Baseball Pro Windham Winters at Monroe St. Mary as Dad's Assistant Coach

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

December 15, 2022

When Bryce Windham was about 6 years old, he was the ball boy for the Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central basketball team.  

Southeast & BorderAt halftime, rather than go inside the locker room, Bryce would stay on the court and shoot 3-pointers. 

“He was the halftime entertainment,” SMCC head boys basketball coach Randy Windham said. “I’d hear some big cheers, and I’d open the door and look out and just shake my head. Bryce would be out there shooting 3s.” 

Bryce is now 26 and a minor league baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization. Being a professional baseball player hasn’t changed who he is or where he is. Only now, Bryce goes into the locker room because he’s an assistant coach for his dad’s SMCC Falcons. 

“He’s ready right now,” Randy Windham said. “He could be head coach right now. I tell him, ‘Once you are done messing around with the baseball thing, you can coach this team.’” 

Bryce had a dream high school sports career at SMCC.  

He was the Falcons’ starting shortstop, point guard on the basketball team, and was quarterback for the football team. He was all-state in all three sports. He quarterbacked SMCC to the 2014 Division 6 championship in football. The Falcons boys basketball team – coached by his dad – reached the 2015 Class C Quarterfinals. He was MVP of the 2015 all-star baseball game at Comerica Park. 

“He’s always been a thinker, no matter what sport he’s been in,” Randy Windham said. “He’s always analyzed the game. That helps. He’s so humble. That’s the best thing about him.” 

Bryce could have played basketball at the University of Toledo, but took a different turn when Old Dominion University offered him a baseball scholarship. 

“I was nowhere’s near as good at baseball as I was at basketball,” he said. “I didn’t think I was very good. I wanted to see how good I could be at baseball.” 

The lure of Virginia Beach, Va., helped push him to baseball, too. It was a couple of years into baseball on the east coast that he picked up catching. After graduating, he ended up getting drafted by the Cubs and is now at the Double A level.  

Bryce reports back to the Cubs on Feb. 17. He expects to return to the Tennessee Smokies, where he played last season. 

) Bryce Windham mans the plate this summer for the Tennessee Smokies, a Cubs affiliate. “Double A is where the prospects are. Players are competitive, pushing hard,” he said. “I think they really want me to get some at-bats and get more miles catching on my body.” 

For now, in Monroe, he works out daily to stay in shape, hits the batting cages to keep his swing sharp and works at the family business. He will leave for baseball just at the time SMCC begins final preparations for the District tournament, and he’s okay with that. 

“By then, the teaching is done,” he said. 

It’s no shocker that Bryce is coaching in his spare time. Not only is his dad an ultra-successful boys basketball coach at SMCC, but his mom Kim also has had great success coaching volleyball in Monroe County for years. As soon as Bryce’s high school career was finished, he started to coach. 

“I started helping right after I graduated high school,” Bryce said. “In college, I’d come home, and I’d practice with the guys. That allowed me to stay in shape, and I kind of kept the relationship with guys. Once I officially graduated from college, I jumped right into coaching.” 

“I always felt like a player-coach when I played,” Bryce continued. “I felt like I knew what was going on, even outside of myself.” 

Coaching just came naturally. 

“I knew that was something I wanted to do. It’s because of him,” he said, pointing to his dad. “He was my coach from fifth grade all the way up. I knew the game. I tell my pitching coach all the time that if my baseball IQ was as high as my basketball IQ, I’d be in the Major Leagues right now.” 

Randy Windham is in his 14th season as the SMCC varsity coach. He took over for longtime coach Ray Lauwers and built on that success and brought the Falcons to new heights, with multiple deep runs in the postseason. He came into this winter with a record of 229-71. A lot of those wins came with Bryce on the court. Another victory during his tenure actually belongs to Bryce as coach. 

Randy was ill last year and, for the first time in nearly three decades of coaching, he sat out a game. Bryce took the reins and led SMCC to a Huron League win at Milan.  

“I was so nervous,” Bryce said. “I’m glad it was on the road. If it would have been at home with all the home fans, I would have been more nervous.” 

Randy said he was comfortable with missing the game because he knew Bryce would be fine.  

“I give him a lot of responsibility now,” Randy said. “He’s ready right now to be a head coach. He’s ready for that. Coaches must do more than Xs and Os. A coach must be able to handle problems before they happen. He’s ready for that. I can walk away from practice, and he can handle it.” 

“He just knows the game so well. I know for a fact that I could step away, and the success would continue. He’s natural at it.” 

Windham said having his son on the bench next to him provides a lot of comfort, and the players like having him there. Bryce rarely talks about being a professional baseball player, but that gets the attention and respect of the players right away. 

“He’s helped me come back,” Randy said. “I’ve been around here 25 years (including his time as an assistant to Lauwers). He helps refresh me. In the fall, he comes back and jumps right into the skill work with the kids. That allows me to refresh and have the energy to coach this time of year. I love this time of year.” 

For now, Bryce will continue to pursue professional baseball but knows coaching is in his future at some point. 

“I’m still an athlete and a coach. Right now, I kind of have that bridge between the players and (my dad). I keep them out of trouble. I catch things before he catches it. I bring a lot of energy to practice every day. Basketball practice is so much fun,” Windham said. 

He also has a different perspective now as an assistant coach, but one he relishes. As he said, again referring to his father, “I only know what I know because of him.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) At left, coach Randy Windham and his son/point guard Bryce Windham confer during Monroe St. Mary’s Regional run in 2014. At right, Randy talks things over this season with Bryce, now his assistant coach. (Middle) Bryce Windham mans the plate this summer for the Tennessee Smokies, a Cubs affiliate. (Top photos by Tom Hawley and Doug Donnelly, respectively. Middle photo by Mike Krebs.)

