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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)
DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.
“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.
King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.
The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.
Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.
The Crusaders never looked back.
“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”
Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.
Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.
Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.
Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.
Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.
Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.
“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.
“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.
King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).
The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.
“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”
Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.
It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.
“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.
“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”
Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”
“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.
“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.
Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.
“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.