Five for 50: Record Remains Golden

September 20, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Tom Essenburg remembers one night 50 years ago like it was just last Friday.

Rain had been falling steadily on Sept. 21, 1962, as the Holland and Muskegon Heights football teams took the field at Holland's Riverview Park for their Week 2 game.

Heights was coached by the already-legendary Okie Johnson, and at his disposal were a handful of speedsters who could potentially make for a long night for Essenburg, a senior defensive back – although he had a hopeful hunch the wet weather might hinder the Tigers' passing game.

“I’m thinking to myself, what’s going to go on today?” Essenburg remembered this week. “They threw six passes the whole ballgame, because it was so wet.

“They didn’t complete one to a Muskegon Heights player,” he added. “But they completed five to me.”

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of Essenburg grabbing five interceptions, an MHSAA record for one game that twice has been tied but still stands half a century later.

The next day's Holland Evening Sentinel first told of Essenburg's final interception, which he returned for a touchdown with 13 seconds to play in the 12-0 victory. The report's seventh paragraph explained  that Essenburg “had quite a night with enemy aerials."

Essenburg, by his own estimation, was good but “not anything exceptional” at football. But he'd go on to captain the Western Michigan University men’s tennis team and officiate five MHSAA Football Finals during a 41-year career wearing the stripes. He's reffing still – he will be in the white hat Friday at Zeeland East – and owns and operates a fitness club in Grand Rapids.

It is more for those reasons that Essenburg is known well in the west Michigan athletic community. But the times have come, every few years or so, when someone runs across his name in the MHSAA record book, or recognizes his name from the record board at Holland High.

Doing his job

“I had a job to do. I was a defensive back. My job was to make sure people didn’t get behind me,” Essenburg said this week. “I don’t think I counted (the interceptions) during the game. Not until I got the paper the next day did I think that (five) must have been right.”

When his family headed to Holland to see relatives, Kristin Callis remembers her dad asking her and her siblings if they’d like to stop by the field to see where he had his history-making moments.

“Of course we would groan and act like it would be the end of the world to make the stop. I only recall seeing the field once,” said Callis, the eldest of Essenburg’s three children. “It was really just a funny thing my Dad would say to us. He was proud yet humble when it came to his accomplishment.”

Essenburg also played baseball, basketball, and ran track at points during his high school years. After a standout tennis career with the Broncos, he became a teacher and later athletic director at Allegan High – and as a coach he started a boys tennis program that became one of the state’s elite under successor Gary Ellis.

Essenburg does most of his officiating these days for football and softball, and also has worked at the collegiate level. This spring, Essenburg received his 40-year service award from the MHSAA for his work between the lines.

“Excelling in high school sports charted the course for the rest of my Dad's life,” Callis said.

Essenburg owns Endurance Fitness in Grand Rapids. Previously, he started the Ramblewood Raquet Club in Grandville and managed the East Hills athletic club for nearly two decades. All three of his children got their first jobs at his club, and he taught them to play as many sports as they had interest. Essenburg's tennis skills no doubt passed down to Callis, who played at Hillsdale College. And, of course, the children have a pretty good idea what's happening on the football field when they were kids, Essenburg would quiz Kristin, Heidi and Ryan on football officiating signals.

History lives on

Essenburg's listing is the oldest for a defensive statistic in the MHSAA football record book. (Temperance Bedford's Tony Gill in 1990 and Concord's Zach Brigham in 2010 also grabbed five interceptions in one game to tie the record.)

But in a final ironic twist, recognition didn't come right away. Back then, a local service club sponsored a Player of the Week award for Holland's football team, with the best player each game honored the following Thursday. For the Heights game, Essenburg had to be a shoe-in.

The award that week went to a defensive lineman.

"I was just heartbroken. I said, 'What more could I do?'" Essenburg said. "But that was fine. Later in the year I got it."

“It’s a good thing I’m a referee,” he then joked. “If I was (a back judge), I might be really lenient with pass interference.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Tom Essenburg was mentioned prevalently in the Sept. 22, 1962 Holland Evening Sentinel for his five interceptions the night before against Muskegon Heights. (Middle) Later that season, the Sentinel also ran a photo of Essenburg attempting to haul in a pass. (Bottom) Essenburg has officiated in five MHSAA Football Finals, the most recent in 2004 at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.)