The Wisniski Gridiron Family

 An Onekama
Gridiron Family

Posted by Brian Fogg,
Manistee News Advocate
July 26th, 2016

In a small town football reigns supreme and that’s especially the case for Onekama’s Wisniski family who live and breath the sport everyday.

“This family is a phenomenal family in terms of football,” Onekama football coach Jim Hunter said. “They are football fanatics, but there are a lot of those families. The difference with this family is that they roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“I’ve been in football for 40 years and I don’t know another family like this.”

The Wisniski family at  Onekama football camp. From left: Caleb, Ian, Tara, Nipper and Jeff.   (photo by Brian Fogg/News Advocate)

Next month the third generation of Wisniskis will play college football, at Ferris State, after Caleb graduated following an outstanding high school career will follow in the footsteps of his dad, Jeff, and grandpa, Nipper, but their connection to the game goes much deeper than just with those three.

Jeff played a year at North Alabama and Nipper played for Indiana after playing on Manistee High School’s undefeated 1961 team that only allowed 13 points all season.

“I can’t go anywhere in town without someone saying ‘Hey aren’t you Nipper’s boy?’ Everyone remembers him for being such a great athlete,” Caleb said. “I always heard about that growing up, along with my dad and uncle. I always wanted to be like them.”

Jeff is an assistant coach at Onekama while Nipper has a no-nonsense attitude about taking care of the field.

“He’s the lawn enforcer,” Caleb said.

“Everything we did was football growing up. We weren’t fortunate enough to have Pop Warner so we played in our backyards,” Jeff said. “He (Nipper) played football so we all wanted to play.”

The three have been a big part of the program over the past decade from the Pop Warner level through varsity.

“Everyone was always so giving around the program so it’s instilled in your to give back,” Jeff said.

Prior to Caleb’s class the Onekama players were split up in Pop Warner in the Manistee program, but the first class that played Pop Warner at home just posted a memorable 9-2 season.

Jeff and Nipper were both involved early on in the coaching and they see the dividends paying off on the field.

“I think it’s really changed. Football seemed like it was a dying thing. We got the Pop Warner going because my kid wanted to play. We didn’t have Pop Warner. We had to play our first two years at Manistee. Hunter and I were talking about it at practice and we can see how it’s affected the kids. We can see here at camp how the kids are already ahead of the game,” Jeff said. “We went 9-2 last year with our first group of Pop Warner kids. I think it’s worked.”

Despite football being the family business Nipper doesn’t think any of the guys were pushed into the sport.

“I never pushed him. I felt if he wanted to play ball he would. I played and I enjoyed it and so do they,” Nipper said.

Along with those two the rest of the family is always near the gridiron.

Caleb’s mother, Heidi, along with the other mother’s handle feeding the players and the pregame tailgating. His sister Tara coaches the cheerleading team and she handled a tribute to veterans and a breast cancer awareness day on the field.

“Tara took care of the cheerleading and the flags. My wife does all of the dinners for the team with the other mothers. It takes everybody,” Jeff said.

Next season another Wisniski will be playing at Onekama with Ian moving up to the varsity squad.

“It’s just about helping the community. It all comes back to the people that helped me taught me that you should do that for everybody else. That’s what we try to teach,” Jeff said.