NorthPointe Comes Back to Land 1st Final

March 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Preston Huckaby is a four-year varsity starter for Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian’s basketball team. 

So he had a decent idea what was necessary to earn one more chance to suit up for the Mustangs, and with history on the line.

NorthPointe trailed Boyne City by 12 points less than a minute into the second quarter of their Class C Semifinal at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center. 

Huckaby sank his first shot seconds later – and went on to score a game-high 26 points to lead the Mustangs back and into their first MHSAA Final with a 48-45 edging of the Ramblers.

“I think going into the game, we were a little nervous, this being our first time in this type of environment. We said if we want to play another game, we have to do what we need to do to win this game,” Huckaby said. “I think I needed to be more aggressive. That’s what I needed to do to get our team where we needed to be.” 

And that’s in Saturday’s 4 p.m. Class C Final, where NorthPointe (21-5) will seek its first MHSAA title, taking on Flint Beecher.

Huckaby was a solid 9 of 20 from the floor and also grabbed nine rebounds. And falling in line with that "aggressive" approach, he made a final deciding play at the other end of the court. 

Boyne City (21-6) came back from a 23-point swing to pull within 46-45 with 31 seconds to play. The Ramblers took two strong drives to the basket – the first ended with miss but an offensive rebound; Huckaby stepped in front of the second and took a charge that all but sealed the win. He made two free throws to extend NorthPointe's lead to three, and Boyne City’s final shot to tie hit off the front of the rim.

“He might be the all-time leading scorer in our school’s history, but in my three years at NorthPointe he’s probably taken 75 charges,” NorthPointe coach Jared Redell said of his senior guard. “If there was a stat on all-time charge takers, I imagine not only at our school, but he’d be close to a state record.” 

Boyne City senior guard Cole Butler scored 11 of his team’s first 15 points as the Ramblers quickly built their early double-digit advantage. Huckaby scored 11 points during the second quarter, his last-second shot tying the score at 26-26 heading into halftime.

Senior Andrew Holesinger opened the second half with a 3-pointer to give NorthPointe its first lead in more than 13 minutes. But Butler got hot again in the fourth quarter, scoring five more points to put Boyne City in position to take back the lead. 

“We talked about coming in today, playing loose, playing confident and playing to win. And I felt we did that tonight,” Boyne City coach Nick Redman said. “We got off to a great start, and I’m super proud of that. They gave themselves an opportunity to win, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Butler had 16 points and 10 rebounds taking on the lead role from senior teammate Corey Redman, who will play at Central Michigan University next season. Redman ended with only six points and five rebounds playing 30 minutes despite a foot sprain he suffered during the District that required he wear a walking boot. 

Senior guard Zach Napont added five points, five rebounds, seven assists and four steals for the Ramblers, who started four seniors total. Holesinger added nine points for NorthPointe and a key blocked shot on Boyne City’s first attempt to re-take the lead with 1:25 to play.

Leaders from both teams brought experience at this level into Thursday – both schools’ football teams advanced to the Division 6 Semifinals this fall. 

But NorthPointe coach Jared Redell saw his team’s nerves early in the shots it was allowing and the way the Mustangs seemed out of sync.

“The third quarter always has been great for us, all tournament long,” Redell said. “We barely hung on, and you don’t want to hang on; we want to make sure we finish and we put them away. There’s a lot of things to learn from the game, and the good thing is we get to learn from them and play another game.” 

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

PHOTOS: (Top) NorthPointe Christian’s Andrew Holesinger (23) drives during Thursday’s Class C Semifinal. (Middle) Boyne City’s Zach Napont pushes the ball upcourt against a number of defenders.

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.)