D3 Preview: Challengers Lined Up as Beecher Seeks to Complete Repeat Run

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 23, 2022

Flint Beecher is one of three 2021 champions returning to the Boys Basketball Finals this weekend, and the Bucs are among the most frequent visitors to Breslin Center with Thursday’s to be their eighth Semifinal appearance over the last 13 years.

That’s a pretty imposing opener for describing any bracket. But this one could be especially loaded with Schoolcraft also making a return trip and Menominee and Ecorse showing strong credentials all season long.

DIVISON 3 Semifinals – Thursday
Menominee (22-3) vs. Ecorse (9-12), Noon
Schoolcraft (23-2) vs. Flint Beecher (22-2), 2 p.m.
FINAL  Saturday – 4:30 p.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit, with the Division 4 and 1 games on BSD EXTRA and the Division 3 and 2 games on BSD’s primary channel. All four will be broadcast live 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.

Here’s a look at the four Division 3 semifinals (with rankings by MPR at the end of the regular season, and statistics through Regional Finals):

Record/rank: 9-12, No. 148
League finish: Fourth in Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Black
Coach: Gerrod Abram, third season (39-20)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1978, Class B Lower Peninsula runner-up 1942.
Best wins: 49-47 over Erie Mason in Regional Final, 73-71 over Riverview Gabriel Richard in District Semifinal.
Players to watch: Malik Olafioye, 6-2 jr. G; Kenneth Morrast Jr., 6-1 jr. G. (Statistics not provided.)
Outlook: Ecorse is headed to the Semifinals for the first time since 1980. It’s important to note the team’s MPR would have been much higher without 10 forfeits over the first two months of the regular season; the Raiders instead would be 16-5. And they’ve appeared to be Division 3 contenders from the start, with since-forfeited wins over Division 1 Brownstown Woodhaven (19-5) and Division 2 River Rouge (17-4). The District win over Gabriel Richard was the Pioneers’ only loss of the season. This group should continue to be strong; only one senior starts and there are only two seniors total on a roster that includes four sophomores and a freshman.

Record/rank: 22-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Marquise Gray, first season (22-2)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 72-41 over No. 5 Reese in District Final, 84-68 over Division 2 No. 12 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 75-69 over Division 2 No. 6 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 63-60 over Flint Carman-Ainsworth.
Players to watch: Carmelo Harris, 6-0 sr. G; James Cummings II, 6-3 sr. F. (Statistics not provided.)
Outlook: The Bucs returned to win last season’s championship, their first since 2017, and have lost only to Division 1 Grand Blanc (20-5) and Detroit Martin Luther King (19-3) this winter while handing reigning Division 2 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central (24-1) its lone defeat. Gray memorably starred at Beecher and Michigan State and played overseas before returning and serving as an assistant coach in advance of taking over the program. Harris and Cummings started on last season’s team, and 6-3 junior Robert Lee II was the only sub who saw more than two minutes of time in last year’s Final. Harris also is a returning all-state first-teamer.

Record/rank: 22-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Great Northern Conference
Coach: Sam Larson, fifth season (48-51)
Championship history: Class B champion 1967
Best wins: 60-56 (2OT) over No. 19 Benzie Central in Regional Final, 74-57 over Ishpeming Westwood in Regional Semifinal, 83-45 over Iron Mountain in District Final, 77-44 and 65-62 over Division 2 No. 1 Escanaba, 51-26 and 72-40 over Division 4 No. 4 Powers North Central.
Players to watch: Aidan Bellisle, 6-2 sr. G (15.4 ppg, 4.8 apg); Cooper Conway, 6-4 sr. F (12.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Brady Schultz, 6-6 sr. F (12 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg).
Outlook: The Maroons have improved from 4-17 just three seasons ago to making the Semifinals for the first time since 2008. The only two in-state losses this winter came over the last five weeks, to Escanaba in the teams’ third meeting of the season (after Menominee won the first two, and by a point to Division 4 semifinalist Ewen-Trout Creek. Five seniors start, with three sophomores playing the most prominent roles off the bench. Larson was a sophomore on the 2008 team that lost to Lansing Catholic in Class B at Breslin.

Record/rank: 23-2, No. 6
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley
Coach: Randy Small, 17th season (329-67)
Championship history: Class C champion 2011, runner-up 2009.
Best wins: 60-57 (Quarterfinal) and 61-32 over No. 17 Pewamo-Westphalia, 45-31 over No. 14 Watervliet in Regional Final, 59-31 (District Final), 51-40 and 54-41 over No. 18 Kalamazoo Christian, 49-45 over Division 2 No. 5 Parchment.
Players to watch: Tyler DeGroote, 6-7 sr. F (16.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg); Shane Rykse, 6-3 soph. G (13.1 ppg, 53 3-pointers); Ty Rykse, 6-7 sr. F (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.3 apg).
Outlook: Schoolcraft is making a repeat appearance at Breslin and fell by just four in overtime in last season’s Semifinal against Iron Mountain. The Golden Eagles are a combined 63-4 over the last three seasons. DeGroote and Shane Rykse were main contributors last season as well – DeGroote earned an all-state honorable mention – and Ty Rykse also started in the Semifinal. The defeats this season came to Division 1 Hudsonville and Parchment, and Schoolcraft avenged the latter. Senior point guard Asher Puhalski adds another 7.2 points, four rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

PHOTO Flint Beecher’s Keyonta Menifield goes to the basket during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win over New Haven. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)