Bucs Take Place Among Beecher Greats

March 28, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — Flint Beecher's basketball players warmed up Saturday wearing red and white T-shirts proclaiming the 2015 Buccaneers as Genesee Area Conference Red Division champions. 

It was certainly an understated look for a team with much loftier goals than league titles.

The expectation for young basketball players growing up in the Beecher community the past 40 years has been MHSAA Finals championships — and nothing less. 

This year's players added their names to the list of greats who have gone before them by beating Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 78-52, in the MHSAA Class C title game at the Breslin Center.

It was Beecher's third championship in the last four years and sixth overall. The Buccaneers have played in 10 Finals and 16 Semifinals over the last 40 years. 

There were some down years as well. But all any of the current players can remember are Beecher teams that have been legitimate threats to win it all.

"We don't think about losing," Beecher coach Mike Williams said. "We prepare to win. We don't prepare to lose. We set a standard that we want to win championships. It's important that the kids learn how to set goals and how to work toward them. That's one thing they get from me is that discipline, that structure that in life there's going to be competition, no matter what you do or where you go. You need to learn how to prepare. 

“The other thing is you have to have an edge and you have to have a chip on your shoulder. We don't want to be just an average team; we want to be the best."

There was no doubt Beecher was the best team in Class C this season. 

The Buccaneers (26-1) won their eight postseason games by an average margin of 31.4 points, with the closest game an 18-point decision over Southfield Christian in the Regional Final.

Not even a team good enough to play on the final day of the season could pose a serious threat to this Buccaneers squad. Beecher scored the first eight points of the game and led by 23 early in the second quarter. 

"You know, they're a great team," NorthPointe coach Jared Redell said. "They've been the gold standard of Class C basketball for a long time. ... Obviously, Flint Beecher's been here a ton. They know what to expect. All those kids growing up, when they're in middle school watching the high school kids win state championships and coming to the Breslin Center all the time, that has a big part in terms of the culture of the school."

This would have been Beecher's sixth straight trip to the Breslin Center if not for a devastating loss to Pewamo-Westphalia in last year's Quarterfinals. The Buccaneers led by four points with less than 15 seconds to go, but lost 42-41. 

It was a painful memory that drove the Buccaneers all season.

"Last year we learned we can't take anything for granted," said senior Samuel Toins, who was 5 for 10 from 3-point range while scoring 17 points. "Every day in practice, we went hard and didn't goof around. I just wanted to lead my team and leave my legacy with this program." 

Junior Aquavius Burks is the only Buccaneer who played in the nail-biter championship game Beecher won 40-39 against Laingsburg two years ago, scoring nine points in 21 minutes in that game. Backup Mike Herd was on the varsity that season.

Burks was one of four Buccaneers in double figures on Saturday, scoring 15 points to go with 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. 

"I feel relieved it's over with and we won," Burks said.

Other than Burks, it was an entirely different cast. The 2012 and 2013 championship teams were led by Monte Morris, the 2013 Mr. Basketball who is having a successful career at Iowa State. Morris, whose Cyclones were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, was in the stands cheering on his alma mater Saturday. 

"That's like their big brother," Williams said. "We knew he was coming home. He was at practice yesterday. Monte was calling, keeping up with us the whole way."

There would be no repeat of 2013, when Beecher had to hold on for dear life to turn aside an upset bid by Laingsburg. 

The Buccaneers were up 8-0 with 5:52 left in the first quarter and build leads of 25-5 and 28-8 during that opening period. A 3-pointer by Malik Ellison with 6:48 left in the second quarter made it 33-10 before the Mustangs (21-6) were able to settle down and play on relatively even terms the rest of the game.

"I felt like if we got out to a good start that we could play with them, and it was the start that killed us," Redell said. "We were down 20 at the end of the first quarter. Part of it was, obviously, them and their pressure. The other part was we're not beating them shooting 30 percent from the floor. We had to come out and make shots in order to be right there with them." 

Beecher's trademark pressure defense led to an 18-6 advantage in points off of turnovers for the Buccaneers.

"We wanted to throw the first punch," Williams said. "We wanted to get out and pressure them." 

NorthPointe got within 33-17 midway through the second quarter, but Beecher responded with a 12-2 run. Beecher shot 52.9 percent in the first half on its way to a 45-21 lead at the break.

The lead reached 52-26 with 5:04 left in the third quarter. The closest NorthPointe got after that was 18 points. 

All-stater Cedric Moten shot 11 for 13 from the floor while scoring a game-high 24 points.

"I just came out and tried to do my best to help my team win," Moten said. "That's basically it. Whatever it took to get the win was what I was going to do. The shots were going in." 

Ellison, a sophomore who took over for Morris last year as the starting point guard, had 10 points. Levane Blake grabbed 10 rebounds.

Kual Nhial had 16 points and 10 rebounds (eight offensive), Tyler Baker 14 points and Preston Huckaby 10 points for NorthPointe.

Click for the full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Beecher's Mike Herd drives for a shot during Saturday's Class C Final. (Middle) NorthPointe's Preston Huckaby looks for an opening. 

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

By Jason Juno
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)