Drive for Detroit: Week 1 Preview

August 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Football remains the most played high school sport in Michigan, not to mention the most popular for fans who fill our stadiums every fall weekend.

Finally, it’s time to start talking about it again – and you’ve come to the right place.

Below is the first of 14 “Drive for Detroit” weekly previews aimed at giving you the most intriguing games in your corner of the state every week through November’s 11-Player Finals at Ford Field.

The original motivation of our weekly football previews has been to give fans a few games they can check out no matter where they live or might be visiting in our great state. For that reason, you’ll see the games at University of Michigan this weekend under “Southeast & Border” although those teams playing don’t necessarily call that part of the state home, and you’ll find the rest listed under regions where the home team is located even if the away team is from far away. 

With most of the state’s games this weekend split over Thursday and Friday, we’ve also listed which day all of them below will be played – but check out the MHSAA Score Center for the full schedule plus scores all three nights as they come in.

Be sure to check out as well the list of 19 games airing this weekend on, including all three from the Vehicle City Gridiron Classic at Flint’s Atwood Stadium, seven games from the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University and all four games from Saturday’s GRidiron Classic at Grand Valley State University.

The weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid. Please click the adjacent linked logo and read below for more information on how MI Student Aid is providing Michigan’s high school students with money to help pay for college.

Bay & Thumb

Marysville (10-1) at Richmond (8-2), Thursday

A 38-21 win over the Blue Devils in last season’s opener was the start to Marysville’s best finish since 2000, as the Vikings’ only loss came in a District Final to eventual Division 4 runner-up Detroit Country Day. Richmond still went on to a perfect run through the Blue Water Area Conference and fifth straight playoff berth, and will look to make it three wins in four years over the reigning Macomb Area Conference Gold champ.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Marine City (4-5) at Algonac (11-2), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (6-4) vs. Grand Blanc (5-5) at Atwood Stadium, Lake Fenton (8-2) at New Lothrop (10-2), FRIDAY Unionville-Sebewaing (9-2) at Ubly (12-1).

Greater Detroit

Macomb Dakota (7-4) at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (10-4), Thursday

A host of intriguing games will be played this weekend as part of the Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University; four of them are listed below. But it’s tough again to look past this one. The Cougars won the opener with the Eaglets 35-28 a year ago on the way to a 16th straight playoff appearance. St. Mary’s, meanwhile, rebounded to only win a third straight Division 3 championship with a one-point nail-biter over Muskegon in the season’s final game at Ford Field.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Southfield Arts & Technology (8-4) vs. Davison (10-1) at Wayne State University, Walled Lake Western (12-2) vs. West Bloomfield (6-5) at Wayne State University, SATURDAY Oak Park (7-4) vs. Utica Eisenhower (12-1) at Wayne State University, River Rouge (11-2) vs. Detroit East English (5-4) at Wayne State University.


Hudsonville (8-2) at Grand Ledge (7-3), Thursday

Grand Ledge was considered the Lansing area’s best team for most of last season and will vie for that status again with a senior-loaded squad; more on that next week when the Comets take on another contender in DeWitt. Grand Ledge’s only loss through the first eight games last fall was in the opener 21-14 to Hudsonville, which went on to a fourth straight playoff appearance with losses only to Ottawa-Kent Conference Red rivals Rockford and Grandville.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Haslett (4-5) at Fowlerville (7-3), Battle Creek Pennfield (5-5) at Williamston (5-5), FRIDAY Beal City (7-4) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-5), East Lansing (6-4) at St. Johns (5-4).

Northern Lower Peninsula

Roscommon (9-2) at Grayling (7-4), Thursday

The Bucks turned a 20-14 opening-night win over Grayling last year into the start of their best season since 2006, including their first playoff appearance since 2012. The Vikings, meanwhile, continued as one of the most consistent programs in the north, putting together their best record in three seasons and seventh playoff appearance in eight seasons.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Big Rapids (3-6) at Cadillac (6-4), FRIDAY Hillman (5-5) at Gaylord St. Mary (6-4), AuGres-Sims (7-3) at Rogers City (4-5), Lansing Sexton (7-4) at Gaylord (4-5).

