Mendon Coach Takes Reins from Mentor
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
September 6, 2016
It wasn’t the right time for an interview because John Schwartz didn’t want to be the center of attention. Besides, he had said all he wanted to say in February when he announced his retirement.
More than anything else, just a few minutes prior to the Mendon varsity football team opening the 2016 season against Bridgman, he wanted to address his attire.
Swiftly moving through the parking lot toward his car, Schwartz looked up, made eye contact with me, and his voice boomed through a shop broom of a mustache, “I put my shirt on backwards.”
Of course he did. His routine was off after more than four decades.
Schwartz exchanged pleasantries as he stood bare-chested about 30 parking spaces from the entrance to the field named after him. He checked to make sure the tag of his T-shirt was at the back of his neck this time.
We walked back to the stadium and talked about his kids and his grandchildren, whom he adores, and for whom, along with his wife, he retired from the game he treasures. When he turned in his letter of retirement to the Mendon school board in February at the age of 66, he said it was time to make more time for them.
He then climbed the bleachers to the press box, where he plans to watch the Hornets and provide advice when requested. Of all places, most of our interaction these days is on Facebook, where he’s quick to like a family photo.
I never took John Schwartz, a man who enjoys crafting things out of wood in his spare time, for a social media fan. But I learned over the years he’s full of surprises.
For a long time, Schwartz boasted the all-time best winning percentage in Michigan prep history. At the end of the 2014 season, his record at Mendon was 269-43 for a .862 percentage. That would have been a good time to retire. He knew, however, the Hornets were in for a rough 2015 season with low numbers in terms of bodies, and, as it turned out, victories. Mendon went 5-5, making his career record 274-48 and his winning percentage .851 — second all-time behind former Schoolcraft coach Larry Ledlow (.853).
He took one for the team.
It’s Bobby Kretschman’s team now, and you’re not going to find anyone in the small town of Mendon who would disagree with Schwartz concerning Kretschman’s worthiness to continue a tradition that includes 13 MHSAA championships — 10 of which were with Schwartz at the helm.
Kretschman, a former star linebacker for the Hornets and an assistant coach with the program for 10 years, was groomed for this role. In the same week in March when his first child, Connor, was born, Kretschman officially accepted the job.
Ranking third all-time in program history with 360 career tackles, including 11.7 stops per game as a senior on the 2005 Division 8 championship team, Kretschman fully understood the significance of becoming the school’s 23rd head coach.
“I’m excited,” he said at the time. “It’s going to be fun. We’re replacing a legend here. This is why I went into coaching and teaching. I didn’t think it was actually going to be at Mendon.”
The Hornets are 1-1 this season under his watch, with a loss to an excellent Cassopolis team in Week 2. But after the Hornets topped the Bridgman Bees in Kretschman’s debut, the new ball coach sounded an awful lot like the old one.
He asked the players gathered around him in the west end zone if they wanted to win a state title this year — perhaps a reach to some after Mendon went .500 last fall. They all believe they can. So did every kid who put on the green jersey since 1989.
Schwartz would always tell you that the Mendon staff coached the kids the same from the Rocket level to varsity. The plays, the verbiage and the expectations were consistent.
And it was all underscored by a sense of responsibility.
“There’s a great sense of pride at Mendon and I’ll be damned if that’s going to be lost,” Kretschman said. “That’s why you want to put the time into things and make sure you’re putting the best product out there you can. Your name is on it and you want it to be done right.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTO: Former linebacker Bobby Kretschman takes over the Mendon program this season from longtime coach John Schwartz. (Photo by Wes Morgan.) VIDEO courtesy of JoeInsider.com.
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.)