With Help, Football Returns to Carney

August 25, 2016

By Dennis Grall
Special to Second Half

CARNEY — The football players dutifully go through their drills in blistering heat, showing energy and enthusiasm as they tackle what is basically a brand new sport.

Carney-Nadeau High School returns to the high school gridiron tonight for the first time since 1973, with an assist from some Upper Peninsula schools and another team known for its green and gold colors, the Green Bay Packers.

The 8-player team visits Ewen-Trout Creek for the first of eight road games this season. The small northern Menominee County school does not have a football field.

Actually, until around Thanksgiving 2015, the school did not have a team. Some parents approached the school about instituting football last fall, with the recent inception of the 8-player game playing a big role.

Helping fuel that fire was neighboring Powers North Central, which switched from 11-player to 8-player for the 2015 season and romped to the division’s MHSAA championship to complete a 13-0 season.

Jim Belec, who helped bring the football idea to school officials, became head coach and quickly picked up Dan Koffman as an assistant for the self-funded program.

Then the work began. And as the pieces started falling together, C-N students began showing interest in playing the sport.

Belec, who coached the youth football Sharks in nearby Stephenson, said, “You’ve got to have a lot of patience” working with players who have little or no experience. “You have to remember it is their first time out here, but at the same time you’ve got to remember you have to catch them up.”

He installed a basic offense and defense. “If you can’t do the basics, you don’t have much to stand on,” said Belec as he watched his players run through various drills. “They’ve got the want-to.”

He said basic drills included safety features such as keeping the head up while going in for a tackle and reminding defenders to wrap their arms around the ball carrier. “You can definitely tell the kids who have played in the past and who haven’t,” he said.

About half of the 17 players have some experience, including three who played at North Central under a co-op arrangement.

“I’m realistic. Starting off we have a lot to learn,” said Belec. “I hope we are far enough along to be competitive right off the bat.”

That wasn’t the case when the Wolves played 11-player football from 1970-73, when they posted only one win before dropping the sport. They played the 8-player game for a couple of years before that period, before those opponents also moved to 11-player football.

“Our first goal is to have fun,” said Belec, noting some players expressed playoff hopes while some hoped for perhaps two wins. “There are wins on the schedule to be had as long we work hard.”

The hard work and dedication have been on display since preseason practice began, but it will take live action to see how much progress has been made. At the outset Belec said, “They would come off the ball and they would all stand up right away. Little things like that can be taught.”

The Wolves received some equipment and uniforms from nearby Menominee High School and from Rock Mid Peninsula High School, which dropped 8-player football after the 2013 season.

Most obvious is the equipment and gear donated by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Brand new gloves bearing names like Randall Cobb arrived along with shoes, shoulder pads, pants, thigh pads, knee pads, girdles and state-of-art helmets. “The ones (pants) with blood stains were valuable,” said Koffman.

The items were arranged for by Belec’s wife Cindy, who attended school in Stephenson with Sandy Roubal, who is the corporate giving coordinator for the Packers.

“It’s been motivating and exciting to have the Packers involved,” said Koffman. “They gave us sizes that would fit our kids (along with some shoes that were much too large).”

The self-funded program has hooked up with Donors Choose, a fund-raising operation that enables people to make donations toward specific areas. Sixteen new helmets were paid for right off the bat from those donations.

“Financially we are viable,” said Koffman, noting everything on their wish list has been donated. “We didn’t have to do anything. We’re still in awe. Everybody has been outfitted. We have just been thrilled.”

C-N superintendent Adam Cocco was sporting a huge grin while watching his new squad practice recently. His dad, Robert, was quarterback of the school’s last team.

He said it “seemed insurmountable” when Belec first asked about fielding a team last fall. “The more we looked at it, the more we chipped away. It kind of came together. It is all self-funded. That speaks to the level of support from the community.”

Tight end John Berg, one of the seniors, figured, “I might as well go for it because it is my last year of school.” 

Tailback Dylan Kuehl said, “It was hard at first but we’ve pulled together, and the practices have gotten a whole lot easier.” A wrestler with the Bark River-Harris High School team as part of another co-op, Kuehl added, “We are setting high expectations for each other. It would be pretty cool if we could win four games.”

Fullback-linebacker Kyle Hammerberg played Pop Warner and junior varsity football at North Central. “I like helping everyone on the line fire off the ball,” he said. “I tell them to look at the ball and not listen to the count. If you watch football you feel it is a lot easier, but once you’re in the game it is a lot harder than you think.”

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTO: (Top) Carney-Nadeau work on agility during a recent practice. (Middle) Assistant coach Dan Koffman shows some of the donated equipment provided by the Green Bay Packers. (Below) The first Carney-Nadeau football team since 1974 will take the field this season as a self-funded program. The team includes: front row from left, Hunter DuPont, David Green, Alex Rhode, Bryce Montague, Arturo Rangel and Dylan Kuehl; middle, assistant coach Dan Koffman, Kyle Hammerberg, Brett LaFord, Norman Collins, head coach Jim Belec; back, James Imhoff, Jordan Belec, Calvin Haddock, John Berg and Jordan Lindstrom. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

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:

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.)