By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half
BEAR LAKE — Samantha Mullet lives and breathes football.
Mullet figures to be right in her element then when she takes part in the National Football League’s “Women’s Careers in Football Forum” over Feb. 26-27 in Indianapolis.
The Bear Lake assistant football coach is among a select group of 40 invitees to the event, which is in its third year and includes panel discussions, presentations and breakout sessions in an effort to connect female candidates for positions as coaches, trainers, officials, scouts and front office personnel. The forum was developed as part of the NFL’s interest in expanding diversity and providing opportunities for women in football.
“It’s a really big honor,” said Mullet, who has been the Lakers’ offensive coordinator the last two years. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to go and learn more about football — all aspects of the game at different levels and be able to bring that back to Bear Lake.”
Bear Lake athletic director Karen Leinaar was contacted by the NFL in November about having Mullet apply to attend the forum. The league then selected the 40 invitees from a collection of nationwide applicants. Leinaar believes the publicity Mullet received from video features done by Fox Sports Detroit and local CBS affiliate WWTV tipped the NFL to extend the offer for Mullet to apply.
“Between those two things, that caught the eye of someone at the NFL front office,” said Leinaar. “I had never heard of this forum. They contacted me and asked if I would give them Sam’s information, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, yes.’ Here’s a young lady who loves the game and has literally sunk her soul into the game. It’s amazing, and this is a great opportunity for her.”
Mullet is a 2013 graduate of Bear Lake, where she played basketball, golf and ran cross country. But the school didn’t get its own football program until an 8-player squad was established in 2017 — just as Mullet was returning home after earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Concordia University-Ann Arbor.
She approached her high school science teacher, John Prokes, who had been named the head coach of the program and asked him if she could help in any capacity. Prokes surprised Mullet by inviting her to help design the new team’s offense. She followed through with so much proficiency that Prokes extended an offer for her to join his coaching staff.
“I said, ‘Here’s an offense I’m thinking of running; can you outline this and tweak it? Let’s go over it and help me organize this offense,’” Prokes recalled. “It started from there. Next thing you know, she took over. She started incorporating her ideas and just running with it. It was a no-brainer. I told her, ‘You’re good at this. You’re hard-working on it. You take it to that 11th level. You run our offense.’”
Mullet has proven to have a great football mind in the two years she’s been with the program, added Prokes.
“I’ve encountered a lot of people, and I’m not just saying this because she’s my assistant coach and working with me, but she’s one of the most knowledgeable people in football that I know,” he said. “When I found out she was selected for this, and she had the opportunity to share experiences and network with other people in the field, I was extremely excited and pumped for her.”
Despite not playing on the gridiron, football has always been a part of Mullet’s life. Her family has had season tickets to Michigan State games for the past 20 years, and she picked up a great deal of knowledge about football along the way.
“We always went to football games as a family,” she said. “Football is something I’ve loved forever, for as long as I can remember. I’m really grateful to be able to turn a passion into a career. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do something they love for work. I’m really grateful that football has become for me something I can do and something I can share with other people because the game means a lot to me.”
Mullet’s passion for football has only deepened through coaching, as has her understanding of the game.
“I spend all my time now watching film and researching different things,” she said. “My knowledge has definitely increased, even more than I thought it could. I just love the game in so many more ways, seeing all the different levels that you don’t see being in the stands.”
Besides coaching football, Mullet also serves as Leinaar’s assistant in the athletic department and is the school’s yearbook advisor. Her dream job, however, would be to become an offensive coordinator in the NFL.
“I think that would be the ultimate thing,” she said. “Just to gain that perspective from that sideline and all the things that happen in a week there. To be completely immersed in football all the time and not have to have a different part-time job, to be completely absorbed in football would be amazing.”
Leinaar thinks the connections Mullet could make at the upcoming forum might open new doors in the world of football, perhaps even allowing Mullet to someday get a position at the highest level of the sport.
“I’m hoping that she gets an opportunity to keep going in football,” said Leinaar. “I think the sky is the limit for her. She would truly like to see what’s there at the next level and how they do some of the things they do. I think if somebody gave her an opportunity to work in one of their front offices, she’d be there in a heartbeat.”
Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
VIDEO: Fox Sports Detroit featured the Bear Lake 8-player football program during its first season in 2017. The above photo is taken from that video.
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)