DeWitt Caps Finals with 1st Title Celebration

January 23, 2021

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

DETROIT – DeWitt head football coach Rob Zimmerman had every right to talk about how good it felt to capture his school’s first-ever MHSAA Finals football championship Saturday night at Ford Field.

But all he wanted to talk about after DeWitt’s 40-30 victory over River Rouge in the Division 3 Final was the character and drive of his players. That’s what was first and foremost on his mind.

“It’s unbelievable, but I think the greatest part of it all is this is such a great group of kids,” said the veteran coach, who previously has coached four Finals runners-up, the most recent in 2013. “I’ve been saying it all year long, but their character is unbelievable – the motivation, the drive, the leadership. If there’s a group of kids who deserve to win a state championship, it’s this group. I’m so happy for them.”

Total, the program was making its sixth championship game appearance, seeking its first title.

And it didn’t take long Saturday for Zimmerman and his group to take steps toward earning it.

Junior quarterback Tyler Holtz broke open a scoreless game at the 5:50 mark of the first quarter, connecting with senior Blake Beachnau for a 15-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.

River Rouge would answer back early in the second quarter, as senior Mareyohn Hrabowski would find junior Jalen Holly for a 52-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion pass from Hrabowski to freshman Nicholas Marsh gave Rouge an 8-7 lead.

But it was at that point that the DeWitt defense stepped things up. And it also was the point when Holtz began to take over the game. The Associated Press’ Player of the Year in Divisions 3 and 4 threw two more touchdown passes before halftime, then added another midway through the third quarter to help his team to a 27-8 lead. All three scores went to different receivers – eight yards to senior Andrew Debri, 35 yards to senior Nick Flegler and 25 yards to junior Thomas McIntosh.

“That’s why he’s the player of the year,” Zimmerman said of his junior signal caller. “He was front and center today, and his composure was unbelievable. He’s just off the charts, and he was the difference-maker in this game.

“We felt that we had the matchup advantage in the passing game going into this because our receivers are very good. We felt like we could throw the ball, too. We just had to mix in the run enough to take some shots without them just playing pass the whole time like they did against (Detroit Martin Luther) King (in the Regional Final).”

Holtz finished the game 12-of-16 passing for 177 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed the ball 15 times for a game-high 118 yards – and another score. River Rouge head coach Corey Parker admitted his team couldn’t find a way to stop Holtz.

“(Holtz) is able to throw the ball on the run, and that creates threats to a defense like no other,” Parker said. “Throwing the ball on the run, that’s truly a dual-threat guy. He didn’t really run the ball on the perimeter, he ran the ball on the interior and he was able to throw the ball real well.”

Hrabowski did his best to keep his team in the game. A four-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Marsh early in the fourth helped keep it a two-touchdown game. He also added a three-yard touchdown run and ensuing two-point conversion to cap off a game in which he threw for 227 yards and ran for another 94, while accounting for all of his team’s touchdowns. 

“They didn’t give up. Their kids played hard,” Zimmerman said of Rouge (9-2). “They’re the defending state champs so we knew they weren’t going to go easy. We kept scoring and they kept coming back. I’m just so proud of our kids.”

Rouge defeated Muskegon, 30-7, in last year’s Division 3 Final. Hrabowski returned this season, but many of the players on this year’s roster were new.

“Our goal is to get here (every year),” Parker said. “If you’ve got young guys making plays like that, you know exactly what your future looks like, so I’m pretty excited about what we’re going to do moving forward.”

DeWitt (12-0) capped off a magical season which saw its offense put up nearly 500 points in 11 games played, while its defense was dominant, allowing just 78, including Saturday’s Final. Flegler and fellow seniors Grant Uyl and Cooper Brumfield all led the team with 10 tackles each.

“We have unity, no matter what, on defense,” said Flegler, who also handled all the kicking duties for the team. “Our mindset is always, ‘What the next play? What’s the next play?’ We don’t linger on failure and we’re always looking to improve on the next play, and I think that’s what brings us success.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) DeWitt junior Thomas McIntosh (10) looks back to see if defenders are closing in as he makes his way toward the end zone Saturday. (Middle) DeWitt quarterback Tyler Holtz breaks into the open. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.”

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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.)