GR Catholic Central Unveils New Home
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com
August 23, 2016
GRAND RAPIDS – Former Grand Rapids Catholic Central football player and current assistant coach Kyle Shelton didn’t know if he would ever see the day – the day when the football program would have a place to call home.
And it wasn’t until he witnessed shovels digging dirt that Shelton knew it was going to become a reality.
Cougar Stadium was unveiled to the community over this past weekend, the crown jewel of a nearly $10-million project at the Cougar Athletic Trails (CAT) athletic complex.
“It’s long overdue, that’s for sure,” said Shelton, a 1999 Catholic Central graduate. “It’s nice from a functional standpoint, having a surface always ready for practice, which we haven’t had in the past, and to have all of our teams in one spot, which we haven’t been able to do.
“From a teaching standpoint, we have brand new team rooms where we can watch film, and that’s just the football side of things.”
Cougars senior running back Antonio Strong may be biased, but ranks his new digs among the tops in the area.
“It’s one of the best complexes around, and I think one of the best in the state,” he said. “It felt like it was meant to be.”
Last week, the CAT was re-dedicated and blessed. It was the first of several events throughout the weekend to celebrate the facility’s re-opening.
Several thousand people braved severe weather Saturday to attend the first Catholic Central Hall of Fame induction while getting a glimpse of the new turf field and surrounding amenities.
“This place is amazing,” fifth-year Cougars varsity football coach Todd Kolster said. “I think it’s second to none, and it shined pretty brightly on Saturday night when the weather was bad. We had probably over 3,000 here during a tornado getting ready to hit just to see the place.
“It’s just awesome for our community to have a place to call home. It’s awesome for our kids to call this home.”
While a majority of football programs boast home stadiums or fields, Catholic Central has never been among them.
The school is celebrating its 110th birthday this season, and this is the first time in school history it will have a place to call its own.
For more than a century, Catholic Central has had to travel and play its home games at other venues.
Houseman Field in downtown Grand Rapids was where the Cougars played a majority of their “home games.” In recent years, they’ve had to travel to surrounding schools, including Grand Rapids Christian and Ada Forest Hills Eastern, to play.
It will be an entirely new experience for the Cougars when they host East Grand Rapids on Friday to open the 2016 season.
“We don’t have to get on a bus to play football,” Kolster said with a smile. “It will be different in how it impacts our schedule. What do we do for a home game now? Before we didn’t have much time. It was school, then we went to chapel, and then we came out here for a walk-through before getting on a bus and leaving. That was every week.”
The freshmen and junior varsity football teams played at the complex in past years on a makeshift field, but the varsity didn’t due to lack of lights and space.
Last season during construction, all three teams were bused to games.
“There wasn’t a single time last year that we didn’t get on a bus to play a football game,” Shelton said. “Last year was trying in that respect. Game days, (it) now saves us a good hour in travel time to a football game.
“We finally have a place to call home. We have a home that we can take pride and hopefully a tough environment for teams who come here and play. A home-field advantage so to speak, something we’ve never had.”
Catholic Central athletic director Trevor Hinshaw remains awestruck by the sight of the school’s decorated surroundings.
“It’s unbelievable, and I get goose bumps every time I walk out here,” Hinshaw said. “It’s a pretty amazing facility, and we are beyond blessed to call it home. To have no more home games on the road will be weird, but I think we will get used to it quickly and come to appreciate our new reality.”
The tradition of Catholic Central was not forgotten in the process. A plaza honoring legendary football coach Ted Sowle sits on the concourse, as do plaques commemorating past MHSAA championships.
Other influential people in the community from days past also are recognized throughout the stadium.
“It’s important that our kids understand the traditions that came before them and the people that came before them to make this happen,” Kolster said. “I’ve talked to guys that I’ve coached, and they’re sad they don’t get to play here, but excited for the guys who are and for the future of our school. Those guys laid the foundation for us to play here.”
Friday night will mark another historic date in school history, and the players are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to play their first “home game.”
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Strong said. “I’ve been waiting for this all year.”
“It’s going to be live here,” senior cornerback Mike Brown added.
Hinshaw said the undertaking of hosting the first game involves a lot of logistics, but he hopes to cherish the moment.
“Ultimately, I want to make sure that through the stress I find time to enjoy the experience as well,” he said.
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Players work out on the freshly-completed Cougar Stadium turf. (Middle) The stadium scoreboard overlooks plaques dedicated to past GRCC champions. (Below) Gates will open for a varsity game for the first time Friday. (Photos by Dean Holzwarth.)
Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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:
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.)