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.)

Record-Setting Viney Gained Lifelong Confidence at Marine City

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

July 17, 2024

Olivia Viney didn’t have to look far for inspiration while taking on the challenge of applying to veterinary school.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 2015 Marine City graduate and record-setting placekicker simply drew from her own experience as a high school athlete.

“It just really taught me that I could do hard things,” Viney said. “I was very involved when I was in school. I did soccer, theater, travel soccer and then football. Especially with football, I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That helped me to excel in undergrad. When it came time to get accepted to vet school, it was like, ‘This is what I have to do,’ and I did it. That was very confidence-building. It taught me that I really can do hard things.”

Viney, who graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in 2019 and Michigan State Veterinary School in 2023, is now working as an associate veterinarian at Deporre Veterinary Hospital in West Bloomfield. 

Accomplishing her goals is nothing new to Viney, and not at all a surprise to those who watched her come through the Mariners athletic program.

“She was very serious, she was focused and she was dialed in,” said Dave Frendt, who coached Viney in both football and soccer at Marine City. “She knew what she wanted to accomplish, and she set out to do that. She was a fierce competitor and very driven. She was a good leader in that way where she was kind of feisty, but the team would follow that.”

Viney was an all-state soccer player for the Mariners, leading them to a pair of District titles and a Macomb Area Conference Gold title during her four years as a varsity player. It’s the sport she grew up playing, but the one she was most known for after graduation was football. American football.

The 5-foot-1-ish center attacking midfielder found herself in the MHSAA football record book after hitting all seven of her extra point attempts in the Mariners’ 2013 Division 4 Final victory against Grand Rapids South Christian.

“I think it makes sense,” she said. “There were lots of great soccer players, even that I played with. Great players that had gone through school, so I don’t think it’s weird that people remember me for that. When I talk with people, they’ll connect the dots – ‘Oh, you played football.’

“I was more accomplished as a soccer player and had more accolades. But I’m prouder of my football accomplishments, because it was really setting a pathway for girls that wanted to get into that. It’s so much more common now, or accepted. Even though it’s been almost 11 years since we won at Ford Field, I’m so proud of high school Olivia and what she did, the courage she had. She wasn’t scared of anything.”

Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. Viney joined Marine City’s football program as a sophomore, playing on the junior varsity squad. While she was there only to kick, she was all in when it came to practicing.

“Coach (Joe) Fregetto made me do tackling drills and drills in the mud – I really did earn my spot on the team,” Viney said. “I think it was mostly because he didn’t know what to do with me, so I guess just do everything that the guys do.”

She handled varsity kicking duties the next two years, setting the school record in 2013 for most extra points made during a single season – a record that still stands. Former Mariners coach Ron Glodich said that Viney actually never missed an extra point that season, as the four failed attempts were never even kicked.

It was her performance in the Division 4 Final that gained her statewide acclaim, as she hit 7 of 7 attempts, tying a record for most extra points made in a Finals game. It stood until a pair of kickers hit eight in 2022.

One record that never will be broken, however, is Viney becoming the first female to score a point at the Finals.

“Everything was so surreal, I was so nervous,” Viney said. “One of my most vivid memories was that day, or maybe the day before, Coach Glodich said, ‘Just so you know, when you get to the field, the goal posts are two feet narrower on each side. But that doesn’t matter if you kick it in the middle.’

“We got there and watched the team before us so we could get used to it, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so narrow.’ … Seeing myself up on the big screen was kind of almost a little embarrassing, because I knew people were talking about me being the girl. But once we were in the game, it was a lot like any other game. I was just waiting for my turn to go on the field and do my job.”

Viney later was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” – ironically, right below current U.S. Women’s National Team forward Mallory Pugh – but she wasn’t looked at any differently by her teammates, and she wouldn’t have wanted to be.

“That team was all about sacrifice for the team,” Frendt said. “For them to realize, ‘None of us can do what she does, so we better embrace it, because no one else can do it.’ They really made her feel like part of the team. They wanted to protect her, too. But she was tough. She wasn’t going to take anything.”

Viney went to SVSU to study biology and played for its club soccer team. During her time there, she volunteered at an animal shelter and made the decision she wanted to help animals in her career. She works in general practice at Deporre, and would eventually like to work in shelter medicine.

She and her husband Matt, who were married in May, live with their three dogs. She’s not far from home, and in the spring of 2023 she visited Frendt’s college and career readiness class to speak with students at her alma mater. Her presentation and the attention to detail and hard work she put into it, Frendt said, blew his students away. Not that it surprised him.

“That’s poured into her life after sports,” he said of her work ethic. “She just kept plugging away. She’s awesome.”

2024 Made In Michigan

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 E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) Marine City’s Olivia Viney kicks at the 2013 11-Player Football Finals, also during her spring soccer season, and cares for one of her patients as an associate veterinarian. (Middle) Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. (Photos courtesy of Olivia Viney.)