Kalkaska Climbs Under 'Famed' Alum

September 28, 2016

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

KALKASKA – It was a whirlwind weekend for Jeremy Wilkinson.

The Kalkaska football coach led his unbeaten Blazers to a 35-0 victory over Cheboygan last Thursday. Then, 24 hours later, Wilkinson was inducted into the Northern Michigan University Sports Hall of Fame as part of the school’s Homecoming festivities.

“It’s a great honor,” the Kalkaska High School graduate said. “I remember 22 years ago looking at all the Hall of Fame plaques (in the Superior Dome) and thinking how cool it would be to be on that wall, too.”

Wilkinson, a wide receiver at Northern Michigan, still holds the career records for receiving yards (3,367) and touchdowns (35).

“This is a small town,” Kalkaska senior quarterback Hunter Suydam said. “Not too many (college) players come out of here, (certainly) not Hall of Famers. It’s pretty special.

“But he doesn’t really talk about it. It’s mainly, ‘Yeah, I played college football. Now, let’s get back to work.’”

That was Wilkinson’s mindset Monday as the Blazers began preparations for a big road task Friday at Boyne City.

With its 5-0 record, Kalkaska’s best start since the 1981 team went 9-0, the team’s generated quite a buzz in the community. But a difficult second half schedule includes games with Boyne City (3-2), Traverse City St. Francis (5-0) and Grayling (3-2).

It’s a stretch that promises to define the Blazers’ season.

“To be 5-0 is great, but our goal is the playoffs and we’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us,” Suydam said. “We need to focus on that. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5-0, if you can’t finish it off.”

Wilkinson has turned the program around since taking over in 2009. The Blazers are in the midst of a fourth winning season in five years – and a possible third playoff appearance during that span. One more win assures that.

“We know it takes one more win to make it into the playoffs,” Wilkinson said, ‘but we also know it’s not going to be easy. The next four weeks will be tough. We have quality opponents. We definitely have to clean up some mistakes we’ve been making the last couple weeks.”

Wilkinson is not surprised by the 5-0 start, which includes a 21-18 win over Leroy Pine River, a 4-1 squad that is ranked No. 9 in this week’s Associated Press Division 6 rankings. After all, the Blazers finished 5-4 a year ago and returned several players with at least three years of varsity experience.

One key returner was Suydam, who has completed 36 of 69 passes for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games (the Blazers won one game by forfeit). Two weeks ago, he threw for 292 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-21 triumph over Elk Rapids. He was 7 of 11 for 103 yards and two more scores against Cheboygan.

“Over the past few years we haven’t thrown the ball a ton,” Wilkinson said, “but this year we’ve opened it up a little more because of the speed and athleticism of our skills guys and the size in our line. It’s nice to be able to throw because it takes defenses out of their comfort zone. Now they’ve got to drop back and try to cover instead of loading seven to eight players in the box. “

Suydam, now in his second year at quarterback, is still learning the position as far as reads, Wilkinson said.

“But he’s starting to put it together,” the coach added.

Wilkinson is quick to credit Suydam’s receivers as well as a line that includes tackles Luke Sexton and Seth Riddle, guards Jake Disbrow and Brad Berger and center Ed Davidson. Nolan Mitchell is the leading receiver with 15 catches for 265 yards and four scores. Hayden Zimmerman has added 10 receptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns while tight end Jake Kies has contributed five receptions for 51 yards and two touchdowns.

“Our line has played well and our receivers are getting open,” Wilkinson said. “Once the ball is in their hands, they’re making plays. The last two weeks we’ve had plays where we’ve caught the ball within five to eight yards of the line of scrimmage and taken it 60, 70, 80 yards for touchdowns.’

Mitchell’s the leading rusher with 258 yards and three scores.

Defensively, the Blazers are paced by linebacker Gavin Peterson, who has a team-high 32 tackles. Mitchell and Disbrow are next with 23 and 21 stops, respectively. Kies, a defensive end, has four sacks.

“Our defense has been playing great and that’s because they’re playing aggressively,” Wilkinson said. “They’re flying around. They want to hit.”

 The Blazers’ roster features 18 seniors.

“Fifteen were on varsity as sophomores,” Suydam said. “Yes, we were 2-7 (two years ago), but that year of experience helped us.”

One of the seniors, receiver-linebacker Jacob Shier, broke his fibula early in the opening game. Shier, who has been on the varsity since his freshman season, still attends practice regularly to be around his teammates.

“I want to be here for the guys,” he said. “This class has been working together since third grade and it’s clicking right now. There’s a lot of talent on this team, more so than we’ve had in a long time. It’s looking good. Everybody’s buying in.”

The experience bleeds down into the junior class. Four juniors are in their third year on varsity.

“What we’re seeing on the football field is a credit to the program as a whole,” athletic director Justin Thorington said. “It starts at the top with the coaches creating a program that our student-athletes are really engaged and interested in, and working hard at.

“Plus, we have a giant senior class, which is always good.”

There are 29 players on varsity, 25 on JV.

“Those are good numbers for a school our size,” Thorington said. “But our participation numbers in general are pretty big. This year we added a JV soccer team, which, as far as I know, is the first time that’s happened here.”

Kalkaska coaches also participated this summer in a training program through Michigan State called Spartan Performance. The program, according to the school’s website, is designed to enhance athletic development and sports performance through a multidisciplinary approach that includes physical training, recovery, nutrition, mental skills and athletic health.

Michigan State conducted a two-day in-service with the coaching staff, then came back for a follow-up.

“It’s collegiate-level training based on research,” Thorington said. “It’s more than just strength training, it’s speed and agility, nutrition, sports psychology. They did training with our female sports coaches on ACL strength and tear prevention. We’re hitting all the facets.

“Our football staff really spearheaded it and ran with it. We only had a couple weeks to implement it, but this offseason we’ll have the entire year to do it. We’re always thinking of ways to get a competitive advantage.”

That said, Thorington added that wins and losses are not the only way to gauge success.

“Our slogan for this year (in the athletic department) is ‘Embrace the Process,’” he said. “We’re not going to concentrate on the results, the wins and losses. That’s not why we’re here. Instead of worrying about championships, we’re going to worry about developing champions.”

One can lead to the other, though, and that’s what the Blazers are hoping.

And as Thorington alluded, it all starts at the top with Wilkinson, who is all about team.

That was evident over the weekend when he first saw his Hall of Fame plaque that listed his individual accomplishments.

“It took a lot of people to make it happen – teammates, coaches, family, friends,” he said. “I didn’t do all the work myself. It’s (induction) an individual honor, but it doesn’t take into account that I had the MIFC Player of the Year at quarterback (Matt Hoard) in 1996. We also had the Defensive Player of the Year (Jovan Dewitt). A lot of people played a huge role in this.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalkaska junior Nolan Mitchell (5) looks for a hole against Elk Rapids this season, with Luke Sexton blocking. (Middle) Kalkaska football coach Jeremy Wilkinson. (Below) Senior quarterback Hunter Suydam rolls left looking for a receiver against Leroy Pine River. (Photos by Greg Fast.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.