D-Coach Stratton, QB Son Leaving Family Mark on Whitehall's Undefeated Run

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

November 2, 2022

Keith Stratton may be an assistant coach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has the best vantage point of his son Kyle, Whitehall’s standout junior quarterback.

“I actually miss most of his plays,” explained Keith Stratton, who is in his 10th year as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator.

“I usually have my back to the field, talking to my (defensive) guys. I know he did something good from the roar of the crowd or the PA announcer.”

Kyle Stratton – whose trademark, flowing blonde locks seem to atone for his dad’s bald look – has done plenty of good this fall, leading his team to a West Michigan Conference Lakes title, a No. 2 ranking in Division 4 and a 10-0 record. The Vikings’ closest game since Labor Day was a 42-12 win over Big Rapids in last week’s playoff opener.

Whitehall will face a stiffer challenge in Friday’s Division 4 District title game against Fruitport (8-2), winner of six in a row and tri-champions of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue.

“It’s been a great season, but we still have a lot of unfinished business,” said Kyle, 17, who also plays basketball and baseball. “We’re motivated to bring new things to Whitehall which we haven’t had before.”

Whitehall’s longest postseason runs came in 2003 and 2014, both ending in Regional Finals. The goal this year is to sail into uncharted waters – i.e., the Semifinals and then the Finals at Ford Field, for the first time in school history.

Stratton (5-foot-8, 170 pounds) gives the Vikings a great shot with his ability to run and pass out of the veer offense. He has been a great runner since earning the starting QB job as a sophomore, and is the team’s leading rusher with 99 carries for 802 yards and 14 TDs. But his emergence as a highly-accurate passer has elevated Whitehall’s offense to a new level, as he’s completed 72-of-112 passes (64 percent) for 1,362 yards, with 24 TDs and six interceptions.

Stratton uses all of his weapons through the air, including wideouts Trannon Aylor and Camden Thompson and slotbacks Nate Bolley, Malcolm Earvin and Ca’Mar Ready.

“Kyle has worked so hard and essentially doubled his statistics from a year ago,” said 10th-year Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon, a former standout linebacker at DeWitt and Alma College. “He always has the ability to take off and run, but he now has the patience to scramble and still be looking downfield for his receivers.”

Keith Stratton, left, and Kyle man the sidelines during Kyle’s younger years supporting the program. Whitehall’s offense, directed by Kyle Stratton and averaging 51 points per game, has received plenty of accolades this fall. But the Vikings’ stingy defense, under the tutelage of Keith Stratton, might be the key to a postseason run.

Keith Stratton, known for his backwards baseball cap and hands-on-his-knees stance before each play, directs an ultra-aggressive unit which has allowed a total of 40 points over the past two months.

“I don’t wear a headset; it clouds my brain,” Keith said with a laugh.

His blue-collar mentality is instilled in his defense, which is led by senior inside linebackers Graycen Shepherd and Jackson Cook.

“People ask me what it’s like to coach my son, but really, I look at all of these kids like my sons,” said Stratton, who is married to Jodi, and the couple has two older sons, Caleb and Andrew. “They are all thinkers. They come up to me and ask questions. They have exceeded my expectations.”

Stratton, a 1990 graduate of Muskegon Catholic Central, walked-on to the football team at Grand Valley State and was one of eight walk-ons out of 50 to earn a spot on the roster, playing backup fullback and on the scout team.

He majored in criminal justice and went on to work for the City of Muskegon Police Department for 25 years, retiring last year. Early in his career as a cop, he coached eight years of junior varsity football at Muskegon Catholic, then started coaching at Whitehall in 2010. When Sigmon took the head coaching job in 2013, one of the first things he did was name Stratton his defensive coordinator.

“We had been coaching defense together (under previous coach Cliff Sandee), and when we would compare notes before practice, it was like looking in a mirror,” said Sigmon, who is also aided by offensive coordinator CJ VanWieren. “So I was very comfortable putting Keith in charge of the defense. We’ve been at it for 10 years now, and he’s done a great job of growing and progressing as a coach.”

Stratton’s defense will be put to the test against a Fruitport offense which features a big offensive line and the senior twin duo of running back Paschal Jolman and quarterback Collin Jolman.

Paschal already has eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards through 10 games, with 146 carries for 2,028 yards (13.8 per carry) and 25 TDs. Collin has completed 65-of-111 passes for 1,284 yards and 14 TDS, while also scrambling 96 times for 825 yards and 17 TDs.

“Fruitport is balanced and tricky and fast and big,” said Keith Stratton, who grew up in Fruitport. “They break a ton of big plays. We need to limit those big plays and make them work for everything.”

Fruitport turned some heads and gained major respect back on Oct. 7, when it upset then-undefeated and Division 6 top-ranked Grand Rapids West Catholic, 28-20. Since that thrilling signature win, the Trojans have been riding high, scoring an average of 56 points over the past three weeks.

The only time Keith Stratton ever puts on a headset is when his son is on the field directing the Vikings’ offense. While he said it would be nice to watch his son live, his time is better used talking to the other coaches in the booth to make defensive adjustments.

Kyle, meanwhile, said he is motivated by his dad and wants to follow in his footsteps as a college football player and then taking up a career in law enforcement.

“I respect him a lot,” said Kyle. “He’s told me a lot of stories about his time as a cop – going out at 2 a.m. and risking his life. That motivates me more than he even knows.

“If he can do that, I can go out there every Friday night and give every ounce of what I have for my town, and my team, and my friends.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Whitehall quarterback Kyle Stratton embraces his father Keith after a game this season. (Middle) Keith Stratton, left, and Kyle man the sidelines during Kyle’s younger years supporting the program. (Photos courtesy of Jodi Stratton.)

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:

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.)