The Concordia University Ann Arbor (CUAA) community will come together to celebrate the dedication of its new Cardinal Football Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 3 at 12:45 p.m., just before the 1:00 p.m. kickoff of their Homecoming game. Cardinal Stadium is a new, 1,300-seat grandstand with locker rooms, and additional amenities that surround the new turf field and complete construction of the athletic complex.
For the football program at CUAA, now in its fifth season, the dedication of a home to call its own marks a significant milestone, particularly for head football coach and athletic director, Lonnie Pries. Lonnie and his wife Jennie have followed a faithful and football-filled journey to build a foundation of success for CUAA students, student-athletes and their families.
Pries became head football coach at CUAA in 2013. He arrived to lead a team with a depleted roster, no home field and no wins. After securing their first win in 2013 to go 1-9, the team improved to 3-8 and is now 2-1 as they prepare for Homecoming and the dedication of Cardinal Stadium.
“I’m happy for the guys who came when the stadium was only an idea,” said Lonnie Pries. “To experience Cardinal Stadium before they’ve graduated, it’s cool for the them to be able to say, ‘I was a part of that from the beginning.’”
Cardinal Stadium is the cornerstone of a football program that gives student athletes the chance to excel and grow, but for the CUAA family, it’s not just about wins and a new stadium to aid in recruiting, it’s about bringing in and building champion people.
“While winning is important to both the players and me, I care more about what happens at the end of the players’ careers,” says Pries. “My hope is to hear our seniors say their four years in the program at CUAA helped them grow in mind, body, and spirit so when they leave this place, they can look back and think, ‘That was an awesome experience.’”
One example of a student athlete taking advantage of the program being built by Coach Pries is Edward (Eddie) Merhi, a 6’3”, 320-pound lineman from Garden City, Mich. A 2010 graduate of Salem High School, Merhi served as an assistant football coach at the school while playing semi-pro football with the Michigan Lightning. He chose not to accept money during his years playing semi-pro football so he could maintain his collegiate eligibility. Now, a connection with Coach Pries pushed Merhi to come back to college and get his degree.
“For Coach Pries to believe in me and give me the opportunity to play for his program is life changing,” said Merhi. “God has a real plan for me here. People believe in me. I’m ready to do big things on campus and be a great teammate.”
With his strong faith in God, leadership and the foundation built by Coach Pries, Merhi exemplifies the mission of the University and the new direction of the football team.
Lonnie and Jennie Pries are building the CUAA program together, offering new recruits a unique and faith-based opportunity to guide their pursuit of life as a student athlete. Their motto of “Sacrifice Self, Serve Others, Glorify God” is at the root of everything they do to build a foundation that grows the program and the University. While Lonnie recruits, coaches the team, and invests time helping to build the lives of the young men in the program, his wife Jennie maintains connections with players’ families through weekly updates, post-game tailgates and home-cooked meals.
“I must be wired differently in that I continue to be called into programs where there is a need for growth and building, rather than ones that already exist and just need maintenance,” says Lonnie Pries. “More than just helping growth the program and develop football players, we want our guys to grow as men.”
With more wins under their belts, a new stadium to call home and student athletes like Eddie Merhi providing examples of Coach Pries’ mission, Concordia University Ann Arbor is delivering on that promise.