Breslin Bound: 2023-24 Boys Semifinals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 13, 2024

No reigning champs seeking to repeat as an MHSAA Finals champion, but nine hopefuls seeking a first boys basketball title. Six contenders hoping to play in a championship game for the first time, and at least one guaranteed to reach this season’s final day at Breslin Center.

Every team makes its own history, of course. But there are opportunities everywhere at Michigan State this weekend for the final 16 teams playing this season to accomplish something their schools have never achieved before – or at least, in a long time.

Among this group of 16, only three semifinalists are back from last year – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Division 1, Niles Brandywine in Division 3 and Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in Division 4. And in addition to those nine teams seeking a first championship, three others are seeking their first since 1985, 1975 and 1938.

DIVISION 1 - Friday
Orchard Lake St. Mary's (25-1) vs Ann Arbor Huron (22-4) - Noon
Zeeland West (20-7) vs North Farmington (23-2) - 2 p.m.

DIVISION 2 - Friday
Flint Powers Catholic (22-5) vs Warren Lincoln (22-4) - 5:30 p.m.
Grand Rapids Christian (25-2) vs Chelsea (21-6) - 7:30 p.m.

DIVISION 3 - Thursday
Niles Brandywine (24-3) vs McBain (25-2) - Noon
Detroit Old Redford (20-7) vs Riverview Gabriel Richard (23-3) - 2 p.m.

DIVISION 4 - Thursday
St. Ignace (21-6) vs Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (22-5) - 5:30 p.m.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (25-2) vs Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (23-4) - 7:30 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Division 1 - 12:15 p.m.
Division 2 - 6:45 p.m.
Division 3 - 4:30 p.m.
Division 4 - 10 a.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and available via the Breslin Center ticket office; for information and links visit the Boys Basketball page.

All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription on, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit – Divisions 4, 3 and 2 on the primary channel and Division 1 on BSD Extra – as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.

The Boys Basketball Semifinals & Finals are sponsored by Sparrow Health System

Here’s a look at the 16 semifinalists (with rankings by MPR and statistics through Regional Finals unless noted):

Division 1

Record/rank: 22-4, No. 15
League finish: Tied for second in Southeastern Conference Red
Coach: Mohammad Kasham, second season (45-7)
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2021, Class A runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 54-48 over No. 2 East Lansing in Quarterfinal, 53-50 over No. 35 Wayne Memorial in Regional Final, 54-53 over No. 10 Detroit Catholic Central in Regional Semifinal, 64-53 over No. 32 River Rouge, 59-57 over No. 33 Ann Arbor Pioneer in District Final, 72-71 over No. 19 Grand Rapids Northview, 65-52 over No. 14 Saline.
Players to watch: Macari Moore, jr. 6-3 G (23 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.3 spg); Justin Latham, 6-6 sr. F (7.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg); Kaleb Brown, 6-3 jr. G (6.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Outlook: Huron has reached at least the Quarterfinals both seasons under Kasham, who previously served as an assistant coach for 16 years. The team’s only losses were twice to Pioneer – avenged in the District Final – and once to Saline and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. Huron also has wins over two teams playing at Breslin this weekend – Division 2 Chelsea 72-48 and Division 3 Detroit Old Redford 72-38. Junior 6-4 guard Jaydon Keefer (6.7 ppg, 47 3-pointers entering the week) gives the River Rats an all-junior starting backcourt.

Record/rank: 23-2, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Todd Negoshian, 13th season (209-73)
Championship history: Class A runner-up 2016.
Best wins: 62-51 over No. 32 River Rouge in Quarterfinal, 54-53 over No. 7 Warren De La Salle Collegiate in Regional Final, 47-28 over No. 27 Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, 61-46 over No. 11 West Bloomfield, 66-57 over No. 42 Zeeland West, 58-46 over No. 37 Detroit Martin Luther King, 67-62 (OT) and 54-51 over Division 2 No. 8 Ferndale.
Players to watch: Tyler Spratt, 6-5 G/F sr. (16 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 spg); Landon Williams, 6-4 sr. G (14.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.0 spg); Dylan Smith, 6-9 sr. C (14.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg).
Outlook: North Farmington won its third-straight District title and second-straight league championship on the way to this first trip to Breslin since its 2016 runner-up finish. The Raiders navigated their annually tough schedule with the only losses to West Bloomfield and Grand Rapids Northview, both over the course of nine days midseason. Guard Will MacShara gives North Farmington a fourth senior in the starting lineup, and junior guard Rob Smith (12.4 ppg) gives the Raiders a fourth starter averaging double-digit scoring.

