Clinton Works to Keep Running, Rising

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.)

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.)