Community Backs Maple Valley's Surge

August 13, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

VERMONTVILLE – It’s almost with disbelief that first-year coach Marty Martin considers the recent history of his once-feared Maple Valley football program.

“It’s been nine years since we’ve had a winning season,” said Martin, who was part of the team’s first outright league title as a senior in 1983. “It gives me goose bumps to think about that.”

But he’s had similar reactions to the outpouring of neighborly support his program has received as it works to start a revival.

Members of the community, made up of about 3,500 residents, have donated $46,000 to go with $15,000 allocated by Maple Valley's school board for the purchase of new equipment that will be used this fall. Some was necessary to fit an influx of players, but the additional funds allowed the program to update and replace some of its older gear as well. 

Confidence. Comfort. Swagger. The players anticipate a little more of all three when Maple Valley opens against Fowler on Aug. 28 outfitted in new uniforms over new shoulder pads and with new helmets topping them off.

Those good feelings come with heightened expectations, of course – which are welcomed by a program that made the playoffs seven of eight seasons and played in an MHSAA Final during the stretch preceding its recent struggles.

“It’s coming back. You can feel it,” Maple Valley senior Isiah Garn said. “On the field, the coaches are expecting more … not letting you short yourself. And the community is jumping in on us; there is so much support there. Everyone wants us to be a success again.”

Dressed to impress

Martin is deeply rooted in the school. His father was a 1953 graduate of the former Vermontville High and started middle school basketball and football and summer league baseball programs in the community before also coaching at the new Maple Valley High School after it opened in 1963. Marty played football for Dan Watson on the Maple Valley varsity after playing junior varsity for Guenther Mittelstaedt, who followed Watson and led the varsity to a 173-70 record over 24 seasons through 2008.

After playing two years of baseball in junior college, Martin came back to the community to work as a postal worker and coach, and under Mittelstaedt helped the Lions to their first playoff appearance, in 1987. He remained on Mittelstaedt’s staff through 2000, then coached a year at Battle Creek St. Philip, four years at Battle Creek Lakeview where he also taught after earning his degree, then with Mittelstaedt again for two years at Lakeview in Montcalm County.  

Martin returned to teach at Maple Valley a year ago and became only the third varsity football coach in 30 years during this offseason.

Maple Valley is a little different place than even a decade ago. The school’s enrollment briefly passed 500 during the 2007-08 school year but fell to just over 370 students as of this spring – and Martin said there are fewer than 70 seniors in this fall’s class. The community’s economics also have changed, he added, with fewer families farming or enjoying jobs with General Motors in Lansing or Kellogg in Battle Creek.  

Near the top of his to-do list was simply getting more players back into the program. Maple Valley had 40 last year, which at least worked for the amount of equipment the school had in stock.

But 69 students signed up to play this fall and 54 ended up at practice this week – good news, except for the helmet supply.

In addition to new helmets to outfit the new players, Martin also surmised eight more would need to be replaced at the end of this season, followed by 12 more needed after 2016 and 13 after 2017.

Instead, Martin began investigating if his program could get a better price by replacing the entire supply in bulk. After considering two helmets, he worked with his Riddell representative to get a deal on the helmets that included discounts on shoulder and girdle pads as well. The school board responded with its contribution – and then the community came on strong to help the rest of the way.

Martin was called out of class one day to receive a $5,000 check. Then came $1,500 from one family and $3,500 from another. He was at a graduation open house this spring when someone placed a $1,000 check in front of him. Longtime residents, some retired, gave $100; some who had graduated from Vermontville High or the other former school in Nashville, donated a few hundred as well.  

Martin’s team spent parts of the summer (and will this Saturday as well) providing muscle to local service projects, but he’s never asked the community for financial help for the program. It just made sense to provide, said 1992 grad and former player and assistant coach Paul Adrianson, whose local business Hickey Electric was among the first to contribute.

“We want people to see the game of football doesn’t just necessarily survive. We think it can thrive if you put safety first or good fundamental education on it,” Adrianson said. “It can be a great sport for our future. … We really feel that if we get all behind and lead as a district and doing safety first, we think that’s going to set a positive trend for the game of football.”

Safety first

Maple Valley is one of 70 high schools statewide taking part in a pilot sideline concussion testing program sponsored this school year by the MHSAA. The Lions will work with XLNTbrain Sport, which incorporates baseline testing done at the start of the season to assist in return-to-play decisions after possible head injuries at practices and during games.

In addition, the Riddell SpeedFlex helmets Maple Valley purchased include the InSite Impact Response System, a series of sensors that alert sideline staff after a player’s helmet sustains what is considered a significant impact. That player will then be evaluated by training staff; Maple Valley also has a trainer this fall for the first time in 15 years, Martin said.

“That was our initial thing. We want our kids to be the safest kids,” Martin said. “We want to be one of those leaders; we want to get this district, this community, out front so everyone in the state of Michigan and the United States knows in this area that people care about their kids to the extent they’re willing to invest $27,000 in purchasing helmets.”

The helmets require reconditioning each offseason and new batteries for the InSite sensors – to the tune of $2,200. But another donor stepped in with $22,000 – enough to keep the new helmets ready to wear for a decade.

“This community identifies with this football team,” Martin said. “So they were ready for a change, and they were looking for this opportunity. I’m very blessed and humbled to think they’re showing trust in my leadership and my coaching staff and in the fact we can turn things around.”

His players have heard the stories of successes past, some before they were born. They’ll try to extend the “look good, feel good” cliché into their play on the field this fall as they work to write a restart into Maple Valley’s winning history that goes with the other renovation projects that are popping up at the school and on its grounds.

“I think there’s going to be tons of people coming out,” senior Brock Weiler said. “It’s the new coach, everything getting re-done in the school. I think the pride’s coming back.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Maple Valley huddles during offensive drills at Wednesday afternoon’s practice. (Middle) Coach Marty Martin leads the Lions through agility work. (Below) Maple Valley will wear new helmets this fall thanks in part to community donations.

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.)