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Catholic High School League Central
Coach: Todd Covert, ninth season (151-54)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2000), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 52-43 (Quarterfinal), 58-55, 59-41 and 66-47 over No. 6 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice; 68-46 over No. 11 West Bloomfield in District Final, 73-41 over No. 9 Detroit Cass Tech, 56-37 over No. 2 East Lansing, 65-46, 68-55 and 54-40 over No. 7 Warren De La Salle Collegiate; 64-52 and 70-56 over No. 10 Detroit Catholic Central, 76-68 over No. 12 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 65-58 over Division 2 No. 2 Warren Lincoln.
Players to watch: Trey McKenney, 6-5 jr. G (22.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg); Sharod Barnes, 6-2 jr. G (12.5 ppg, 4.4 apg); Jayden Savoury, 6-6 jr. F (12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Outlook: St. Mary’s got on a roll at the end of the 2022-23 regular season and reached its first Semifinal since 2006, and the Eaglets haven’t slowed down this winter. The lone defeat came 60-55 on Dec. 18 to U-D Jesuit and was avenged a month later, and only five wins have been by single digits. McKenney was The Associated Press’ Division 1 Player of the Year last season as a sophomore and is sure to be the Mr. Basketball Award favorite next winter. Senior guard Daniel Smythe (7.7 ppg) is another top contributor, with three more players averaging at least five points per game. 

Record/rank: 20-7, No. 42
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green
Coach: David Klyn, eighth season (102-73)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 53-52 over No. 17 Muskegon in Quarterfinal, 44-41 over No. 19 Grand Rapids Northview in Regional Semifinal, 61-42 over No. 9 Detroit Cass Tech, 58-44 over Division 2 No. 11 Hudsonville Unity Christian.
Players to watch: Lukas Bakker, 6-5 sr. F (13.2 ppg, 58 3-pointers); Myles Steffen, 6-3 sr. G (7.6 ppg, 3.5 apg); Merritt Alderink, 6-7 sr. F (13.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
Outlook: West this season has defeated both teams that played in last year’s Division 1 title game, reigning champion Cass Tech and runner-up Muskegon on Tuesday, with the latter victory landing the Dux in their first Semifinal after they won their first Regional title last week. The Muskegon win also avenged a pair of league losses, and all of West’s defeats came to opponents that won at least 16 games this season. The Dux start five seniors, with guard Trenten Bolhouse (6.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 6-5 forward Orion Yant (7.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) filling out the lineup with experience and additional scoring.

Division 2

Record/rank: 21-6, No. 9
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: Andrea Cabana, second season (42-12)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 68-53 over No. 22 Detroit University Prep in Quarterfinal, 75-53 over No. 10 Onsted in Regional Final, 70-62 and 97-87 over No. 12 Adrian, 59-57 over Division 1 No. 14 Saline.
Players to watch: Jake Stephens, 6-4 sr. G (25.3 ppg, 59 3-pointers, 11 rpg, 4.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Joey Cabana, 6-2 sr. G (21.3 ppg, 64 3-pointers, 4.0 apg); Drew Blanton, 6-2 jr. G (10.5 ppg, 5.0 apg).
Outlook: Chelsea is enjoying a school-record run after also making the Quarterfinals last season but reaching the Semifinals this week for the first time. Andrea Cabana led the Grass Lake girls to the Division 3 title in 2021 and is believed to be the second woman to coach a boys team to the Semifinals, after Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Keisha Brown in 2006. Joey Cabana and Stephens both made the all-state first team last season and supply the bulk of the scoring for a contender that’s reached 70 points 10 times this winter. Chelsea has won 16 of its last 17 games, the lone loss during that time to Division 1 River Rouge by three points.

