Anticipation High as Statewide Football Eyes Turn to History-Chasing Mason

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

August 8, 2023

MASON – The drone lightly buzzing overhead during the final hour of Mason’s first practice was providing coaches another point of view as another season got underway Monday evening.

Mid-MichiganBut those shouldn’t be the only eyes watching the Bulldogs these days.

Two years ago, the Bulldogs started grabbing attention with a run of eight straight wins that landed them a first Regional championship with a stunning 20-17 win over frequent contender Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.

A statewide audience began focusing in last season on the 8,200-resident town just south of Lansing as Mason returned to the Division 3 Semifinals and finished 12-1, setting a school record for wins with the only loss coming to eventual champion Detroit Martin Luther King for the second-consecutive season.

The Bulldogs return nine starters on offense and eight on defense this fall, led in part by two four-year varsity players and three in their third seasons on the top squad. Not tuning in would be a mistake – and mean missing out on potentially another historic effort.

“It started when we beat the Brother Rice team two seasons ago. That kinda kicked off a little bit of a spark for us here at Mason, and the energy just became the difference,” said senior lineman Nick Saade, one of those three-year varsity standouts. “You could just tell. All of our coaches have been at the weight room every day, giving us harder workouts as each year progresses. We’ve increased everything. The energy is there, all the seniors are back. We’re ready to go.”

Practices in nine sports started for an estimated 95,000 athletes across 750 MHSAA member high schools Monday. And Mason football got a running start. On what felt like the most comfortable first day of practice weather-wise in recent memory, there was no sign the Bulldogs were aiming to sit comfortably after what they’d accomplished the last two seasons.

So many experienced returnees means less to teach the greater group and an opportunity for coaches to start game-planning and focusing on details they might not get to usually until the first third of the season is done.

The program has had plenty of success over the years, including a stretch of 14 winning seasons over 15 from 2002-16. But the combined 39-6 record over the last four seasons is unmatched in Bulldogs history and made Mason a place to be for local media Monday as expectations – and anticipation – likely have never been higher.

“Expectations are high, no question about it – and it’s exciting,” said seventh-year coach Gary Houghton, whose only sub-.500 finish came his first season in 2017. “These guys love a challenge, our coaches love a challenge. … We feel like we have a blueprint that leads to success, and we’re going to stay to that blueprint.

“We’ve tweaked some little things, but the core of what we do, we’re going to continue to do. With the added experience we have coming back, I think we have an opportunity to take it to another level.”

Third-year starting quarterback Cason Carswell lines up under center.Mason took a solid offense to nearly unstoppable last season, upping its per-game scoring average 12 points to 43 per game. Junior Cason Carswell should begin approaching Mason career passing records in his third season as the starter after setting single-season school records with 2,403 yards and 34 scores through the air last fall in making the Division 3-4 all-state second team.

The Bulldogs return all but one receiver among last year’s starting skill players, with senior running back AJ Martel entering his fourth season on varsity after running for 1,273 yards and 20 scores a year ago behind a line that returns Saade among three starters.

The defense was two points better per game last fall than in 2021 while facing another tough playoff slate, giving up 15 points per game. The entire linebacking group returns, with senior Kaleb Parrish having been named the Lansing State Journal Defensive Player of the Year last season. Senior Derek Badgley and junior Logan Doerr also received postseason all-area recognition at linebacker, as did seniors Tyler Baker and Cole Ries in the defensive backfield and senior Grant Gilchrist and junior Sam Corey up front. Junior Collin Winters, also a soccer player, was an all-area kicker last fall.

The energy Monday was undeniable. Houghton loves the chemistry this group has developed over the last three seasons, starting as a young team grew together during that 2021 run. He credits rebuilding the program’s culture, undertaken in several ways purposefully, as putting this team in this position to put the last two years of experiences and learning toward another championship opportunity.

“Just stay confident. Know you can get the job done. Just trust your teammates,” Carswell said he has learned most.

“We all have huge hopes. A couple of years ago, it was like, ‘Let’s make the playoffs. Let’s make a big run.” Now it’s let’s go for it all.”

Geoff KimmerlyGeoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He is a senior editor of's editorial content and has served as MHSAA Communications Director since January 2021. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Linemen work on one-on-one drills during Mason’s first football practice Monday evening. (Middle) Third-year starting quarterback Cason Carswell lines up under center. (Photos by Geoff Kimmerly.)

Performance of the Week: Gladwin's Jhace Massey

September 22, 2023

Jhace MasseyJhace Massey ♦ Gladwin
Senior ♦ Football

Massey, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound starting receiver for the reigning Division 5 champion, moved to quarterback after the team’s starter and top backup were injured against rival Clare on Friday. He went on to run 18 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns, throw for 61 yards and two scores and snag a fourth-quarter interception to help land the Flying Gs a 44-28 victory after they’d trailed 21-3.

The win put Gladwin in first place alone in the Jack Pine Conference halfway through the league schedule. The Flying Gs entered the game ranked No. 4 in Division 5 by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, and Clare was ranked No. 8 in Division 6. Although football has become his favorite sport, Massey also is a top contributor on the basketball team and ran primarily the 100 and 200 meters and on relays during track season in the spring.

@mhsaasports POW: Jhace Massey #football #quarterback #gladwin #letsgo #touchdown #interception #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

@mhsaasports 🏈 POW: Jhace Massey #tiktalk #questiontime #part2 #mcdonalds #gymclass #stephcurry30 #tacotuesday #thumbsup #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

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Past 2023-24 Honorees

Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8:
Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1:
Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report

(Top photo by Mike Kolleth. Headshot provided by the Gladwin football program.)