life on and off the football field - Hometown Life

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September 28th, 2019 at 5:42 pm

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