Bush Legacy: Culture of Opportunity

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

April 6, 2018

CHELSEA – For the first time as Chelsea High School athletic director, Brad Bush has to hire a football coach.

What’s more, he has the unenviable task of replacing himself.

“I would say that nobody cares more about Chelsea football than I do,” Bush said. “It’s important to me that we find the very best person we can.”

Bush has coached the Bulldogs for 21 seasons. But, his coaching background goes much deeper than that.

He played at Ypsilanti High School for Hall of Fame coach Bill Giarmo, graduating in 1988. After playing quarterback at Cornell University in the Ivy League, he returned to Michigan, graduating from Eastern Michigan University, and started coaching for Bill Kohn, another inductee to the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Bush then went to East Kentwood to coach with Giarmo.

Through his own playing days, coaching with those legends of the game and absorbing everything he could from afar, Bush has developed an impressive culture at Chelsea.

“Friday nights in Chelsea are a big deal,” he said. “We want to keep that tradition.”

Bush became the varsity head coach at Chelsea in 1997. At the time, Chelsea had only two playoff appearances. Bush’s Bulldogs went 3-6 that first season. After that, Chelsea didn’t have a sub-.500 finish for 15 years. The Bulldogs have been kept out of the playoffs only once since 1998.

Chelsea has had only three head coaches since 1965.

“I’m fortunate,” Bush said. “I went for a few more years than the other guys. It’s a great place to coach.”

Temperance Bedford head coach Jeff Wood was an assistant with Bush at Ypsilanti during the 1990s and said he thought then that Bush was going to develop into a great head coach.

“We knew he was going to accomplish greatness, not only as a football coach, but as a father, husband and professional in education,” Wood said. “Brad has always won and lost with great class and dignity. He’s a true Hall of Famer.”

If Bush never coaches at Chelsea again, his lasting legacy might be that culture surrounding the Bulldogs program. It’s known for its large number of football players, from middle school through the varsity, and a system that ensures every student athlete on every team leading to the varsity will play in every game. Teams at the middle school, freshman and junior varsity levels all start 22 players each game – with no two-way starters. For a Class B/Division 3 school, that isn’t the norm.

“We’ve had the same philosophy for 20 years,” he said. “Everybody plays in every middle school, freshman and junior varsity game. That’s how we do it. We start 22 kids on every level. Our kids know they will have the opportunity to play.

“Every kid on every level is going to play in every game. On most nights, we play more kids than the other team has players.”

While every school loses some athletes, or potential athletes, along the way, Bush said this system helps maintain a student’s interest in the sport. Often, he said, a player who may not necessarily be a starter as a freshman will learn the game, develop and turn into a starter by senior year.

“We feel that, over time, with repetition and practice, a kid will become an expert at his position,” he said. “For us, this is a big piece. … That was my thing here. I didn’t invent it. I absorbed it, watched it at other places.”

It’s tough to argue with the results. Chelsea won or shared Southeastern Conference championships in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The Bulldogs won seven District championships during the Bush era and played in the 2015 Division 3 championship game, falling to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s at Ford Field

He said he learned how to build a program from Giarmo and how to coach a football team under Kohn. Bush was quick to credit his assistant coaches who have remained with the program for years and helped build the culture. He said the program has sacrificed win-at-all-cost at the lower levels with the goal of developing varsity football players.

“You have to manage it,” he said. “That’s why you need a great staff. We have been lucky here with a great, dedicated group of guys. They always have the ultimate goal in mind.”

Bush said he won’t hamstring the next coach into running his system, but anticipates whoever is hired will buy into the culture after seeing what it’s about.

“The next coach has to run it the way he wants to run it, but I do believe we have created a culture here and we’d like to maintain that. You want to hire the right person who is going to handle the kids the right way.”

In addition to coaching at Chelsea and leading the entire athletic program, Bush also is heavily involved in the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association as a past president, serves on the Michigan High School Athletic Association football committee and has served on the National Federation football rules committee. He’s coached in all-star games and is a true believer in high school sports.

His record at Chelsea is 169-60.

“I have great energy,” Bush said. “I love coaching. I have a great passion for it, but I also know when you need to do certain things. I felt this was just the right time for the athletic department and the football team. It wasn’t one thing that led me to this.

“I love the game. I’m going to be very much involved.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Chelsea's Brad Bush coaches his team during the 2015 Division 3 Final at Ford Field.

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.)