Record/rank: 22-5, No. 23
League finish: Tied for fifth in the Saginaw Valley League.
Coach: Zach Collins, third season (43-30)
Championship history: Class B champion 2009, Class B runner-up 2008.
Best wins: 81-77 over No. 4 Kingsford in Quarterfinal, 59-51 (Regional Final) and 72-67 over No. 25 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 62-58 (OT) over Division 1 No. 49 Grand Blanc, 81-78 (OT) over Division 1 No. 34 Hamtramck, 61-48 over Division 3 No. 3 Schoolcraft.
Players to watch: Jesse Cull, 6-5 jr. F (12.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Javontae Ross, 5-11 jr. G (16.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.4 apg, 3.1 spg); Connor Kelly, 6-3 sr. F (12.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.0 apg).
Outlook: Powers is returning to the Finals for the first time since its championship season after winning its first Regional title since 2013, and Collins has led a quick ascension as the team was 5-17 in his first season before jumping to 16-8 a year ago. The Chargers won 10 of their first 11 games this winter and navigated the mostly-Division 1 SVL before rumbling through a playoff run that’s seen all five opponents with winning records. Junior 6-6 center Demsey Cull adds 8.7 ppg and is the team’s second-leading 3-point shooter.

Record/rank: 25-2, No. 3
League finish: First in O-K White
Coach: Eric Taylor, sixth season (108-24)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class B champion 1938, two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 57-52 (Quarterfinal) and 69-50 over No. 22 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 61-51 over No. 1 Benton Harbor in Regional Final, 52-49 (District Final) and 58-48 over No. 18 Grand Rapids South Christian, 46-42 and 54-43 over Division 1 No. 19 Grand Rapids Northview, 60-51 over Division 1 No. 17 Muskegon.
Players to watch: Nate Johnson, 6-6 sr. G (12.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Jaylan Ouwinga, 6-8 sr. F (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Malachi Hooser, 5-11 sr. G (8.9 ppg).
Outlook: The Eagles have been in the conversation of Division 2 favorites all season with their only losses 49-47 to Warren Lincoln and 49-43 to Division 1 Byron Center. They’ve won 11 straight games heading into their first trip to Breslin since finishing Class A runner-up in 2017. Guard Quintin Willis (6.0 ppg) and forward Carter Goodyke (6.3 ppg) fill out an all-senior starting lineup for a team that’s been especially impressive defensively, holding all opponents under 60 points with 18 games giving up fewer than 50.

Record/rank: 22-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference White
Coach: Wydell Henry, sixth season (87-29)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-42 over No. 28 Goodrich in Quarterfinal, 55-44 over No. 8 Ferndale in District Final, 49-47 over No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian, 62-54 over Division 1 No. 2 East Lansing, 56-51 over Division 1 No. 11 West Bloomfield, 49-46 over Division 1 No. 16 Grosse Pointe South.
Players to watch: Markus Blackwell, 6-2 jr. G (17 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Da’Marion Bozeman, 6-5 jr. G (12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Timarion Minor, 6-5 sr. F (11.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg).
Outlook: Warren Lincoln also is making its first trip to Breslin Center after upping its wins the last four seasons from eight to 17 to 19 to this winter’s 22 and counting. The Abes prepped for this run against another of the strongest schedules in the state, with a victory as well over Detroit Old Redford and the losses to Division 1 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Grosse Pointe South, Port Huron Northern and East Kentwood. Six players are scoring at least 7.4 points per game, and junior Moses Blackwell – Markus’ twin – had 68 3-pointers entering the week to lead three with at least 45 this season.

Flint Powers Catholic's Baylor Cicalo (5) gets up a shot during a regular-season game against Davison.

Division 3

Record/rank: 20-7, No. 18 
League finish: Fourth in Charter School Conference Gold 
Coach: Ray Reeves, third season (46-18) 
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 45-44 over Flint Beecher in Quarterfinal, 52-51 over Division 2 No. 6 Romulus Summit Academy North, 61-59 over Division 2 No. 24 Detroit University Prep, 56-55 over Clarkston. 
Players to watch: Arkell Boyd, 6-3 jr. G; Kason Mayes, 6-2 jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.) 
Outlook: Old Redford clinched its first trip to the Semifinals by ending reigning champion Beecher’s repeat aspirations Tuesday. The Ravens have built steadily the last three seasons from 10 to 16 to 22 wins this winter and have won 12 straight games avenging losses to University Prep and Summit along the way. Three more defeats came to teams playing this weekend – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Ann Arbor Huron and Warren Lincoln. 

