A Game for Every Fan: Week 5

September 25, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA football season nearly stretches over four full months from the first practices until the final championship game ends at Ford Field in November.

But the regular season seems to fly by; just like that, we’re already halfway through and today a month away from the selection of this fall’s playoff divisions and brackets.

One team – two-time reigning Division 7 champion Ishpeming – can earn the first playoff berth of this fall with a win tonight and because it is playing only eight games during the regular season. 

Read on for more of the most significant match-ups this weekend across the state.

West Michigan

Muskegon Oakridge (3-1) at Ravenna (4-0)

After three straight MHSAA Semifinal appearances from 2008-10, Ravenna fell back to the pack the last three seasons – finishing 4-5 each of the last two, even despite outscoring its opponents by 62 points in 2013. But the Bulldogs already have equaled that win total and can take another giant step back against Oakridge, a favorite in the West Michigan Conference that lost only on opening night to reigning Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic.

Others that caught my eye: Fruitport (2-2) at Muskegon Catholic Central (4-0), Rockford (4-0) at Caledonia (2-2), Grand Rapids South Christian (2-2) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (2-2), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (4-0) at Ada Forest Hills Eastern (2-2).

Bay and Thumb

Richmond (4-0) at Almont (4-0)

The Blue Devils are back on the march in the Blue Water Area Conference after finishing the league schedule perfect in 2013. Only seven points kept Almont from that accomplishment instead, and the Raiders are surely raring for this rematch after falling 42-35 to Richmond a year ago and finishing second in the conference. Almont opened this fall with three shutouts before giving up six points last week to Capac.

Others that caught my eye: Burton Atherton (3-1) at Flint Hamady (4-0), Goodrich (3-1) at Montrose (4-0), Midland Dow (4-0) at Flint Powers Catholic (3-1), Flint Kearsley (2-2) at Fenton (4-0).

Southwest and Border

Plainwell (3-1) at Vicksburg (4-0)

Vicksburg will look to keep its best start since 2010 going in this Wolverine B Conference East opener that could end up deciding the league champion. Plainwell was the league runner-up last season to Paw Paw, which this fall moved to the Wolverine B West, and has beaten Vicksburg in three straight including 26-3 a year ago. Plainwell fell to Edwardsburg by two last week, but Vicksburg has beaten the Eddies and Paw Paw over the last two weeks, respectively.

Others that caught my eye: Edwardsburg (3-1) at Paw Paw (3-1), Stevensville Lakeshore (4-0) at Battle Creek Lakeview (2-1), Battle Creek Harper Creek (2-2) at Battle Creek Pennfield (1-3), Lawton (2-2) at Decatur (4-0).

Greater Detroit

Clarkston (4-0) at Oxford (4-0)

Clarkston is tied with three others for the highest playoff point average in Michigan as it seeks to repeat as MHSAA Division 1 champion. But first up is Oakland Activities Association Red play and a quest for a fourth straight league title – although new to the league this season is Oxford, which fell to the Wolves by a mere 30-27 in last season’s Division 1 playoff opener.

Others that caught my eye: Detroit Catholic Central (2-2) at Birmingham Brother Rice (4-0), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (4-0) at Carleton Airport (3-1), Farmington Hills Harrison (3-1) at Southfield (3-1), Orchard Lake St. Mary's (4-0) at Warren DeLaSalle (3-1).

Lower Up North

Traverse City St. Francis (3-1) at Boyne City (4-0)

St. Francis is back in a league – the first-year Northern Michigan Football Conference – for the first time since 2011, and draws its toughest opponent so far in Boyne City. The Ramblers finished Lake Michigan Conference runners-up to Grayling the last two seasons after St. Francis left that conference for football. All three teams are in the Leaders division this season, but Boyne City is the only Michigan team to not yet give up a point – it’s outscored its first four opponents by a combined 166-0.

Others that caught my eye: Traverse City Central (3-1) at Gaylord (4-0), Mancelona (3-1) at Indian River Inland Lakes (3-1), Manistee (3-1) at McBain (2-2), Lincoln Alcona (3-1) at Whittemore-Prescott (4-0).

Mid-Michigan

Hanover-Horton (4-0) at Manchester (3-1)

Hanover-Horton is quickly advancing a turnaround after finishing 4-5 a year ago and a combined 14-31 over the last five seasons. The Comets already have avenged 2013 losses to Addison and Michigan Center over the last two weeks and now get Manchester, last season’s Cascades Conference co-champion and owner of six straight playoff berths.

Others that caught my eye: Fowler (4-0) at Dansville (3-1), Haslett (2-2) at DeWitt (4-0), Homer (4-0) at Jonesville (3-1), Newaygo (3-1) at Stanton Central Montcalm (3-1).

Upper Peninsula

Marquette (3-1) at Gladstone (3-1)

The road to Gladstone’s first playoff berth since 2008 doesn’t get any easier after last week’s loss to reigning MHSAA Division 5 runner-up Menominee. Marquette put 63 points on Gladstone in 2013 – although the Braves defense has been impressive holding its other three opponents this fall to 19 or fewer points.

Others that caught my eye: Iron Mountain (2-2) at Ishpeming Westwood (3-1), Menominee (4-0) at Kingsford (2-2), Maple City Glen Lake (2-1) at Lake Linden-Hubbell (3-1), Hurley, Wis. (4-1) at Bessemer (3-1)

8-Player

Posen (2-2) at Bellaire (4-0)

Bellaire on paper has looked more dominant during the season’s first half, outscoring three opponents 137-32 (the fourth win came as a forfeit). But the Eagles won’t look past Posen after falling to the Vikings 62-14 last season, a defeat that started a 1-4 skid to finish 2013. Posen’s two losses this season were to powerful Cedarville and Rapid River during the first two weeks.

Others that caught my eye: Waldron (3-1) at Webberville (3-1), Burr Oak (2-2) at Portland St. Patrick (4-0).

PHOTO: DeWitt defeated Lansing Waverly last week 56-12 and has won 30 straight league games dating to 2008.  (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)