Martinez Shines in Big Reds' Opening Run

September 5, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Muskegon High School junior quarterback Cameron Martinez already has shown off a plethora of moves in just the first two weeks of this season.

Week 1 was a display of uncanny patience, field vision and sudden bursts of speed – a combination which produced 30 carries for 290 yards and all five of the Big Reds’ touchdowns during a 36-21 win over visiting Warren DeLaSalle in a battle of reigning MHSAA Finals champions.

Week 2 featured more of an option attack and split-second decision-making (as well as a fourth quarter comeback) during a thrilling 24-21 victory over visiting Detroit Martin Luther King in another blockbuster cross-state matchup.

“I love playing in big games like this, with this atmosphere,” a smiling Martinez said moments after the King game on Aug. 31, as a packed house of more than 7,000 fans exited historic Hackley Stadium.

“There is no feeling like this.”

Martinez has played in big games before, but this atmosphere is a regular part of lining up for the reigning Division 3 champion – which he’s doing for the first time this fall. Midway through his sophomore year in January, Martinez – whose step-father is Muskegon athletic director and head varsity boys basketball coach Keith Guy – transferred from nearby Muskegon Catholic Central (which he led to the Division 8 championship as a freshman) to a larger school and a larger challenge at Muskegon High, which has the winningest high school football program in Michigan.

“When I got here, it was like a family right away,” said the 16-year-old Martinez. “That made the process and the transition so much easier.”

Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield made it clear when Martinez came over that no one is handed a starting position for the Big Reds. Martinez prevailed in a competition with senior Johnny Martin III for the starting position.

Muskegon fans also were skeptical at first, and who would blame them?

The relatively thin Martinez had to replace La’Darius Jefferson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound quarterback with the mentality of a fullback who regularly ran over defenders while leading Muskegon to a 14-0 record and a victory over Farmington Hills Harrison in last fall’s Division 3 championship game. Jefferson, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and was named The Associated Press’ Division 3-4 Player of the Year, is now a running back at Michigan State University.

Martinez won over the Big Reds’ faithful quickly with his memorable performance against DeLaSalle, which featured several highlight-reel long touchdown runs, along with many tough carries in short-yardage situations.

The humble Martinez, whose athletic ability was noticed by Central Michigan University two years ago when he was offered a scholarship as a 14-year-old eighth grader, deflected all of the praise and gave credit to the huge offensive line in front of him. Muskegon’s line averages 6-2 and 330 pounds, and returns four of five starters from a year ago.

Anthony Bradford (6-4, 350), who has committed to sign with Louisiana State University, anchors the line at right tackle, and the interior three – senior guards Marquis Cooper (6-2, 330) and Dquarius Johnson (6-2, 330) and junior center D’Andre Mills-Ellis (6-1, 290) – also are returning starters. The only new starter up front is senior left tackle Evan Towers (6-1, 290).

Fairfield said both Martinez and the big guys up front deserve credit.

“There is always a spot he’s heading to, and the guys are clearing the way,” explained Fairfield. “But then he is able to improv, and he does things on his own. He is special.”

Next up is a major road challenge Friday at perennial playoff power East Grand Rapids, before the Big Reds finish the regular season with six straight Ottawa-Kent Conference Black games.

Martinez also is expected to be a key contributor this winter on Guy’s Big Reds basketball team.

Now that the Big Red fans have fallen for Martinez, they do have two follow-up questions: Can Martinez continue to run the ball so much and stay healthy for a full season? And can he throw the ball accurately if need be?

Muskegon offensive coordinator Brent White hinted that he plans to share the wealth more as the season wears on to reduce the wear and tear on Martinez. That was certainly the case in Week 2 against King as halfback Jeremiah Lockhart and slots Demario Robinson and Hyrosha Wilson all had key carries.

White plans to introduce more wrinkles to his team’s attack each week, with the goal a more balanced run-pass offense for the big games down the stretch – most notably a looming home showdown on Oct. 12 against undefeated cross-town rival Muskegon Mona Shores – and then the playoffs.

Martinez has 59 carries over the first two games for 444 yards (7.5 per carry) and seven touchdowns. He has yet to complete a pass as a Big Red – Martinez was 0 for 1 through the air against DeLaSalle and 0 for 2 against King.

“We’re a power team, but we can throw the ball if we have to,” said Martinez, who threw for more than 700 yards last year as a sophomore at Muskegon Catholic. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement. I have to protect the ball better and show everyone that I can run and throw. It’s a great start for us, but we have a long way to go.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.


Crusaders Making Most of Opportunities

When Cameron Martinez transferred to Muskegon High in January, it was an opportunity for Muskegon Catholic Central sophomore Max Price.

Price, who has a strong arm and was a standout shortstop on the Crusaders’ varsity baseball team as a freshman, proved he was ready for prime time with a strong performance in MCC’s impressive 35-7 season-opening road win at Algonac.

Price threw for 150 yards and a touchdown against Algonac, which has advanced to at least the third round of the Division 5 playoffs each of the last three years. MCC is 1-1 after a 21-7 home loss last week to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

The other big offseason news out of Muskegon Catholic was its announcement that it has entered into a two-year cooperative agreement to allow Muskegon Western Michigan Christian students to play football at MCC.

The agreement will bring much-needed depth to the Crusaders’ roster, as seven of its 32 players this fall are WMC students. However, it also will push the perennial Division 8 powerhouse up to a higher division for the playoffs. MCC will now have to combine its enrollment of 126 with 276 students from WMC for a total of 402, which would likely make it a Division 6 playoff school.

MCC, which has won 13 total MHSAA football championships and 12 during the playoff era, won four consecutive Division 8 championships from 2013-16. Christian Martinez, Cameron’s older brother who now plays receiver at Northwood University, was the starting quarterback on the Crusaders’ championship teams in 2014 and 2015.

– Tom Kendra

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon quarterback Cameron Martinez breaks through an opening during a Week 1 win against Warren DeLaSalle. (Middle) Martinez pulls away from a Detroit Martin Luther King defender during last week’s victory. (Below) Muskegon Catholic Central quarterback Max Price hands off during last week’s loss to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep. (Photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)