Clinton Works to Keep Running, Rising

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

September 22, 2016

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half 

CLINTON – In 2012, Clinton football coach Scott McNitt had accomplished enough during his 27-year career that he was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Since then, McNitt, now in his 32nd year, has enjoyed the best on-the-field run of his career.

It doesn't happen often that a Hall of Fame coach reaches new heights after induction, but McNitt is proof it can happen.

Over the last three seasons, Clinton is 49-4 with three consecutive finishes with double-digit wins, two trips to the Division 6 championship game at Ford Field and one 40-game regular-season winning streak – the third longest regular-season winning streak by a Lenawee County football team since Hudson won 81 in a row from 1968-77.

All of that success – and especially the recent attention from the 40-game winning streak – has brought some unwanted credit to McNitt, who preaches the team concept and praises the work of his assistant coaches.

“It's a great accomplishment, but I can't stand hearing, 'McNitt did this,' or 'McNitt did that.' It's just that I have to be on the top line, but I've have tremendous assistants and some very, very good players,” he said.

McNitt has similar feelings about his induction into the Hall of Fame.

“The two biggest accomplishments for me have been the Hall of Fame and Ford Field,” he said. “That's every coach's dream. But this is a team thing, and there are coaches on our staff who work a lot harder than I do, and I get all the accolades.

“But it means a lot to me to stay at the same school for 32 years and outlast it. We had some seasons that weren't good. We had three 1-8 seasons in a row. We've been successful – but surviving for 32 years and keeping it going in the right direction, and I think what we have coming from our youth programs and middle school, it can continue – means a lot to me.”

Key to success

When McNitt interviewed for the Clinton job prior to the 1985 season, he was given some advice that has stuck with him for more than three decades.

“When I first got here 32 years ago, during the interview the superintendent said, 'Surround yourself with good people, and you won't have a problem,'” McNitt said. “So it's been a philosophy to put good people into the program.”

As is common with most high school programs, assistant coaches would come and go throughout the years at Clinton. But over the past eight seasons, Clinton has kept its coaching staff together – even down to junior varsity and middle school – and McNitt believes it’s no coincidence that his greatest run has happened under those circumstances.

“We've had changes over the years, and it is what it is, but this last eight years the staff we have in place now seems to jell together,” he said. “Jeremy Fielder came from Adrian College as a football coach and player. He brought a great philosophy and work ethic and new ideas.

“Our line coach, John Schuler, he was a player here in the 1980s and was on one of the best teams we had here. He's back there teaching and coaching, and he's an outstanding line coach. Joe Gillies and our JV coaches do a great job, and we also have volunteer coaches who are very familiar with the program and give us their time and dedication. We all work really well together.”

But coaches can't coach and have great success without talented players, right?

“Having good players is the other key,” McNitt said. “We've had a phenomenal run of outstanding players, and we saw it coming when they were in youth football in fifth and sixth grade. We watched them in seventh and eighth.

“They were a group of very fast kids with unbelievable speed. We watched them, and it was like, 'Holy Toledo, wait until we get ahold of these kids.'”

A trip to Ford Field – and back

From 1985-2009, Clinton made 12 playoff appearances under McNitt. The 1990 team made it to the Class C Semifinals, but more often than not, the Redskins were one-and-done in the postseason. After losing to rival Manchester in the 2012 Pre-District, Clinton was 7-13 in the playoffs.

Since then, Clinton is 9-3 in the postseason.

“I went to the Silverdome I don't know how many years and Ford Field, and we would sit there and go, 'It would be nice to get there,'” McNitt said. “But we were always in such a tough division, we'd always face Monroe Catholic Central in a District, and we could never get over that.

“In 2013, we finally got a good draw, and we felt we could make a good run, and we did (finishing runner-up in Division 6). The next year we were even better, but we drew Catholic Central in the second round, and they kind of blew us out.”

That set the stage for last season. But when the playoff pairings were announced, McNitt and his staff faced an overwhelming road to Ford Field. The first assignment: A road game at reigning Division 6 champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.

A 14-10 victory in the Pre-District proved to be the sparkplug that charged the Redskins’ run.

“To go down there and win a close one gave us great confidence,” Schuler said.

Next was Madison Heights Madison, making its 11th consecutive appearance in the playoffs. On the road again, Clinton scored a huge 43-20 victory to earn a home game in the Regional against eight-time MHSAA champion Jackson Lumen Christi.

“To play the Regional Final at home against Jackson Lumen Christi was just a thrill ride,” Schuler said of the 49-20 victory that earned a Semifinal matchup with undefeated Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, which was making its fifth consecutive appearance in the playoffs.

Clinton’s 42-20 victory over NorthPointe brought it back to Ford Field for its biggest test of all: Ithaca, which had won four of the previous five Division 6 titles and defeated Clinton 41-22 in the 2013 championship game.

“It was a murderer's row of opponents, and we did not want to play Ithaca,” McNitt said. “We wanted Traverse City St. Francis just for something new.

“We knew Ithaca and who they were, but we were hoping for something different. But we had a chance, we were up 13-0 in the third quarter, and Ithaca took over.”

