All in the family

Father, son duo enjoy ‘priceless’ gridiron experience

Sparky and A.J. McEwen help the Bulldogs on two tiers of the football program, one as a player and one as a coach.

A closer look at the similarities between the father and son, coach and player duo of A.J. McEwen and Charles “Sparky” McEwen, the likeness is palpable. Not only do they share likeness in appearance, but also in pure athletic ability and the will to win football games.

“There are definitely some similarities, but at the end of the day, [A.J’s] a much better athlete than what I was,” Sparky said. “When I watch him play, he thinks the game a lot of the same way that I would think the game.”

A.J came to Ferris State in 2011 following a de-commitment to a Division I school and played 16 games throughout the 2011 and 2012 season as a receiver.

During the 2012 season, he was coached directly by his father, Ferris alumni Sparky McEwen, who was brought on as a receivers coach by head coach Tony Annese.  

Sparky, prior to returning to the Bulldogs, was a standout football player for Ferris. He played seven different positions for the crimson and gold, but ultimately made his name at quarterback.

Sparky moved on to play professionally for the now defunct Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League where he eventually became head coach. McEwen would also serve as assistant coach and offensive coordinator of the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, also of the AFL.

As Ferris’ receivers coach, Sparky tries to instill his wisdom and experience into all of his players, including his son.

“I really just try to listen to what he has to say because he has been in my shoes and experienced everything that I am going through,” A.J. said. “He knows what I need to do to get better and the things that I need to do to help me get there.”

As of spring training of the 2013 season, A.J. has moved into a starting spot on the opposite side of the ball as a cornerback, where he accumulated eight tackles and a pass deflection in the Bulldogs first game of the year against North Dakota State. The move to defense now leaves his father, Sparky, coaching against him in practice.

“Now he has taken what he has learned (at receiver) and beats our receivers,” Sparky said. “Sometimes it just frustrates the hell out of me, because my guys don’t know what he’s doing, but I know exactly what he’s doing!”

As the season is still in its infancy, only time will tell how the McEwen’s can contribute to the Bulldogs program, and help the team win games down the line. Even though Sparky has to be a coach, it’s still hard to not be a father, just watching his son play the game.

“Being a friend, a father, and a coach, and being there around him, from a family standpoint, is priceless,” Sparky said. “You know, because you never get these years back, it’s just priceless.”