Record/rank: 25-2, No. 6 
League finish: First in Highland Conference 
Coach: Bruce Koopman, 30th season (549-158) 
Championship history: Class C champion 2002, Class C runner-up 2011. 
Best wins: 51-49 over No. 2 Menominee in Quarterfinal, 62-51 over No. 17 Sanford Meridian in Regional Final, 50-33 over No. 12 Benzie Central in District Final, 72-48 and 60-43 over No. 25 Beal City, 71-50 over Division 2 No. 15 Reed City.  
Players to watch: Evan Haverkamp, 6-9 sr. C (16.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg); Benjamin Rodenbaugh, 6-3 jr. G (7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg); Nathan Koetje, 5-7 sr. G (6.9 ppg, 2.4 apg). 
Outlook: McBain won its first Regional title since 2021 and will play in its first Semifinal since 2016 with its only losses this season to Division 1 Cadillac and Hamtramck. The Ramblers have had loads of success under longtime coach Koopman – who also has a 263-102 record as girls varsity coach over four stints – and the last four seasons have also seen two league and four District titles to go with the two Regional championships. Freshman 6-4 forward Clayton Heuker comes off the bench but is the team’s second-leading scorer at 8.1 ppg with 4.9 rebounds per game.  

Record/rank: 24-3, No. 1 
League finish: Tied for first in Lakeland Conference 
Coach: Nate Knapp, 19th season (235-174) 
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 58-34 over No. 21 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in Quarterfinal, 41-32 over No. 3 Schoolcraft in Regional Final, 56-47 over No. 48 White Pigeon in District Final, 52-50 over No. 7 Jackson Lumen Christi, 74-34 over No. 36 Bronson, 64-53 over No. 13 Watervliet, 63-57 over Division 2 No. 1 Benton Harbor, 59-48 over Division 2 No. 19 Berrien Springs, 56-43 over Division 2 No. 27 Niles.  
Players to watch: Jaremiah Palmer, 6-1 sr. F (13.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg); Nylen Goins, 6-0 soph. G (11 ppg); Byron Linley, 6-1 sr. G (13.4 ppg).  
Outlook: Brandywine is back at the Semifinals for the second-straight season and with four starters back from a year ago, with senior guard Jamier Palmer (9.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.5 spg) joining the three listed above. The Bobcats’ only losses were to Portage Central, Benton Harbor and Riverview Gabriel Richard – all league champions – and Brandywine split its Benton Harbor series to share their league title. Linley and Goins have both made more than 40 3-pointers to give the team some perimeter power.  

Record/rank: 23-3, No. 5
League finish: Tied for first in CHSL AA
Coach: Kris Daiek, 13th season (204-73)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 58-44 (Quarterfinal) and 54-48 over No. 7 Jackson Lumen Christi, 57-55 over No. 1 Niles Brandywine, 58-55 over Division 2 No. 6 Romulus Summit Academy North, 73-55 over Division 4 No. 5 Taylor Trillium Academy.
Players to watch: Nick Sobush, 5-10 jr. G (17.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.9 spg); Luke Westerdale, 6-0 jr. G (16 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.5 rpg); Charles Kage, 6-8 jr. F (10.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
Outlook: Richard is coming off its first Regional title since making the Semifinals as well in 1989, and by defeating Lumen Christi for a second time after sharing the CHSL AA title with the Titans this winter. The Pioneers have been on the verge after winning their District a year ago and going 19-1 in 2021-22. Junior forward Drew Everingham adds another eight points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and senior forward EJ Bennett at 3.1 assists is one of five players averaging at least two per game in that category.

