Thanks in Part to Super Subs, Balanced Lincoln Set to Make Finals Debut

By Steve Vedder
Special for

March 15, 2024

EAST LANSING – It may be that Warren Lincoln is short on star power.

But success certainly isn't lacking.

In fact, the Abes' latest includes the chance to play in their first state championship game after surging to a 60-48 win over Flint Powers Catholic in Friday's first Division 2 Semifinal at the Breslin Center.

Warren Lincoln does have four players averaging more than nine points per game. But coach Wydell Henry said it's hard to single out a particular player as a bona fide star.

"Who is our superstar? We don't have one," said Wydell, whose team advanced to Saturday's 6:45 p.m. finale. "Sometimes a star shines through, but today it was the bench."

How impressive was the bench? Warren Lincoln's subs outscored Powers’ 27-1, with a handful of non-starters on the floor for a devastating 19-7 run over 10 minutes from the last minute of the first quarter to the 7:10 mark of the third.

It's a bench which has evolved during the season, junior guard Markus Blackwell said. Four months ago, during the opening weeks of practice, there were some roles which were up in the air. But Blackwell said those roles were quickly defined, and success followed.

"We knew in the summer we were going to have depth," said Blackwell, who led the Abes with 20 points. "We just needed to get better and learn to make shots. Everyone can score, everyone can make their shots. That's what makes it a lot of fun."

Jamari Culver (23) looks for an opening with Cull attempting to wall off his path. Warren Lincoln (23-4) trailed by as much as 17-9 with 54 seconds left in the first quarter. But the Abes tied the game 20-20 on a 3-pointer by Christopher Morgan with 5:15 left in the half, then outscored Powers 17-6 in the third quarter.

The closest Powers came after that was 47-40 with five minutes left in the game, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Blackwell clinched the win.

Javontae Ross led Powers (22-6) with 16 points, and Connor Kelly added 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Wydell said his team goes nine deep and considering the returning experience this season, he was expecting Lincoln to be a factor. The Abes finished 9-1 to claim the Macomb Area Conference White title, and all four its losses this season were to strong Division 1 teams.

"I knew we had eight back and that was going to be deep enough," he said. "I didn't know who, but we have guys who work hard. We just needed to put it together.”

Defensively, Warren Lincoln held Powers to just 40.8-percent (20 of 49) shooting from the field. The Chargers were slowed by 14 turnovers, many when it seemed they could make a run.

"Offensively, we got a little bogged down today; we couldn't find any rhythm. They scouted us well. It wasn't any particular player, we just couldn't find the hoop," Powers coach Zach Collins said. "They definitely have depth, they go about nine deep and they're huge. They go 6-5, 6-6 and can roll in a lot of guys. They can roll in a lot of guys who understand their scheme. We knew that was something we'd have to contend with."

Wydell said the game-clinching run came after a timeout in which he told the players ignore any pressure.

"We called a timeout, got together and just told the kids to relax," he said. "Hopefully it would work because we really didn't have any answers. We just had to settle down and play the right way."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Warren Lincoln’s Markus Blackwell (2) cuts between Flint Powers Catholic defenders Grant Garman (2) and Dempsey Cull (35) during Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal. (Middle) Jamari Culver (23) looks for an opening with Cull attempting to wall off his path. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)