Ithaca dashed Clinton's title hopes with a 27-20 victory, but the experience Clinton had gained two years earlier resulted in a calming effect.

“Personally, I thought we'd get one shot at Ford Field because normally these small towns get one shot, and it's over with,” McNitt said. “I wasn't sure we would get back. And then last year when we got there, it was just like another game.

“It wasn't as big of a hype as it was the first time, and the community loved it.”

It also added to the momentum that has been building.

“It was a momentum-builder for us, and if we stay as a team, we can make it back there,” senior running back Steve Laurell said. “It's just team effort and coaching for sure. It was a good feeling.”

New challenge

The good news at Clinton is that the Redskins are 4-0 and rolling again. The bad news is that the talented speed group has graduated. The 2016 Redskins lack the flashy skill players from the past but are a senior-orientated team boasting an experienced line.

Any coach will tell you that having an experienced, talented line is a big step toward success.

“We have some interior linemen back, but we're brand new everywhere else,” McNitt said. “We do have some senior players who have waited their turn, and we knew we'd be OK up front because we're big.”

Center Alex McIntosh is a third-year varsity player and is joined by Austin Popp and Josh Brown as key players in the trenches, while the senior backfield of Laurell at tailback and Cordell Hernandez at fullback has been “outstanding,” according to McNitt.

“We just don't have the burners, but we have solid, good players,” he said.

Clinton has outscored its opponents by a combined 164-65 this season, with its next game tonight against a 2-2 Morenci team. It's easy to look at a matchup of a 4-0 team and a 2-2 team and assume the outcome, but that sort of mentality makes McNitt a little uneasy. The community has embraced the program, and its expectations can sometimes be a little too much too soon.

“It is erupting into a very big animal,” McNitt said. “We have to be careful, and we have to corral it before it gets too out of control. But it's nice for the football program, based on our current success – getting to Ford Field two out of three years – that is where the excitement comes from.

“The community support really has been incredible.”

The season already has had one milestone. Two weeks ago, McNitt reached 200 career victories, becoming the 61st high school football coach in Michigan to reach that number. He also is 12th among active coaches with 201 wins. His overall record is 201-113-1 for a .640 winning percentage.

“I remember when I got my 100th win. Some community supporters and fathers said, ‘That's quite a big deal, but if you get to 200, that puts you in a whole different group.’ It kind of stuck with me, but I never thought I'd get there,” McNitt said, “but the past four or five years did it.”

The future at Clinton

McNitt is very realistic about what lies ahead for Clinton. But he isn't discounting anything, either.

“Can we get back to Ford Field again? The chances are probably no, but we've gone twice in three years, so it's possible,” he said. “We focus on our rival up the road here, Manchester, just seven miles away, and then try to win our league. If you do those two things, you're going to be in the playoffs and then see what happens.”

It is a sensible approach that has worked at Clinton. He has surrounded himself with good assistants and let them do their thing on the field.

“Our assistant coaches do a phenomenal job, and there are times when I just sit back and watch them do their thing,” he said. “I'm very fortunate to have people like that around us.”

Fielder was hired in as defensive coordinator nine years ago, and he recognizes that there were some up-and-down moments along the way.

“To be given that trust was huge because he's a Hall of Famer,” Fielder said. “He hired me, and I had a big role, and there were some growing pains early on. I will always be thankful for him sticking with me once we got the system figured out and once we figured out how we were going to execute.”

The players come to the varsity having learned the system at a younger age, and their coach is a man who was coaching the varsity more than a decade before they were born. And he wins. That commands respect.

“We know that the coach knows what he's doing, and he's going to make the right call at the right time, and we just need to follow what he does,” said McIntosh, the senior center. “We have no question about it. He knows what he's doing.

“I think what it is is that our coaches push us. Through practice, they expect us to do things right, and if we don't get it right the first time, they expect that we won't make the same mistake twice.”

So, the obvious question looms. How much longer does McNitt expect to coach? He didn't dodge the question.

“I could be easily done this year, or I could go another 10 years,” he said. “I want to be able to turn it over to Jeremy Fielder, our really good defensive coach. He has waited, and he is probably going to take it farther than we ever dreamed of.

“Jeremy is a phenomenal football coach.”

Although Fielder likely would be thrilled to someday succeed McNitt, he seems comfortable in his current role, too.

“Times have changed for head coaches, and it is kind of nice to know your role and coach with people you trust and just be able to do your job,” said Fielder, who also is an English teacher at the high school. “When you look at coaching, yes, the head coach is the position and it's the title, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, you're a team within a team.

“If you have an outstanding team and coach with people you respect and admire, you're happy there no matter what your role is.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clinton’s Steve Laurell (left) and Cordell Hernandez, shown this season against Manchester, are two of the top returning players from the 2015 Division 6 runner-up. (Middle) From left: Clinton assistant coach John Schuler, head coach Scott McNitt, defensive coordinator Jeremy Fielder. (Below) Clinton also returns multiple contributors from the offensive line that took on Ithaca during last season's Final at Ford Field. (Top photo by John Discher/Adrian Daily Telegram.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.