Division 4

Record/rank: 23-4, No. 21
League finish: Second in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Mark Kraatz, 35th season (560-288)
Championship history: Class D champion 1985.
Best wins: 68-48 over No. 15 Britton Deerfield in Regional Semifinal, 60-49 over No. 5 Taylor Trillium Academy in District Final, 55-44 and 66-54 over No. 29 Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 37-35 over No. 35 Detroit Douglass in Regional Final, 52-38 over Division 3 No. 29 Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest.
Players to watch: Carlos Jackson, 6-3 soph. F (8.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.0 apg); Ethan Esse, 5-10 soph. G (20.2 ppg, 74 3-pointers, 3.4 apg); Andrew Frank, 6-3 sr. F (10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Outlook: Inter-City Baptist has posted winning seasons 31 of Kraatz’s 35 and won 24 Districts during that time, and reached this week after its first Regional title since 2012. He played on the 1985 Class D championship team and also coached the school’s girls varsity for a pair of seasons. The Chargers avenged two of their losses this winter and navigated a postseason run that’s included an overtime win and another by two points. Esse is the long-distance ace, but five more teammates had at least 10 3-pointers entering the week.

Record/rank: 25-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference
Coach: Justin Sherlock, fourth season (73-19)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1975), Class D runner-up 2006.
Best wins: 63-51 over No. 8 Maple City Glen Lake in Quarterfinal, 66-51 over No. 4 Saginaw Nouvel in Regional Semifinal, 46-43 and 59-39 over No. 20 Fulton, 64-51 over Division 3 No. 25 Beal City.
Players to watch: Noah Zeien, soph. G; Grady Pieratt, jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Sacred Heart also reached the Semifinals in Sherlock’s first season as coach, 2021, and has won its five postseason games this winter by nearly 21 points on average. The only losses came to Division 1 Cadillac and Dec. 5 to possible Saturday opponent Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, 71-41. Center Aidan Halliday is the team’s lone senior starter.

Record/rank: 21-6, No. 6
League finish: Second in Straits Area Conference
Coach: Doug Ingalls, 25th season (375-181)
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 1983).
Best wins: 68-51 over No. 12 Crystal Falls Forest Park in Quarterfinal, 58-42 over No. 10 Munising in Regional Final, 79-74 over No. 19 Onaway in Regional Semifinal, 65-60 over No. 28 Rudyard, 54-45 and 69-51 over No. 30 Pickford, 76-66 over Division 3 No. 26 Harbor Springs.
Players to watch: Jonny Ingalls, 6-0 sr. G (30 ppg, 59 3-pointers, 9.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 4.0 spg, 2.5 bpg); Nick Halberg, 6-3 sr. F (10.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg); Ethan McLean, 6-3 sr. G/F (11.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
Outlook: Ingalls originally took over the program in 1992-93 fresh off setting Northern Michigan University’s career assists record, and he returned for a third tenure in 2020-21 and has brought the Saints back to the Semifinals for the first time since the Class D runner-up season of 1983. This will be his final season as boys basketball coach; he’s also partnered with wife Dorene to lead the St. Ignace girls to 516 wins and five Finals titles. Jonny is their son and a stat sheet machine, and he has plenty of help including also senior forward Kordell KillsCrow (8.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.4 spg).

Record/rank: 22-5, No. 7
League finish: Second in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 37th season (692-216)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2022), six runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 65-29 over No. 34 St. Joseph Our Lady of the Lake Catholic in Quarterfinal, 46-39 over No. 23 Fowler in Regional Semifinal, 71-41 over No. 2 Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 52-41 over Wyoming Godwin Heights.
Players to watch: Jordan VanKlompenberg, 6-2 sr. G (12.8 ppg, 55 3-pointers, 5.0 rpg, 3.6 apg); Keaton Blanker, 5-10 jr. G (7.8 ppg, 4.6 apg); Wesley Kaman, 6-1 sr. G/F (10.5 ppg).
Outlook: Tri-unity Christian fell just a basket shy of a sixth championship a year ago, falling to Munising 39-37 in the Final, but is back at the Semifinals for the fifth-straight season (not counting COVID-canceled 2020). All of the team’s losses were to opponents from Divisions 1, 2 or 3, and the Defenders have won 12 of their last 13 games. Keeler is up to fourth on the list of winningest boys basketball coaches in state history. Seven players average at least five points per game, with 6-6 junior center Joey Mellon (7.0) providing a nice boost off the bench.

PHOTOS (Top) Warren Lincoln's Markus Blackwell (2) blocks a shot during the Abes' 61-42 Quarterfinal win over Goodrich on Tuesday. (Middle) Flint Powers Catholic's Baylor Cicalo (5) gets up a shot during a regular-season game against Davison. (Photos by Terry Lyons.)

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.)