Building Beginning as Okemos Follows 1st-Year Coach Scott-Emuakpor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

August 9, 2022

OKEMOS – The football lay on the turf, landing there before the play had really begun, and the most booming voice from the tallest man on the field yelled a reassuring, “It’s OK. Let’s go,” followed the next play by “Go again,” and then “Figure it out.”

Mid-MichiganAn hour earlier, first-year Okemos varsity football coach Efe Scott-Emuakpor had been on the phone asking a parent to bring the helmet and practice jersey one of his players had left at home. Nearby, another small group also stood helmetless as they hadn’t yet gotten the pre-participation physical required to join their friends on the field.

Those are typical first-day glitches no matter the school, and fall practices for all sports began Monday at 750 high schools across the state.

But those relatively minor symptoms are what Scott-Emuakpor is focused on treating in the immediate term as he takes on one of the most serious rebuilding efforts in Michigan high school football.

“This is progress,” Scott-Emuakpor said halfway through his team’s first practice, looking out at 39 players on Okemos’ game field – 33 more than showed up for his first offseason workout.

“We’d like to have everything right now. But it’s growing. It’s slowly growing.”

And after Monday, Okemos is one step closer to what would be an incredible turnaround story.

The Wolves have not won since Week 2 of the 2019 season, a stretch of 23 games. After scoring on an 84-yard run during the first quarter of last fall’s opener against Mason, Okemos didn’t score again the rest of the season.

Standing 6-foot-3, and still only a few years from his last college game as a receiver at Ball State University, Scott-Emuakpor looks capable of stepping back into a huddle at a moment’s notice. A little more than a decade ago, in 2011, he was beginning a senior season at East Lansing that would see him cap his varsity career in the MHSAA record book with 134 catches, gaining 1,624 yards, over three seasons. He also was an all-leaguer in basketball and Finals placer in high jump before joining the Cardinals.

Okemos footballAfter graduating from Ball State with a computer science bachelor’s degree, and on the way to earning his master’s in business from Saginaw Valley State University, Scott-Emuakpor came home and has worked nearly six years as a business systems analyst with Red Cedar Solutions Group on efforts including the MI School Data website.

But that’s just his fulltime job. Scott-Emuakpor also co-founded a clothing line, Live For Today, and over the last five seasons served as a volunteer assistant coach with his hometown Trojans – who have made the MHSAA Playoffs six seasons running.

He'd never applied for a head coaching job. He’d never really considered coaching at that level. In fact, he was pretty happy with how assisting at East Lansing for longtime coach Bill Feraco fit into his schedule and other pursuits.

But Scott-Emuakpor also is a studier. And as a past rival and co-member of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue, he and East Lansing saw Okemos plenty.

The Wolves had made the playoffs as recently as 2018, and won their first playoff game that season since 2011. Scott-Emuakpor had played against Okemos’ Taylor Moton, now considered one of the NFL’s top offensive tackles. And the school has had loads of success in other sports, annually ranking among the Lansing area’s best in just about all of them and coming off a statewide Division 1 championship in boys soccer from last fall.

“I paid attention to how things have been around here. And I know what they could be capable of,” Scott-Emuakpor said. “This program was once a good program that was very well-respected; I respected them playing against them in high school. They had great athletes. I think my senior year we beat them by one point (20-19 in 2011). So we had good battles.

“I just saw where they’re at. … We have some good kids around here, and I know there’s more in the school not playing. Maybe when they’re sophomores, juniors, they’ll come out. I think I’m capable of getting that interest up, getting them out on the field and just building something.”

Okemos footballRaj Singh is a senior this fall, one of only five or so Scott-Emuakpor is expecting to come out this week. He’s also a near all-A student, will play some quarterback and safety along with his receiver spot, and was the guy bringing carloads of classmates to workouts over the summer as he joined his coach in recruiting prospective players.

Singh is following his older brother Joe Singh, an admittedly “smaller than everyone” offensive lineman who earned all-league honors as a senior in 2017. When Joe Singh told his younger brother that playing under the lights on a Friday night is a feeling unlike any other, the idea stuck – which is why it made sense when Raj Singh fractured his wrist in Week 2 last season but was back by Week 7 despite a cast covering one hand.

Watching Singh catch passes one-handed last season during East Lansing’s 49-0 win over Okemos stuck with Scott-Emuakpor. Joe Singh had told his little bother that all that matters is having more heart than his opponent and a fighting spirit – in other words, being the type of player Scott-Emuakpor will rely on to get Okemos up and succeeding again.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old. It’s just been a dream of mine to be at this moment,” Raj Singh said.

“Coach Efe is bringing in a lot of new aspects, and that’s been very helpful to make it different than last year – make us feel a little more at home this year. Compared to last year, he’s brought a lot of structure. We’ve been really coming together as a family … and it just shows Coach Efe wants to build a community around here.”

The process is about more than building stronger, faster bodies and learning football skills and technique. The Wolves aren’t talking a lot about last year, but there’s something there to overcome – and Scott-Emuakpor started working on that soon after he was hired at the end of March.  

Okemos football“In the springtime, we were fortunate enough to get in the weight room and I was able to see kids put up good weight and do some things. I’d tell them, ‘You’re actually strong. You’re actually a fast kid,’” Scott-Emuakpor said. “But when you’re not successful for so long, and the way they were losing last year, it was easy for them to not feel confident, not feel they were able to ultimately get the job done. And so I was just there working on minds.”

Last season was going to be uphill for Okemos no matter what. A mid-summer coaching change brought on by a major fulltime job promotion for the former coach led to an interim staff, players leaving the program, and an applaudable effort to just keep teams on the field.

Scott-Emuakpor has surrounded himself with a staff that includes a pair of his past coaches growing up in East Lansing, past players from when he was coaching there and others with winning experience playing at DeWitt and Williamston.

In addition to what he learned playing and coaching under Feraco, Scott-Emuakpor brings a ton of insight from his experiences at Ball State; he had only one catch during his college career while battling injuries, but he spent that time on the sideline observing his coaches and taking mental notes. Just Sunday, he was pulling from the 2012-13 Ball State football handbook a few details to incorporate into his work in progress with the Wolves.

Okemos will have varsity and freshman teams this fall, and the majority of players at Monday’s combined practice were juniors and sophomores – so recruiting remains ongoing. But Singh said the number of classmates who did come out Monday exceeded his expectations – and that just added to the excitement of starting again.

“If you walk through the school, you’ll see some guys, you’ll (say), ‘OK, what does that guy do?’ You find out he plays (only) lacrosse, or only wrestles, where in other areas, other schools, they might do everything because that’s what they do, what they’ve grown up doing” Scott-Emuakpor said. “I’ve been trying to rebuild that connection, that love for football. A lot of them are very intrigued; I feel like some of them are kinda peeking and saying, ‘What’s going on? This new coach seems to be young and interesting.’ And I’ve just been trying to stay focused on the process and not get too far ahead of myself.”

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in January 2012, and 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) First-year Okemos varsity football coach Efe Scott-Emuakpor, middle, huddles up his players during Monday's first day of practice. (2) Scott-Emuakpor confers with senior Raj Singh on blocking from his receiver position. (3) The Wolves work on offense during the first part of their Monday session. (4) Scott-Emuakpor speaks with his team at the start of the workout. (Photos by Geoff Kimmerly.)

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)