Kearsley Welcomes Dawn of Exciting Era
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
October 9, 2019
Austin Lewis remembers going to Flint Kearsley football games as a kid and the excitement in the crowd. He also remembers that excitement being short-lived.
“It was fun and upbeat during the first half,” said Lewis, now a senior linebacker and tight end at Kearsley. “But toward the end, people were leaving because we weren’t winning.”
These days, people aren’t leaving, as the Hornets have given their fans more to cheer about than they’ve enjoyed in a long time.
With its 27-7 win against Holly this past Friday, Kearsley improved to 5-1, ensuring its first winning season since 2003. One more win, and the Hornets will clinch their first playoff berth since 1998.
“It just feels great,” junior running back and defensive tackle Isaiah Stiverson said. “We’ve all been together since middle school, and everyone in the community, they knew our group would be the one to change it and turn it around. It just feels good.”
Many of the juniors and seniors on this season’s team combined to go unbeaten as a junior varsity team in 2017. The juniors also were undefeated in middle school.
This group came together at the same time new coach Kaleb Forr arrived at Kearsley. A Davison native who had previously coached at Holland Christian, Forr brought with him new schemes, including a more wide-open offense. Now that he’s in Year 3, he’s also provided the program with consistency.
“I think the thing that Kearsley had struggled with even before I got there, it seemed like every couple years a new coach would come through,” Forr said. “It’s tough to kind of build on that. They gave me a shot when I was young – I was 26 when I got the job. They wanted to try to hire somebody that could be around for a while and try to build something consistent. That’s what has been great – the kids, the whole community, the staff, the administration has really bought into the mindset we’ve tried to bring in.”
One of Forr’s greatest challenges early ended up a blessing in disguise. He was hired in June of 2017, which didn’t give him much time to put together a staff for the upcoming season. But Madison Heights Lamphere coach Jeff Glynn, who Forr did not know at the time, reached out to congratulate him and gave him some advice.
“I told him it’s been a struggle trying to find guys that know what we’re trying to do and know the system,” Forr said. “He suggested something since we had six coaches on the varsity staff and couldn’t put together a JV staff – to have the varsity staff coach the varsity and JV that year. That’s actually the group of kids we have right now.”
While that was a lot of work, it allowed Forr to get acquainted with all the players in his program right away. It also allowed them to get acquainted with him.
“It was big,” junior quarterback Braylon Silvas said. “We were new to our offense – we went from a wing offense to a spread. Practicing with the varsity showed me what I needed to do. It helped me pick up on the speed of the game and how I needed to prepare.”
In 2018, many of those JV players moved up to the varsity level, and while they were 3-6, Forr said he could see signs of things moving in the right direction. The numbers agreed with him, as the Hornets were outscored by a total of 17 points on the season despite the six losses.
“Last year was definitely a year where we saw some things that made us think, ‘Man, we could be pretty good,’” Forr said. “A few plays where things didn’t go our way, and that’s what determines the outcome. We were competitive against teams in our league that we haven’t been in the past.”
Players and coaches alike say this year’s team put in the necessary work in the offseason to capitalize on the talent and momentum of the program. But there’s more to the success than that.
“I really think the key is that we’re acting more as a family,” Silvas said. “We really came together this year, and we’re doing really great things. Everybody has bought in. The family – everybody emphasizes that.”
With everyone in the locker room bought in, players knew they needed to get everyone in the community to buy in, as well. Through six games, it appears that has happened.
“It’s different, because at Kearsley, we haven’t had a winning season in a while,” Lewis said. “It feels good to have the community finally on our side, to have people finally believe in us, and to show people what we’re capable of.”
A main goal for this year’s team was to gain respect for the program. The five wins are a nice start, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. The Hornets play a Linden team in Week 7 that is tougher than its 2-4 record would indicate. The Eagles haven’t lost a game by more than eight points, and that includes defeats against Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Goodrich and Fenton – teams with a combined three losses between them.
A Flint Metro League crossover game against a yet-to-be-determined opponent awaits in Week 8, while Royal Oak is the Week 9 opponent. The focus for now is clearly on Linden, but a single win from the final three games would qualify Kearsley for the postseason. Players couldn’t hold back their excitement at the thought of ending a 21-year playoff drought.
“It would just mean so much,” Lewis said. “Honestly, to me, it would set like a milestone. It was something I wanted to do since I started playing for Kearsley.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Sunlight reflects off a Flint Kearsley team huddle early this season. (Middle) The Hornets defense lines up to stop Bay City Western during a 41-21 opening-night win. (Photos courtesy of the Kearsley football program.)
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.)