Culture Change Creates More Organized, Motivated & Successful Manchester
By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com
September 27, 2022
Manchester’s football team is going through a re-birth.
One of the team’s top players – senior Jaxon McGuigan – calls it a change in culture.
“This summer, when we were having workouts or lifting, we had 30 guys show up every time,” said McGuigan, the team’s leading receiver. “When I was younger, there were times we would have only 10 guys. If we had 10 guys there now, we knew something would be wrong.”
Manchester is one of the oldest prep football programs in the state. It also has been one of the most successful. From 2003-16, the Flying Dutchmen made the playoffs 13 of 14 seasons, including a streak of nine straight. Then, for a variety of reasons, the bottom fell out.
Manchester went from 9-2 and a Cascades Conference championship in 2015 to back-to-back 4-5 seasons in 2017 and 2018, a 2-5 record in 2020 and 3-6 last season.
Head coach Ben Pack was brought in to make changes to the program. He’s delivered. Now in his third season, the Dutchmen have a signature win over three-time reigning league champion Addison and stand 4-1 midway through the season. They are firmly in the playoff hunt and are just a game behind league leader Napoleon, the only team to beat them this season. Even that was a close game until the end.
“Our numbers were so low when I got here,” Pack said. “We struggled. That first year, the COVID year, we could barely put together a scout team.
“When I got here, we had four guys returning from the previous year and six juniors who were on JV as sophomores,” Pack said. “Ten guys in the program. I had to do a lot of recruiting in the hallways. We had to get kids out for football.”
Pack is a veteran coach. He is a Jackson native who started his coaching career at Jackson High School while in college. He became the head coach at Parma Western in 1983 and headed home to Jackson after that. The Vikings put together a string of good teams, including the 1999 group that was Jackson’s first playoff qualifier.
Pack left Jackson in 2002 to become an administrator, but remained in football when he joined the Albion College staff. He returned to the high school ranks a couple of seasons ago at Parma Western as a volunteer assistant. Two seasons later he was named head coach at Manchester.
Pack has not only been recruiting in the Manchester hallways, but he’s also been busy implementing a strength program.
“We had no organized lifting program,” he said. “We had guys who would come in to lift, but nothing organized. Now the kids come in and they are working, they are getting stronger and more mature. Those kids who were freshmen and sophomores when I got here are stronger and more mature. With strength and maturity comes confidence.”
One of his players that first year was a freshman quarterback, Kannon Duffing, who made one start.
“He competed,” Pack said. “He was definitely a half-pint, but he played, and he did a nice job. He completed passes. He wasn’t ready to win, yet, but he grew from it and learned from the experience.”
Duffing completed 60 percent of his passes last year for 1,273 yards and nine touchdowns. This season, he’s been even better. Through five games, Duffing has completed 57 of 82 passes, a healthy 69.5 percent, for 821 yards and nine touchdowns. His interceptions have dropped from eight last year to just two this fall.
“We don’t throw deep a lot,” Pack said. “But what we do throw, he’s very accurate. He gets the job done. He’s the unsung hero for us. He’s the catalyst. He is the key to the whole thing.”
Wide receiver Andrew Campbell, running back Wyatt Carson and McGuigan are benefactors of Duffing’s accuracy.
“He is so good,” McGuigan said. “I know he’s going to put the ball right there. We have other good receivers, too, and he does a great job at getting us the ball. Our game plan is not to just get the ball to me.”
McGuigan is a former quarterback himself. He shifted to receiver early on in his career at Manchester and likes the move. He’s now a 6-foot-2, 170-pound college prospect. He’s a three-sport athlete with a 4.0 GPA.
Pack said McGuigan has great technique in the way he runs routes.
“Every successful team has a player or two that the other kids count on,” Pack said. “Jaxon has accepted that responsibility and is a role model for handling the pressure.”
Through five games, McGuigan has caught 37 passes for 554 yards and seven touchdowns. The biggest came with time running out against Addison and helped the Flying Dutchmen overcome a two-score deficit to defeat the Panthers. The Flying Dutchmen defense came up big in that game, too, when they put together a goal-line stand during the final moments to keep Addison out of the end zone.
“To be honest, that’s the type of game the last couple of years that we wouldn’t win,” McGuigan said. “To beat them just shows that everyone has buy-in now. It just shows how we’ve changed the culture here.”
Two weeks ago, Manchester bounced back from the Napoleon loss to win against East Jackson. McGuigan had one of his biggest games with eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
East Jackson coach Joe Niehaus said McGuigan is one of the most complete receivers he’s coached against.
“He runs great routes and catches virtually everything thrown to him,” Niehaus said. “On top of that, he is a threat to go the distance after the catch every single time.”
Manchester has conference games remaining against Michigan Center, Hanover-Horton, and Grass Lake. The Dutchmen are a top-10 team in Division 7 playoff points and are sitting nicely as they attempt to get back into the postseason.
“Ever since Coach Pack came here, it’s been drilled into us to trust the process,” McGuigan said. “We’re still far from where we could be as a team.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTO Manchester receiver Jaxon McGuigan holds on to the ball while Addison defenders take him out of bounds. (Photo by Mark Ball, courtesy of the Manchester football program.)
Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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:
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.)