Climax-Scotts '11' Playing for 1 More Run

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 16, 2018

CLIMAX — Braden Butler plans to make history twice at Climax-Scotts High School – and he is already halfway there.

Butler and his teammates are part of the last 11-player football team at the school.

Next year, the underclassmen will make their debut in 8-player football, a first for the small school.

With just 148 students in grades 9-12, the Panthers are the smallest public school in Michigan to field an 11-player team.

Only the Detroit Catholic League’s Waterford Our Lady and Clarkston Everest Collegiate have smaller enrollments.

“I’m blessed to be in the position of being on the first 8-man team for next year,” said Butler, who was tagged with the nickname ‘Shakespeare” by coach Kevin Langs after the 20-year coach’s former nickname for him morphed from “2 B” to “2 B or not 2 B.”

“I’m very happy with my teammates, with my coaches, with how we’ve all planned this out. It’s going to be a very eye-opening experience for the rest of my life.”

Although the school is small, it has been successful, qualifying for the playoffs the past 15 years. But Climax-Scotts faces a must-win scenario this week to earn one more trip before next year’s switch.

The Panthers take a 3-4 record into their final regular-season game, a four-plus hour journey to Lincoln Alcona on Friday. With a 4-4 record, the team would have a chance at an at-large playoff berth. The field will be announced Sunday night.

“Fortunately, because of a couple of generous donors, we will travel on a charter bus for that trip,” Langs said.

“If we can get playoffs, our season will go down in history,” Butler said. “We played the top teams in the state, top-ranked teams. We’ve played teams that have gone undefeated until now, and we’ve competed against all of those teams which is honestly the best part of the season.”

The Panthers defeated Martin (26-0), Adrian Lenawee Christian (62-20) and Athens (28-14), and lost to Sand Creek (27-16), Clarkston Everest Collegiate (44-38 in 2OT), Pittsford (17-16) and Breckenridge (19-0). Pittsford and Lenawee Christian joined Climax-Scotts in sharing the Southern Central Athletic Association title, and Breckenridge and Everest Collegiate won their respective leagues as well.

Sand Creek, Martin and Athens can clinch automatic playoff berths with wins this weekend.

Langs, who is also athletic director, said the school has been preparing the athletes and the community for the switch to 8-player for three years.

“It’s been a process,” Langs said. “Twenty-10 was the MHSAA’s first year going 8-man. We’ve been across the state talking to the U.P., all over, trying to see what we could do to save small-school 11-man. And lost that fight.

“About three years ago, we had a community meeting because we could see this coming. We just said, ‘Hey, listen. We’re going to try to hold out through this year, 2018, and after that financially, physically, mentally, emotionally, we’re going to go 8-man.’”

The 18 seniors on this year’s team were a big reason the Panthers kept 11-player this year.

“When you go to 8, you lose six starters,” Langs said “Those are a lot of young men who couldn’t have played. 

“So we were willing to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it so these young men still get to play instead of taking their spots away.’”

Senior defensive lineman/fullback Hunter Mejeur has mixed feelings about missing a chance to play next year.

“I think it would be unique to play 8-man,” he said. “I’ve never done it before, but I think it’s cool to leave a legacy as the last 11-man team.”

He said there are both advantages and disadvantages to small school 11-player football.

“There’s no backup really. There’s one backup lineman, a couple running backs,” he said, adding, “The best part is getting to play a lot.”

Butler said going to 8-player will be nothing new for most of the underclassmen.

“Our first year of 8-man in junior varsity, we only lost one game out of eight,” he said. “Hopefully that transitions into varsity so next year we hopefully see the same outcome. I’m really excited for it.”

Climax-Scotts is just one of four teams playing 11-player in the 15-school SCAA.

The others are Athens, Adrian Lenawee Christian and Pittsford.

Switching to 8-player, the Panthers will renew their rivalry with Battle Creek St. Philip.

“They’re our archrivals and we haven’t played them in seven or eight years, so we’re excited to play them again,” Langs said.

With just three league games, Langs had to find six more opponents – resulting in just one home game this season, the win over Lenawee Christian. 

The Panthers suffered a blow during that game.

“(Senior quarterback) Jake Lane, a three-year starter, on a two-point conversion, hurt his shoulder, so he’s out,” Langs said. 

“We lost our center, (senior) Noah Gray, too. It’s like losing your middle infield. Hopefully, it’s like the old saying, ‘Next brother up, next man up.’”

With an unfilled Week 4, Climax-Scotts will finish the regular season with only eight games.

 “We have been so blessed to have some successful teams over the last 20 years, so people always remember that,” Langs said. “So, when you go to schedule, they’re hesitant, which I understand.

“What happens is, if they’re willing to play you, they’re going to be really, really good or a lot bigger than you, and then they say you’ve got to play us at our place.”

Langs said the team worked hard the last 20 years to become one of the better 11-player programs in the state.

“So now, old dog, new tricks,” he said. “What can we do at 8-man? We don’t know. So we’re going to find out.

“I think the biggest transition is going to be the vertical spacing of the game. There’s a little bit more space for people to run and you can’t cover.”

He compares the change to math.

“For two years I said 11-man is algebra; 8-man is geometry. They’re both math, but there’s a conceptual difference.

“I’ve noticed that I’ve had to get used to that, and we’re slowly starting to figure out the geometry thing a little better.”

Other seniors on the team are Luke Mobley, Brock Borden, Zachary Sleeman, Jordan Tutt, Cole Eshuis, Sabdiel Escobedo, David Arnett, Erik Reyes, Dylan Peck, Alec Roggow, Michael Minne, Cooper Simmons, Jason Myers, Andrew Elenga and Todd Sims.

Juniors include Blake Borden, Lane Glover, Johnny Hunter, Josiah Kenney, Geano Royle, Jackson Ling, Alexandro Rojas and Ethan Huff.

The five sophomores are Ernesto Escobedo, Nathan Peck, Cole Newton, Andrew VanMiddlesworth and Ian Strong. Jackson Lawrence is the lone freshman.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Climax-Scotts’ defensive front breaks toward the play during a Week 1 win over Martin. (Middle) From top, coach Kevin Langs, junior Branden Butler and senior Hunter Mejeur. (Below) The Panthers’ offense is on the move against Athens in Week 7. (Action photos by Mary Longman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.)