Clarkston Kicker Grabs QB Opportunity

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

October 13, 2015

CLARKSTON – This season seemed to be going from bad to worse for Clarkston.

The Wolves were blitzed by Macomb Dakota, 35-10, in the opener and in their third game were tied 14-14 with West Bloomfield when starting quarterback Anthony Reiner suffered a broken hand.

The two-time defending Division 1 champion went on to lose that game, 35-21, to fall to 1-2.

As poorly as Clarkston started the season, its fortunes changed. Alex Kessman, a senior who will in all likelihood be a place kicker at a Division I college next season, got an opportunity he really didn’t expect.

Kessman hadn’t played quarterback since the ninth grade, when he led Clarkston’s freshmen team to an undefeated season. When Reiner went out last month, coach Kurt Richardson went to Kessman – and he’s responded as if he was an experienced quarterback.

Kessman couldn’t rescue Clarkston against West Bloomfield, but the Wolves are 4-0 since with Kessman as the starter. He’s thrown seven touchdown passes including three in a 28-0 over Troy Athens.

If Kessman wasn’t such a fine place kicker and punter he likely would have started the season at quarterback. Instead he was in the secondary, kicked and was Reiner’s backup.

“We wanted to groom (Kessman) during the summer but he was always at kicking camps,” Richardson said. “The other guy was working real hard and we went with (Reiner).

“When Anthony got hurt it was a natural thing. I told him he was our best quarterback. At first it didn’t come quick. He’s gotten better every week. He’s got a very strong arm. We still run the same offense. We’re throwing more (with Kessman).”

Kessman no longer plays defense but he is still kicking, and kicking well. He kicked a 56-yard field goal against Dakota and has since kicked one from 53 yards out.

Kessman made his third visit to University of Pittsburgh last weekend and said the Panthers are at the top of his college list at this point. Mississippi State has offered Kessman preferred walk-on status and other schools such as Michigan, Florida and Tennessee also are in the mix.

Physically, Kessman is not your typical kicker. He’s 6-3 and weighs 185 pounds. He played basketball until his sophomore year, when he decided to concentrate on his kicking.

Kessman started playing football in the seventh grade and was a kicker even back then. As a sophomore he played safety and kicked as a member of the junior varsity. Last season Kessman was the punter and place kicker on varsity but did not play defense.

Now he’s showing he’s more than just a kicker, at least at this level.

“I wasn’t really rusty,” he said. “I was prepared if Anthony went down. I didn’t practice a lot (at quarterback). I threw occasionally. The first couple of plays I was nervous. I got comfortable. It was at halftime of the West Bloomfield game. Thanks to my teammates I have no trouble getting comfortable now.”

As one would guess, one of his biggest challenges was learning an extensive playbook. Richardson’s quarterbacks have much responsibility making proper decisions on read option plays and checking down on second and third receivers.

“I know the ins and outs now,” Kessman said. “That comes from off-the-field stuff. I put a lot of time in on my own. The toughest part is reading the corners and reading the safeties.”

Clarkston is averaging 40 points a game in Kessman’s four starts but it would be unfair to give him all the credit. The five offensive linemen who started in last season’s MHSAA Final graduated, and Clarkston is starting three underclassmen up front including two sophomores. The line struggled early on, but is playing much better now.

Then there’s Nolan Eriksen, a senior running back. Eriksen suffered a high ankle sprain in Clarkston’s inter-squad game during the preseason and made his season debut against Troy Athens. He scored four touchdowns in last week’s 42-0 victory over Troy.

“Eriksen is obviously fantastic,” Kessman said. “I know when I hand it off to him he’ll get at least five yards or take it all the way.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston’s Alex Kessman lines up for a punt during last season’s Division 1 Final at Ford Field (Middle) Kessman signals before another punt. (Below) Kessman is considered a Division I college prospect as a kicker.

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.)