E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage

By Jason Juno
Special for

June 28, 2024

Ewen-Trout Creek graduate Jake Witt is playing for a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster. The memories of high school sports, and the impact they’ve had on his journey to the NFL, have stuck with him through his college days and even now as a professional.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 300-plus receiving yards he went for in a game against the eventual 8-player state champion back in 2017. 

The regular-season basketball game where 3,276 fans turned out to watch his Panthers play just a few months later.

The teamwork prep sports taught him. The family atmosphere he got to be a part of on the high school football team.

“Football was definitely the sport I felt the most family-type feeling with it,” Witt said earlier this week after fishing on Erickson Lake while back in the Upper Peninsula before training camp begins next month. “That’s what drew me back to wanting to play football in college, was my opportunity in high school to play and getting that feeling with the guys and that family-oriented feel.”

Witt played two years of high school football. He lined up exclusively at wide receiver for Ewen-Trout Creek as a junior and then was more of a blocking tight end when E-TC and Ontonagon joined forces as a co-op program when he was a senior.

He ultimately decided to play basketball first in college, at Michigan Tech. But two of his three finalists were football opportunities.

“Obviously playing basketball from second grade on, people would probably assume that I would want to play basketball in college,” Witt said. “I think that just goes to show that football in those two years had a big impact and obviously it led me to where I am when I played at Northern and where I am today.”

Witt played only one year of basketball at Tech. He transferred to Northern Michigan University to attend as a student only before being talked into playing football. 

He was initially a tight end there before moving to tackle because of injuries during a game against Ferris State. He dominated, not allowing a sack or even a quarterback pressure against what was considered the best Division II defensive line in the country. 

He stayed at tackle for what was left of that season and then all of his final year at Northern. Despite his limited time at the position, he had the attention of NFL scouts and entered the draft. The attention reached a fever pitch during his pro day at Central Michigan when he wowed with his athleticism. His 9.92 Relative Athletic Score, a way to measure players’ athletic testing while accounting for their size, was one of the best for an offensive tackle prospect since it began being used in 1987.

Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer.He was drafted with the 236th pick, in the seventh round, by the Colts in 2023. 

His first training camp was cut short due to a hip injury, and he was then placed on season-ending injured reserve. But he’s back healthy and ready to go. He practiced at second-string left tackle during the offseason camp this spring and now hopes to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with training camp set to begin in a month.

“I want to go into training camp, play well and then play well enough to where they can’t release me off the 53,” Witt said. “The next goal is to play in a game. And I think that will start with special teams, that will start with field goal. And then from there, obviously, everybody is one week of great practice away from playing with the offense, one injury away from playing in a game with the offense.”

Those who watched him during his high school days in the U.P. likely wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that happen.

Witt is still the only receiver to go for 300 or more receiving yards in 8-player football in state history, according to the MHSAA record book. And he did it twice, a 325-yard game against Eben Junction Superior Central as a junior and the 305-yard performance against Crystal Falls Forest Park as a senior.

The Ontonagon co-op team had mostly stuck to running the ball that season, but looked for Witt through the air against the eventual state champion Trojans.

“I think it was 345 (yards), I think they sent in the wrong number,” Witt said. “That was one game where we switched things up with our offensive attack and threw the ball a lot more, and it ended up paying off for us very well. We were down big at halftime, and we pushed back and we were in a battle with them in the second half. It was a great game. We didn’t end up winning, but it was a lot of fun.”

He enjoyed both years of high school football – even while mostly blocking on the line as a senior despite having shown previously to be a more-than-capable receiver.

Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023.“A lot of the offense wasn’t focused on me anymore, which was great,” Witt said. “It made me a much more well-rounded football player. It made me a much better athlete, it gave me a better perception on things as a football player versus just being a receiver. I think both years were great for different reasons.”

Witt said every sport he played in high school was beneficial to him going forward. Basketball, for example, taught him teamwork and coordination. 

“And just relationship building is huge; for me, it helped me move on to the professional football level,” he said.

No high school game was quite as memorable for him as that regular-season basketball game at Michigan Tech on a chilly Wednesday night in Houghton.

Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay were tied atop the U.P. small-school poll. With that type of matchup, and the chance for fans in the Copper Country to see the 6-7 Witt and his above-the-rim play that’s pretty unique in the U.P., the game was moved from Dollar Bay’s tiny gym to Michigan Tech. (He wasn’t quite 300 pounds like he is now, but he was close – and he came into that game averaging 27 points and 16 rebounds per game with no one able to match his size and strength.)

They expected a crowd; they got 3,276. The latest arriving fans had to sit on the floor on the baseline.

“You don’t see that very much in Division 4 basketball even in the playoffs,” Witt said. “Just having that atmosphere, and especially having it between two of the best U.P. teams at the time, and having the storyline that was behind the game was great – and one of the most memorable events to this day still for me.”

Witt is looking forward to the challenge of training camp and achieving his goals in Indianapolis. But he’s not rushing away a U.P. summer. 

He helped out at last week’s U.P. Football All-Star game. He was happy to provide insight for any players headed off to play college ball, and they helped the Marquette County Habitat for Humanity with the finishing touches on one of their houses.

Over the next month, he’ll still be training, going over the playbook and doing position skill work. As happy as he was to help out last week, he’s happy to be on the lake again, too, fishing like a normal Yooper.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, that and train,” Witt said. “Just trying to destress before I get back into it.”

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Jake Witt played for Ewen-Trout Creek during a 2018 basketball game at Michigan Tech, and at right Witt takes a photo with area youth baseball players last summer. (Middle) Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer. (Below) Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023. (Photos by Jason Juno.)