By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Jacob Holt will be in the middle of the action, guaranteed, when two great football traditions collide Saturday afternoon in Beal City.
Holt is a four-year starter up front for Muskegon Catholic Central, which ventures toward the middle of the mitten to Beal City in its quest for a third consecutive MHSAA Division 8 championship.
“We know we have to play our best or it will be our last game,” said Holt (6-foot, 245), a senior guard and defensive end for the Crusaders, who were ranked No. 1 in Division 8 in the final Associated Press state poll. “This is a completely different team than the past two years, but our motivation is to uphold the MCC tradition.”
Holt brings a wealth of size, talent and, perhaps most importantly, experience into Saturday’s showdown. He has started nearly 48 games for MCC over the past four years – leading his team to the Semifinals in 2012, starting all 14 games each of the next two years for back-to-back championship teams, and all nine games this year for the 7-2 Crusaders.
Holt is a force on an offensive line which is very good, but not quite the wrecking machine of a year ago.
MCC lost three players off last year’s offensive line who earned some form of all-state recognition – Jaeden MacPherson (now at Ferris State), Michael Caughey (Benedictine in Atchison, Kan.) and Lamar Jordan (St. Francis in Joliet, Ill.).
The new line showed its youth in this season’s opening game at perennial Division 5 powerhouse Muskegon Oakridge. The Eagles rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead and, eventually, a 45-26 victory, snapping MCC’s 26-game winning streak.
Since that game, the Crusaders’ line has come of age behind Holt, who will likely go down as one of the best pulling guards to ever play for veteran MCC line coach and defensive coordinator Mike Ribecky.
“Jacob is just really coordinated and skilled for his size,” said third-year MCC coach Steve Czerwon, whose team has won seven of its last eight games, with its only loss during that stretch coming Week 8 at Detroit Country Day, the top-ranked team in Division 4. “We try to take advantage of that in different ways. We pull him quite a bit and he has played about 20 snaps this season at fullback.”
In his normal position at guard, Holt anchors the strong right side of the Crusaders’ line, which also includes monstrous junior tackle Brock Johnson (6-1, 280) and senior tight end Nate Jones, who made his 50th consecutive varsity start in last week’s 49-7 win over visiting Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.
Also missing off those back-to-back championship winners is quarterback Nick Holt, Jacob’s older brother and the unquestioned leader of those powerhouse teams. The Holts also made up the battery of MCC’s MHSAA championship baseball team this spring, with Nick on the pitcher’s mound and Jacob at catcher.
“It’s been weird not having him around this fall,” said Jacob of his older brother, who is now a freshman at Hope College, where he is a pitcher on the baseball team. “I miss riding home with him after every game and every practice and just going over everything. We still text all the time, but it’s not the same.”
Nick Holt had to make a difficult choice between playing baseball or football in college, and Jacob will soon face the same agonizing decision. Among the schools pursuing him in football are Saginaw Valley State, Wayne State, Northwood, Mount Union (Ohio) and Hope, while he is actively being recruited in baseball by Kalamazoo College, Aquinas College and Hope.
Stepping into Nick Holt’s big shoes at the quarterback spot is senior Christian Martinez, who has assumed a more traditional ball distribution role – getting the ball to junior running backs Logan Helton and LaTommy Scott, as well as his favorite aerial target in junior Walker Christoffersen.
Holt gives much of the credit for his success to his parents, Mike and Cathi Holt, who raised their two sons to be both competitive and humble in everything they do.
“My dad has been my coach ever since I was a little kid,” said Jacob, 17, who has a 3.88 GPA and scored a 27 on his ACT. “He taught me how to be a man. The big thing with him was, win or lose, we weren’t going to be poor sports.”
Mike Holt, now in his 16th year as a science teacher at MCC, has influenced more than just his two sons for the Crusaders’ football program. Holt is the Crusaders’ middle school head football coach and, along with former MCC great and Northern Illinois Hall of Famer Frank Lewandoski, has played a big part in the development of the program’s players for the past six years.
This fall, the school district took it a step further with the formation of the Muskegon Catholic Central Youth Football Club, which was organized by current MCC School Board President Andy Riegler, who quarterbacked the Crusaders to a Class C championship in 1990. Czerwon called the club’s first season “hugely successful.”
Those kinds of efforts at the lower levels help explain MCC’s continued success, despite steadily declining enrollment over the past 35 years.
“We’re blessed to have quality coaches at the middle school and the youth levels, who really care about the kids,” said Czerwon, who boasts a gaudy 33-4 record in his three years as head coach.
MCC first broke through in the football playoffs as a Class B school, winning MHSAA titles in 1980 and 1982. The Crusaders won three Class C championships in the 1990s and have won five titles in either Division 7 or Division 8 during the first 15 seasons the 2000s.
With a current enrollment of 177 students, MCC is a Class D school in size, but the standards and expectations for the football program have remained as high as ever.
Many of those young kids aspire to someday be like Jacob Holt, big No. 77, who sets a great example for them both on and off the field.
Holt will need to be at his best against a Beal City program that knows all about physical football and playing in November.
While the Crusaders boast 10 MHSAA titles in the playoff era, Beal City has the edge over MCC and every other team in the state with 33 playoff appearances. Farmington Hills Harrison is second with 32, followed by Crystal Falls Forest Park and Fowler with 31. Muskegon Catholic is eighth with 27 playoff appearances.
