'Football Guys' Play Big Roles for Big Reds

February 6, 2020

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Cameron Martinez is not done having fun in high school.

Martinez, MLive’s two-time Michigan High School Football Player of the Year, signed his national letter of intent to play football at Ohio State during a midday event Wednesday at Muskegon High School.

But unlike the rest of the Buckeyes’ incoming class, who are either specializing in only football or have already left their high schools and early-enrolled in Columbus, Martinez is playing a key role for the Big Reds’ state-ranked basketball team.

“I want to enjoy being a high school kid as long as I can,” said Martinez, who rushed for 6,491 yards and 145 touchdowns during his four-year varsity football career, with his first two years at Muskegon Catholic Central and the last two at Muskegon High.

“I really do enjoy playing basketball, and we want to make a long run. We still haven’t played our best game yet.”

Martinez is not the only Division I football signee who chose to honor his commitment on the hardcourt for Muskegon.

Billie Roberts and Jordan Porter, who both will play defensive line at Bowling Green, provide valuable muscle inside for the Big Reds, who are ranked No. 7 in Division 1 in the latest Associated Press poll.

Muskegon is 10-1, with its only loss coming Jan. 4 against visiting Chicago Curie, the top-ranked team in Illinois. In addition to being perfect in Ottawa-Kent Conference Black play, the Big Reds have pulled out tight nonleague wins over Rockford, East Kentwood, Ferndale and, most recently, Saginaw on Saturday at the Redhawk Showcase in Grand Rapids.

Muskegon coach Keith Guy, who also happens to be the stepfather of Martinez, shudders at the thought of not having the three Division I football recruits on his team.

“We do things a little different around here,” said Guy, explaining the symbiotic relationship between the Big Reds’ football and basketball programs. “I am thankful that these guys play football. They bring physical toughness, leadership and just an expectation of winning.”

Martinez, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound guard, averages 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but his big contribution is as the team’s defensive stopper. While in football he electrified the crowd with his offense (Exhibit A: His seven rushing touchdowns in this year’s playoff opener against Marquette), in basketball he brings the fans to their feet by locking down on the opponent’s best player.

“It’s a lot like playing defensive back, where you are guarding someone 1-on-1,” explained Martinez, who is projected as a defensive back and kick returner at Ohio State.

Roberts, a 6-5, 270-pound post player, has been slowed and often sidelined by a lingering stress reaction in his fibula, and is averaging just one point and one rebound per game.

Guy, who led Muskegon to the Class A championship in 2014, said his big man is starting to get healthier, which will be critical as the team chases its ultimate goal of another Finals title.

Porter, a 6-4, 240-pound forward, brings size and versatility off the bench. He averages 2.5 points and four rebounds per game.

“Basketball helps me so much,” said Porter, who is projected as a defensive end and hybrid lineman/linebacker at Bowling Green. “Obviously, it helps me conditioning-wise. But it really helps with footwork and moves.”

Muskegon High School gets more than its fair share of visits from college football coaches, and many ask to watch basketball practice to get better looks at their prospects’ athletic abilities. Those coaches especially like to see how well linemen prospects like Roberts and Porter can move.

“I got my first offer from Indiana in my sophomore year because of basketball,” said Roberts, who went 52-4 during his four-year varsity football career and played in four MHSAA championship games at Ford Field. “They knew I had good size, but they saw that I could run and move and I think that’s why they offered me.”

Roberts is starting to move better every day, according to Guy, and Guy said that’s a big reason for his team’s improved play of late. After a narrow win at Ferndale on Jan. 20, the Big Reds blew out four straight conference opponents before Saturday’s dramatic win over Saginaw.

Guy sported an Ohio State football T-shirt during Wednesday’s signing event, but his mind was on this weekend’s big back-to-back games – Friday at Grand Rapids Union and Saturday at home against Grand Blanc.

He expects Muskegon’s historic Redmond-Potter Gymnasium to be rocking and rolling Saturday, when Grand Blanc, 10-3 and an honorable mention in Division 1, rolls in with standout 6-5 sophomore Ty Rodgers.

Muskegon will counter Rodgers with a veteran team, including five senior starters and one of the state’s best backcourt duos in Jarvis Walker and Vernon Nash III. Walker, a Mr. Basketball candidate, averages 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, while Nash averages 14.8 points.

The X-factor in Saturday’s showdown might be the Big Reds’ “football guys,” who Guy hopes will give his team a physical and mental edge.

Roberts can’t wait.

“There’s nothing like high school,” explained Roberts, flashing a big grin. “I could have early enrolled, but I didn’t want to miss my senior basketball season and prom and all that. I want to stay a kid a little bit longer.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon’s Cameron Martinez, right, walls off a Chicago Curie ball handler during their teams’ Jan. 4 matchup. (Middle) The Big Reds’ Billie Roberts works to gather a loose ball. (Below) Jordan Porter makes a move to the basket. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.