A Hero Comes Home to Vassar

October 17, 2012

By Alex Leveille and Tyler Langley
Vassar High School seniors

(Editor's note: Nothing short of incredible describes the story of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills. He is continuing a successful recovery from losing all four limbs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in April during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. His story turned a national spotlight on Vassar, a town of 2,700 people located in Michigan's thumb. Mills was an athletic standout for the Vulcans before graduating in 2005, and returned for Homecoming earlier this month. Vassar seniors Alex Leveille and Tyler Langley give us the story and explain its impact from a student point of view.)

Homecoming is about many things to high school students. But this year it got a whole lot bigger when word got out that Travis Mills, paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne, was coming home.

When the students at Vassar learned that Travis was coming back for Homecoming, everyone was excited to see him. A couple of students said they were really happy they would finally be able to meet the hero they heard all about.

“Seeing and meeting Travis was a really neat experience for me personally, so I can only imagine the effect he had on the community," said Vassar football player Brik Rupprecht, one of the team captains this fall. "When Travis showed up, you could really feel the positive energy coming from the crowd, supporting him, and the positive attitude Travis brought with him. When it came to the game, we just gave it our best for him. He told us he wanted to see a win, and that’s what we gave him. (Vassar defeated Unionville-Sebewaing that night 22-16.)”

Many things were changed to accommodate Travis’s homecoming. The Homecoming parade, of which Travis was the grand marshal, was moved to Thursday, Oct. 4 instead of Friday before the game. It was followed by a bonfire at which Travis spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000 people, thanking them for everything they have done for him and his family.

On that Friday, the day’s events included a block party sponsored by many local businesses plus Pepsi and Frito-Lay. This was a chance for the community to come together to celebrate Vassar’s Homecoming, as well as welcome Travis home. The pregame festivities included a ceremony to thank all of the area’s veterans, including Travis.

Travis then took center stage before the game to again express his sincere thanks for the community’s love and support throughout his recovery. The community continued that support with various gifts to Travis and his family to further show their love for them.

He then led a special coin toss during which both Vassar and Unionville-Sebewaing players lined up intermixed on both 45 yard-lines to show their united support for Travis. He also spoke to the Vassar team before the game, encouraging them to "play every down like it’s your last, because you never know when it’s going to be your last.”  

With Travis coming back to Vassar, our town was put in the spotlight of national news, which was something new to almost all of the students in Vassar. They all had different opinions about it too. Some didn’t like the thought of being in the eye of the country, but others did. Draven Muller, a sophomore and junior varsity football player, said it was a cool thought to be recognized nationally as a town and to be associated with a hero like Travis.

Jim Baker, a former paratrooper himself and teacher at Vassar High School, said, “Travis Mills is a true representative of what a paratrooper is all about. He makes me proud that I was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.”

Vassar Chief of Police Ben Guile said he remembers Travis when he was in high school. “Only a person like Travis would have been able to survive something like this, and be as positive as he is," Guile said. "He is very charismatic, and him coming back home to thank the community is one of the best things he could have done. This town loves him, and I never have felt any more positive energy at a parade than the one that Travis led.”

Travis came back the following Friday, Oct. 12, to speak to the students at Vassar High School. Travis, being the upbeat guy he is, kept the crowd awake and laughing the entire assembly, cracking jokes and telling the crowd about his experiences in the Afghanistan war.

He also offered advice on high school and college experiences and talked about his plans after getting out of Walter Reed Medical Center, where he's undergoing occupational therapy.

As he put it, “Hopefully the Army will want me back after I’m done at Walter Reed. I might not be able to do all of the physical stuff anymore, but I still have everything they taught me in my head.”

He also plans to go back to college and get a degree in teaching, and hopefully become a teacher and a football coach some day.

Having Travis home was great for the community and the area. He is an all-around great guy and can uplift anyone’s spirits.

Click on links below for Mills' web site and some of the national coverage of his recovery and return home.

TravisMills.org - Fox News - USA Today - Detroit News - Saginaw News

PHOTOS: (Top) Travis Mills served as the grand marshal of Vassar's Homecoming parade Oct. 5. (Middle) Mills returned to his former high school Friday to tell students about his experiences in Afghanistan. (Top photo by Vassar High senior Sarah McKenney; middle photo by English and journalism teacher Jamie Strauss.)

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.)