Chance Paying Off Big for Sturgis Again
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
September 30, 2020
The entirety of 2020 thus far has been a matter of conjecture. Trying to predict anything with any degree of certainty – including the sporting world – has proved to be a worthless expenditure of time.
That the Sturgis High School varsity football team would have as many victories in the first two weeks of the season as it had in the previous two years certainly wouldn’t have been the most absurd thought for Trojans fans. But based on recent history, it surely didn’t seem like the most likely scenario.
And it wasn’t the kind of lofty expectation anyone wanted to throw on the back of first-year head coach Chance Stewart, who was hired June 4.
The 2-0 start is the first for Sturgis since 2003. The 25-21 win over rival Three Rivers to start the year broke a seven-game losing streak for the Trojans, who finished 4-23 over the last three years.
Toss in the fact that the season itself almost didn’t materialize due to COVID-19 restrictions in the state, and that like every other program in Michigan, Sturgis will participate in the playoffs following an abbreviated regular season – and there’s a much louder buzz around town these days.
It will be only the Trojans’ third postseason appearance since Stewart’s final prep game at quarterback in Orange and Black in 2013 — a 16-0 Pre-District loss at St. Joseph. He went on to a brief stint at Western Michigan University and a phenomenal career at Hillsdale College, which yielded a G-MAC Player of the Year award, a single-season school and league record of 3,588 passing yards en route to a conference championship in 2018 and finishing with a school-record 10,064 passing yards. Stewart also recorded 73 career touchdowns in his 41 games played for the Chargers.
At just 24 years old, he’s not that far removed from the young men he’s now charged with overseeing at Sturgis. And in such bizarre times with protocols no one could have imagined just a year ago, Stewart is obviously pleased with how September unfolded.
“These kids are playing extremely hard right now,” Stewart said following the team’s 36-6 win over Allegan this past weekend. “The effort has been outrageously great for us the last two weeks. Finally getting the opportunity to come back after football was taken away from them, the effort was one thing we were hoping we wouldn’t have to worry about. And we didn’t have to. They came out ready to get after it.”
A total of 15 seniors are on the squad this year, but the roster changes weekly as Stewart has given junior varsity players an opportunity to play their way into Friday night spots with the new five-quarter rule instituted by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Still, it’s the veteran group that mostly has fueled Sturgis so far.
“We have a great senior class here that’s leading the way for the rest of the guys, saying this is how things are going to be done now,” Stewart said. “That senior class really wants to go out on top and they really set the tone the first two weeks.”
Captains Rylee Cain (tight end/linebacker) and Brady Webb (quarterback, linebacker) were selected by their peers, and their production on the field has been solid. Webb threw for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against the Wildcats. Defensively, Webb has logged 11.5 tackles (four for loss), and Cain has 13 tackles (four for loss) and an interception through the first two weeks, which included limited time on the field as the Trojans downed Allegan 36-6. Webb’s 28-yard hookup with Xander Cosby was a game-winner with 43 seconds remaining against Three Rivers.
Stewart also pointed out the crucial play of senior Julian Alldridge, a right guard who will begin lining up at right tackle, and Jaden Bodi, who prepared in camp to play receiver and linebacker but was moved to right guard and defensive end.
“Alldridge has done a phenomenal job so far with helping out,” Stewart said. “From three weeks ago to now, (Bodi) is in two new positions with no questions asked. He just wants to do whatever he can to help the football team.”
Following Jimmy Lamb’s resignation from the head coaching position last year to focus on his new duties in an administrative role in the district, Sturgis athletics director Mark Adams believed Stewart, despite being green behind the ears, had enough experience on the field and the leadership skills to take over.
“That’s something you really need if you’re going to be a good coach,” Adams said. “When my son was growing up, Chance had his own football league at his house and teams from around (St. Joseph County) would come to it. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s organized, he’s imaginative, and talking to him in his interview about his X’s and O’s, I learned a lot of football from him then. He’s young and energetic and has a lot of great ideas, not just for football, but for the community and other things.”
Stewart always hoped to get an opportunity like this, he just didn’t expect it to come so quickly.
“It was special (playing quarterback here),” he said. “It’s special because my dad got to do it back in the 80s. Playing out here, wearing the Sturgis jersey has been really special to us.
Bigger than that, I think was just what the program was able to do for me to help me grow from just a 14-year-old scrawny kid into the person I am now. It’s because of those relationships I created out here. I was lucky enough to play for two coaches that really cared about their players in Coach (Bill) Keim and Coach Lamb — two guys to this day I still look up to. Now I get to give back in that same role that those guys were able to help me.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) A Sturgis ball carrier follows his blocks in Allegan territory during Friday’s win. (Middle) Chance Stewart has returned home to coach the high school program for which he starred at quarterback less than a decade ago. (Top photo by Scott Rains; middle by Wes Morgan.)
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:
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.)