Beal City (9-1), which was ranked sixth in the final AP Division 8 poll with its only loss coming Week 5 against Evart, will seek to avenge a 35-12 loss to MCC in the 2013 Division 8 championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.
While the two schools are known for football success, their biggest rivalry in recent years has been on the baseball diamond. Beal City knocked off MCC in Division 4 Regional Finals in 2013 and 2014, with the Crusaders getting the upper hand this past spring.
On Saturday, the two schools will meet on the gridiron for a Division 8 District championship.
“We’ve gotten to know Beal City really well,” said Holt, an all-Lakes 8 Conference lineman the past two years. “It’s a chance for us to show how far we’ve come this year. We lost 18 seniors last year, so it hasn’t always been smooth, but I think we’re playing our best right now.”
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.
PHOTOS: (Top) Jacob Holt recovers a fumble during MCC's dramatic, come-from-behind, 29-26 victory over host Fruitport on Oct. 2. (Middle) Holt shows his athletic ability, leaping high and nearly blocking this punt in a 49-14 victory over visiting Fremont at Kehren Stadium. (Below) Mike Holt, a Muskegon Catholic Central teacher and middle school football coach, is flanked by his sons, junior Jacob (77) and senior Nicholas (3), after MCC defeated Munising last year for its second consecutive MHSAA Division 8 championship. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)
Caryn Jackson said it “started to hit her” at about noon, some seven hours before kickoff.
An official for football games at both the high school level in Michigan and the college level for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Jackson started to fully realize what a special event she was about to participate in.
Jackson was assigned to be the head line judge for the Waterford Kettering at Detroit Lincoln-King varsity game last Thursday at Detroit Mercy, but this was a different assignment than any other.
In addition to Jackson, there were four more women to form what’s believed to be the first all-female officiating crew for a varsity football game in state history.
With that in mind, Jackson posted what was about to happen on her X (Twitter) feed hours before the game.
“It had 23,000 engagements in an hour,” Jackson said.
And all this happened without any retweets from her daughter Rikea Jackson, the 2019 Miss Basketball Award winner at Detroit Edison who plays for Tennessee and has over 10,000 followers.
The football game arrived, and right away spectators sensed they were watching history unfold.
The crew of Jackson, referee Nicole Randolph, line judge Delonda Little, umpire RanDee Henry and back judge Kamaria Douglas made history and inspired others during a night that should be impactful for a long time.
And this also wasn’t the first time they’ve led in the officiating world.
Randolph is a Big Ten football official. As noted above, Jackson officiates Division II college football. Douglass, Little and Henry all are college basketball officials as well, and Little in March became the first woman to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since 1995 when she refereed the Division 3 championship game at Breslin Center.
Here are thoughts from all five about their unforgettable evening on the football field:
Kamaria Douglas: “It was very well-received, which was an even better feeling,” she said. “There were a lot of people, whether we were in the parking lot afterward or just chit-chatting, who wanted to take pictures. People gave us kudos and flowers and said we did a nice job. It’s one thing to get an opportunity, but also to go out there and do a good job. They want to see more of it. Waterford Kettering’s coach said he was the father of three girls, so it just warmed his heart. He came over and got a picture with us, which was really cool.”
RanDee Henry: “This game, although historic, was even more amazing because I got to do it with friends,” she said. “All of these women have strong friendships on and off the field, making this moment even more amazing and monumental.”
Very honored and proud for the Waterford Kettering Football program for being part of MHSAA history with the first ever all female group of officials for our game. Congrats to all five of them. @WKFootball1 @WKHSCaptains @WSDATHLETICS @MHSAA @michiganhsfca pic.twitter.com/HJvtEMSnXA
— Coach Bob Chiesa (@ChiesaBob) September 22, 2023
Caryn Jackson: “For my children, I always tell them to leave your mark wherever you go and whatever you do,” she said. “Be a part of history. Who knew I would be refereeing high school, let alone doing it with all women? It feels good when I walk the football field and people are cheering just because they see a woman. People say ‘I’m glad you’re here, ref.’ I’ve had young boys walk up to me and shake my hand and say thank you for making history, and that you’re the first female official I have had. That stuff makes me feel good. To do it alongside four other women, that was amazing.”
Delonda Little: “Women are breaking barriers, and it’s nice to be acknowledged and to have some gender equality out there,” she said. “We all felt good to get the support during the game from the coaches and the fans. Both coaches told us we did a great job. Coaches wanted to take pictures with us to be a part of the historical moment. Fans as we were leaving told us we did a good job.”
Little continued: “Women, we still have a long way to go. But it’s good we are getting the acknowledgment we deserve. There should be gender equality.”
Nicole Randolph: “The players kind of got the adrenaline going,” she said. “I was already a little nervous going into the day because it was really happening. When I got to the field, I was calm, cool and collected. When we all walked onto the field, the players were excited, and the coaches were excited. They asked for pictures and said they wanted to take pictures at the end of the game because they had never seen this many female officials at a game.”
Randolph continued: “We went in and said ‘Hey girls, this a great opportunity. Let’s make the best of it so we can continue to open the doors for other young ladies to continue to aspire (in) our footsteps.’”
PHOTO Thursday's crew at Detroit Mercy, from left: head line judge Caryn Jackson, umpire RanDee Henry, referee Nicole Randolph, line judge Delonda Little and back judge Kamaria Douglas. (Courtesy photo.)