The new era of Blue Devils football will begin on Sept. 7 when Lawrence Technological University hosts Mid-States Football Association Midwest League champion Saint Xavier University (Illinois).

The new era of Blue Devils football will begin on Sept. 7 when Lawrence Technological University hosts Mid-States Football Association Midwest League champion Saint Xavier University (Illinois).

Photo courtesy of LTU Athletics

Merchant lands 11 signees in first year at LTU

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Southfield Sun | Published February 21, 2024


SOUTHFIELD — Only a month in as head coach for Lawrence Technological University football, Scott Merchant turned in an impressive recruiting class to kickstart the 2024 campaign as National Signing Day concluded on Feb. 7.

“It’s been exhilarating, chaotic and exciting,” Merchant said. “Those would probably be the three words I would use. It’s exciting, but there’s no break. You have to hit the ground running. There’s lots to get done in a short period of time. Not to be cliche, but just trying to take it one day at a time, as my wife reminds me.”

Previously head coach for Clinton Township’s Chippewa Valley High School, a Macomb Area Conference Red team, for 15 seasons, Merchant’s impact on not just Chippewa Valley but the MAC Red as a whole was evident from LTU’s class of 2024 signees.

Holding only one MAC Red player on its current roster, Chippewa Valley 2023 graduate Aaron Mitchell, LTU signed five MAC Red players this year, two of whom played at Chippewa Valley.

“I have a unique perspective from coaching in that conference for 15 years and being on the same sidelines or opposite sidelines from a lot of those players,” Merchant said. “I just always respected the programs we played in the MAC. They have great coaches, great players and great programs. Quite frankly, I don’t think they get the recognition or maybe the recruiting recognition they deserve. We were glad to jump in there and get some of the guys.”

Chippewa Valley’s Anthony Wright (DL) and Cash Shaw (RB) will reunite with Merchant while Utica Eisenhower turned in two commitments of their own with Preston Crum (QB) and Brandon Kedrow (DB) joining the Blue Devils.

New Baltimore Anchor Bay’s Kolyn Martell (DB) rounded out the MAC Red signees while Macomb Lutheran North’s Enrico Piccinini (WR), Novi’s Lance Gailliard Jr. (RB) and Northern Michigan transfer Anthony Merlo (OL), a Fraser High School graduate, complete the list of signees from the C & G Newspapers coverage area. Running back Daniel Steele (Grand Blanc High School), defensive back Ka’Vion Smith (Holly High School) and wide receiver Buddy Banks-Williams (Davison High School) were the remaining LTU commits.

After signing day, Sterling Heights Stevenson’s Evan Watson (LB) committed to LTU, bringing the MAC Red signee count to six. Armada High School’s Jake Morgan (DB) and Kalamazoo College transfer Jon Brunette (RB), a North Farmington High School graduate, both committed as well.

Merchant has had a front row seat to Wright and Shaw’s growth over the past four seasons, and he’s said he’s excited to continue watching them develop.

“What a unique opportunity for me and for them (Wright and Shaw), and it means a lot to me that they want to continue to play for me here at Lawrence Tech,” Merchant said. “I don’t know how often that happens to people where your high school coach also ends up being your college coach and you can continue that relationship. Not only with them, but with their families. It’s really special.”

While Merchant had a first-hand look at Crum, it was on the opposing sideline as Crum led the Eagles to a 2-3 record against the Big Reds during Merchant’s tenure.

Normally viewed as the opposition, Crum’s big-time playmaking ability was a key add for Merchant, and Crum said LTU felt like the place for him.

“It was just the feeling I got,” Crum said. “It gives me ‘at home’ vibes, and I really trust coach Merchant and what he’s doing. I can’t wait to be a part of his process.”

It also doesn’t hurt that he gets to continue playing with a close friend in Kedrow, who Crum said he partly recruited to join him at LTU.

“He’s (Kedrow) very excited,” Crum said. “Obviously, it’s his decision, but I was nudging him a little bit saying, ‘We could play together. Do you know how much fun that would be?’”

In addition to their signing day class, LTU named Oscar Olejniczak, who last served as head football coach for Royal Oak Shrine Catholic High School from 2018-2022, as offensive coordinator, and Kyle Nystrom as defensive coordinator.

Nystrom has held many collegiate coaching hats throughout his career, making stops at Central Michigan University, Texas Christian University, Ferris State University, Western Michigan University, Northern Michigan University and, most recently, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Olejniczak coached under Merchant at U of D Jesuit High School when Merchant took over the head coaching position in 1998.

Both men carry an extensive coaching resume and immeasurable knowledge for the game, and Merchant said he’s excited to see what they can bring to the program.

“I’ve known coach O (Olejniczak) for 25 years,” Merchant said. “He’s a great man, great father, and a great coach. He’s done an outstanding job as a high school coach, and also as an FCS offensive coordinator. His experience as a head high school coach and a college coordinator, those are huge things. He’s an outstanding offensive line coach. That’s kind of where everything starts on offense. Coach Nystrom, he’s from one of the first families of football in the state of Michigan. He’s got an amazing resume. He’s coached everywhere from Power Five schools to a bunch of years in the MAC to being a DC at Ferris State with coach (Tony) Annese to being a head coach at Northern Michigan. I feel very blessed to have been able to add those two to our staff.”

The Merchant era of Blue Devils football will begin on Sept. 7 when LTU hosts Mid-States Football Association Midwest League champion Saint Xavier University (Illinois).

Lawrence Tech will return a healthy amount of their roster from 2023 after featuring only seven seniors on the team.

The Blue Devils will look to improve on a 3-7 record in 2023 and usher in a new era of LTU football.

“This whole first class will be really special for all of us on the staff,” Merchant said. “We’re trying to build a foundation of what we want to do with this group, and build on it each year.”