Soaring Eagles Score Big with Record Range

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 25, 2020

HANNAHVILLE – The Hannahville Nah Tah Wahsh boys basketball team likes to play uptempo and has a knack for hitting 3-point field goals.

The Soaring Eagles excelled at both on their home court Feb. 5 when they sank an Upper Peninsula-record 24 3-point shots in a 73-39 triumph over Northern Lights League rival Big Bay de Noc. They also drained 20 trifectas just four days earlier in a 68-20 victory on Mackinac Island.

In addition to tops in the U.P., the 24 3-pointers also rank third all-time in MHSAA history, while the 20 are tied for seventh-most by a team in one game.

"We didn't think that was a big deal," said 6-foot-2 junior Joe Larson, who connected on six 3-point shots for 18 points against Big Bay. "It's just great to be part of this program. It's like a family atmosphere.

“Coach (Josh Eagle) wants us to split it up a little. He wants us to work the ball inside and continue shooting the threes. Getting the record was so much fun and getting 20 at Mackinac Island got us a step closer. We still need to work on some little things in practice. Once we get those ironed out, we'll be fine."

Eagle tries to encourage the players to take the 3-point shots, which he believes is just part of the game.

"We try to get a shot up pretty quick," he said. "Earlier this season, the kids were pretty shy about shooting the threes when we were facing zones. Now, they're not shy. Our strength is running the floor. We try to launch as many threes as we can and get offensive rebounds."

The Soaring Eagles (14-4) rode an eight-game winning streak into last weekend's NLL Tournament, where they beat Beaver Island and then lost in the championship game to Kinross Maplewood Baptist.

In their previous outing the Saturday before, sophomore Gage Sagataw scored 23 points as the Soaring Eagles hung on for a 60-58 triumph over Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter.

Sagataw sank seven triples and scored 22 points on Hannahville's record-setting night.

"It felt great to do that," he said. "We've been close friends for a long time, which made it more special. We put a lot of time in on our shooting in the offseason, but sometimes we have to rely on our defense. It doesn't bother me if I miss a three because I know we just have to get back on defense.”

Hannahville now will prepare for the Division 4 District tournament at Rapid River. The Soaring Eagles face Rock Mid Peninsula in a District Semifinal on March 11.

Eagle coached the girls team at neighboring Bark River-Harris for three seasons prior to returning as boys coach to the school on the Potawatomi Reservation in northeastern Menominee County.

"They always work real hard, and we're giving them the opportunity to become men," said Eagle, who coached boys and girls basketball at Hannahville prior to his time at BR-H. "Training the kids to be good people and teaching them the value of hard work is the main objective. Seth Miller (former coach), Ross Rahoi (current assistant coach) and I work with each other and other people from the community to help make them good representatives.

"We're proud of all the players. They're good ambassadors for the community, and as always, there's a long road ahead of us."

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hannahville’s Joe Larson (14) looks for an open teammate during this past weekend’s Northern Lights League Tournament game against Mackinac Island. (Middle) Gage Sagataw brings the ball up the court. (Photos by Robyn Rhode.)

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.)