Brendan Haisenleder understands the specialness of his senior football season, which came to an end Friday with a 42-21 Division 8 District Final loss to Clarkston Everest Collegiate.
He is well aware that what he accomplished at Marine City Cardinal Mooney was extraordinary.
But when asked to recap it, none of the personal milestones came up.
“It’s really awesome seeing the program and how it used to be a couple years ago and how it’s turned around,” Haisenleder said. “Just seeing the growth as a program, going from having a roster of 15 kids and now we’re at 30. It’s really awesome, and I’m really proud of how far the Mooney program has come.”
He’s certainly not wrong. Mooney was 8-3 this season, winning a playoff game for the first time since 2011 when the team was playing in the 8-player format. The first-round victory against Marlette was the first 11-player playoff win for the Cardinals since 2005.
They won the Detroit Catholic League Intersectional 2, and the 15 wins over the past two seasons were more than the previous six seasons combined.
“I think that one big thing is the work in the offseason that all of the kids put in and all of the coaches,” Haisenleder said.
“We were getting a lot of stuff we needed to get done going into the season, we took everything very seriously, and we played very hard and physical on gamedays.”
But it’s undeniable that Haisenleder was at the heart of it, and his statistics tell quite a bit of the story.
He rushed for 2,302 yards, easily setting a new Mooney season record, and scored 30 offensive touchdowns. On defense, he recorded 148 tackles and five interceptions.
Mike McAndrews, Mooney’s director of admissions and boys basketball coach, didn’t mince words when he tweeted about Haisenleder’s status in Mooney history.
“The best football player to ever wear a Mooney uniform,” McAndrews wrote, tagging Haisenleder. “He took this program to new heights. He will be playing on Saturdays next year and will make a college coach very happy.”
Haisenleder wouldn’t say that he was surprised by his success this season. But he did admit that he exceeded his own very high expectations. By Week 4, he already had eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.
“When I play, I have a lot of confidence,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself that I have to put the work in so I can do the best I can to help my team. One of the goals I had was to become the single-season rushing leader at our school. … My offensive line did a great job.”
Haisenleder’s success has led to college interest. He has six offers to play at the next level, four from NAIA schools and two from Division III.
At 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle in that regard, but it’s made him even more driven to succeed.
“There kind of is a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “Seeing guys that are very similar to me getting offers, and I think, ‘Man I’m right there.’”
The best football player to ever wear a Mooney uniform @BHaisenleder. He took this program to new heights. He will be playing on Saturdays next year and will make a college coach very happy. pic.twitter.com/vIaOWdhDVg
— Mike McAndrews (@CM_hoopsCoach) November 5, 2022
Haisenleder’s football idol is Barry Sanders, who he was able to meet at an event in October. The size is an immediate comparison to make, and it’s easy to see how any athlete – even if they were born six years after Sanders retired – could be engrossed by Sanders highlights. But it’s Sanders’ humility that Haisenleder most wants to emulate.
“One of my favorite things about him was how humble he was,” Haisenleder said. “When he would score, he would just hand the ball to the ref and act like he’d been there before. That’s another thing I take very big pride in.”
Haisenleder said he will now take more time to figure out what his next step will be, although things won’t really slow down much for him. Conditioning for basketball already has started.
He’s a guard on the Cardinals’ basketball team, and an outfielder on the baseball team. While football became his main focus as he neared high school, he said he loves all three.
It helps that all three teams are seeing quite a bit of success at Mooney, and that many of Haisenleder’s teammates overlap on all three.
“It is cool at a small school that a lot of the same guys play the same sports,” he said. “There’s a really big brotherhood between the same guys. The family never really changes that much, and we’re really growing in chemistry with one another.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cardinal Mooney’s Brendan Haisenleder finishes one of his 30 touchdowns this fall. (Middle) Haisenleder works to break a tackle during a Week 8 win over Whitmore Lake. (Photos by Lindsey VanTiem.)
DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.
“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.
King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.
The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.
Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.
The Crusaders never looked back.
“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”
Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.
Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.
Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.
Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.
Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.
Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.
“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.
“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.
King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).
The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.
“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”
Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.
It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.
“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.
“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”
Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”
“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.
“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.
Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.
“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.