Defensive lineman Ralph Holley and linebacker Dwayne Chapman III were planning all along to “row the boat” at Western Michigan — but few would have blamed either one if they jumped ship after then-head coach P.J. Fleck bolted for Minnesota after WMU’s loss in the Cotton Bowl.
Wednesday, the defensive duo of Holley (ranked No. 31 in Michigan) and Chapman (ranked No. 32) made good on their verbal commitments to the Broncos by signing national letters of intent to play at Western Michigan next fall.
“Western was always one of my top choices, and I committed to a school, not a person, so that was the biggest thing,” Chapman said. “Another big factor was they kept my linebacker coach, David Duggan, who brings a lot to the table. I’m really ready to play for him.
“And with (new head) coach (Tim) Lester, I immediately got the vibe from him as to the type of guy he is. I loved him from when I first talked to him, and I’m just blessed. The feelings are surreal, and I can’t feel any more blessed and thankful to be here.”
Holley expressed much of the same.
“This all happened so close to signing day, and I didn’t really know what was happening (with Fleck’s resignation),” he said. “But Western just handled this really professionally. They brought Coach Lester in (on our visit day), and it really reassured us that we had a place here at Western. And after I met coach Lester and I met the rest of the staff, I was really at home.”
St. Mary’s teammate Josh Ross, ranked No. 3 in the state by the Free Press, signed with the Michigan Wolverines. Another long-time teammate throughout high school, Richard Bowens III, who is ranked No. 17, was not at Wednesday’s signing ceremony at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, winner of the past three Division 3 state championships. Coach George Porritt said Bowen left the school in early December to finish high school online and via other means and will not officially graduate from OLSM. He has verbally committed to Iowa State.
Holley plans to study sports medicine and said the fact WMU recently built a new medical facility was also a selling point to stay.
“That really pulled me toward Western too,” Holley said. “The coach is really supportive. He said if you can’t do it in the classroom, you can’t do it on the field. And I feel like these coaches can develop me on the field and off the field.”
Chapman’s father, Dwayne, Sr., one of many at the ceremony, couldn’t conceal his pride about his son’s academic achievements that have earned him a 3.725 grade-point average and the start of an engineering internship this week while still attending OLSM. He said that supersedes any football accomplishments.
“My parents first and foremost always instilled in me education first, and it’s not going to be any different at Western,” Chapman said. “I’m going directly into the engineering department there. I’ve worked my whole life at academics. And when those two go hand in hand, when you’re doing good in the classroom like Coach Lester talked about when (the Broncos) had the best GPA, Western went 13-1. Those things work together when you’re playing football.”
Coach Porritt supported the choice to stay with WMU.
“There was a week or two they weren’t sure what was going to happen, they keep their eyes and ears open,” Porritt said about Fleck leaving. “But they were serious about being at Western Michigan.
“Dwayne had a couple great state championship games for us, leading us in tackles at the state championship his junior year. He reacts to the ball well, and he’s going to be one of those kids that as he goes through a program could be the captain-type kid.
“Ralph’s a big body guy, quick off the ball with good hands. He’s got a lot of power in his legs but he plays with his hands rally well.”