Southeast & Border

Rockford (7-4) at Saline (11-1), Thursday

A team-wide illness took the Rams out of this much-anticipated matchup a year ago, but it’s a go this week and with no less expectation. After taking a forfeit loss to start and then falling the following week to Lowell, Rockford strung together six straight wins to make the playoffs for a 21st straight season – tied for longest active streak in the state with Menominee. Saline is coming off a second straight 11-1 finish, and with its 2014 run to the Division 1 Final is a combined 34-4 over the last three seasons. The Yellowjackets might have been the second-best team in Michigan in 2016, falling to eventual Division 1 champion Detroit Cass Tech 43-42 in a Regional Final.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Brighton (7-3) vs. Belleville (7-3) at University of Michigan, Constantine (6-4) at Homer (8-3), FRIDAY Clarkston (9-3) vs. Lapeer (7-3) at University of Michigan, Pewamo-Westphalia (14-0) at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (4-5).

Southwest Corridor

Dearborn Divine Child (10-3) at Benton Harbor (10-1), Friday

Its former struggles becoming a distant memory, Benton Harbor has proven to not be a one or even two-year phenomenon. The Tigers once again won’t have an easy go as an independent this fall playing teams from all over the Lower Peninsula and one from Chicago. But they started 10-0 last year before falling by a point in a Division 4 District Final, and expectations are high again despite starting out against a Division 3 semifinalist from a year ago. Divine Child bounced back last fall from a sub-.500 record in 2015 to post its best since 1985. This one will be key for the Falcons as well with their nonleague slate also including playoff regulars East Lansing and Warren DeLaSalle.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Portage Northern (5-5) at Battle Creek Lakeview (6-3), Fennville (3-6) at Schoolcraft (10-1), Marcellus (4-5) at Decatur (4-5), FRIDAY Lawton (8-2) at Watervliet (7-3).

Upper Peninsula

Iron Mountain (8-3) at Ishpeming (3-5), Friday

After Ishpeming’s dominance of the Mid-Peninsula Conference for most of this decade, last year belonged instead to Negaunee and Iron Mountain. The Mountaineers opened 2016 by handing the Hematites their first loss since 2014 and ending Ishpeming’s 27-game regular-season winning streak; Iron Mountain went on to its best overall finish since 2011. But Ishpeming, which hadn’t had a sub-.500 season previously since 2001, surely has been looking forward to starting over against this familiar opponent.

Others that caught my eye: FRIDAY Gladstone (3-6) at Gwinn (6-4), Niagara Northern Elite, Wis. (1-0 this season) at Norway (9-3), SATURDAY Marinette, Wis. (0-1 this season) at Menominee (12-2), Hancock (5-4) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (10-1).

West Michigan

Jackson Lumen Christi (12-2) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-2), Friday

The Grand Rapids area in particular is loaded this weekend with matchups of some of its best against contenders from the Detroit and Lansing areas, including a replay of last season’s Division 4 Final between Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Detroit Country Day. But West Catholic/Lumen Christi wins out by a step this time because both are reigning MHSAA champions – West Catholic in Division 5 for the fourth straight year and Lumen Christi in Division 6. The teams have split openers the last two seasons, as West Catholic won last year’s meeting 30-13 – and the Falcons might be favorites off the bat again returning star quarterback Gaetano Vallone while Lumen Christi graduated 2,000-yard rusher Bo Bell.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Farmington Hills Harrison (5-4) at East Grand Rapids (8-3), DeWitt (10-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (9-2), Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-3) at Allendale (8-3), FRIDAY Detroit Country Day (13-1) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (13-1).


Battle Creek St. Philip (5-4) at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (11-1), Friday

Tri-unity broke into the playoffs last season for the first time and drove all the way to the 8-Player Semifinals before falling for the first and only time in 2016. So this likely won’t resemble at all the Defenders’ only other matchup with St. Philip, a 68-0 11-player loss in 2008. The Tigers, 8-player runners-up in 2015, lost four of their last five last season to just miss the playoffs – proof of the improving strength of the 8-player field. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they returned to the elite.

Others that caught my eye: THURSDAY Peck (5-4) at Lawrence (8-2), Rudyard (5-4) at Cedarville (6-4), FRIDAY Rapid River (6-4) at Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-2), Bellaire (3-6) at Pickford (10-2).

Second Half’s weekly “Drive for Detroit” previews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid. 

PHOTO: A Montague receiver snags a pass over a Whitehall defender last season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)