Michigan’s Football Numbers Game – Corrected
September 1, 2017
Today’s blog was written by MHSAA Second Half Editor Geoff Kimmerly
The demise of Michigan high school football has been greatly exaggerated – or, at least, recently misreported by one of the U.S.’s most recognizable newspapers that noted as part of a larger story on football decline that Michigan has seen a “net loss of 57 teams in the past five years.”
It’s easy to understand how this error took place – especially when a reporter is not familiar with the football landscape in our state – but that doesn’t make this statement any less misleading, or harmful considering the story since has been picked up by multiple large news organizations. So let’s quickly clear up the misinterpreted information:
The data that led to this error came from an annual participation report released by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Every spring, state associations (like the MHSAA) from every state and Washington, D.C., tally up how many of their member schools have a sport and how many athletes play it.
For 2016-17, the MHSAA submitted to the NFHS a total of 580 schools with 11-player football – that number actually includes all schools that reported having at least one football player, including primary and secondary schools in co-ops. And yes, that 580 is 57 fewer than the 637 11-player schools the MHSAA submitted for 2012-13.
But saying Michigan has lost 57 football programs misses out on something incredibly significant – the MHSAA also submitted 60 schools with 8-player football last year, up from 16 in 2012-13, making that net decrease in football schools over five years 13 – far fewer than 57.
And with a few more brush strokes, the picture of football in our state actually shows a healthy landscape:
The 640 schools in Michigan with at least one football player for 2016-17, 11 and 8-player combined, is actually eight more than we reported to the NFHS four years ago and 10 more than three years ago.
A better picture of Michigan’s football consistency is shown by how many varsity programs are taking the field. This fall, that number is 616 – 555 11-player varsities and 61 8-player – and we also had 616 for most of the 2016 season, 616 in 2015 and 615 in 2014.
We’ve had programs bring back varsity teams this year, and in one case a school has a team on its own for the first time. Benzonia Benzie Central and Suttons Bay were unable to field varsities in 2016, but Benzie Central is back playing 11-player and Suttons Bay is back with an 8-player team. Brimley, an 8-player school going back to 2010, also is fielding a team again after being unable to do so last year. Mount Clemens played only two varsity games in 2016 and forfeited a third, but has seven scheduled for this fall and lost close in its opener last week. And Bear Lake, previously a secondary school in a co-op program, now has a team all its own for the first time and is playing at the 8-player level.
Yes, there has been a decrease in Michigan high school football participation when it comes to the number of players – for reasons we discuss frequently, including more extracurricular/entertainment options than ever for students, more who are specializing in other sports and safety fears that often are misplaced. But we’ve also seen a three percent drop in enrollment at MHSAA member schools over the last five years. And despite that trend, Michigan again had the sixth-highest 11-player football participation in the nation in 2016-17 (and seventh-highest in 8-player) while ranking 10th nationally in number of residents of high school age.
So yes, while a nine percent drop in the number of football players over the last five years in Michigan clearly is troubling, and something we’re working with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association to reverse, let’s also put those numbers in perspective. At medium-sized to bigger schools, it could mean a roster of 40 might have only 36 players. A roster of 20 at an 8-player school might go down to 18. Neither would signal the need to eliminate a football program.
And that move by so many schools to 8-player? It definitely started as a way for low-participation programs to keep football (and has worked for most of them). While that still may be the driving force as schools move from 11 to 8, others have made the switch because most of their former opponents did and joining them makes scheduling easier and travel shorter. Michigan has a multitude of small towns, and you’ll find most of these 8-player programs in pockets in the thumb, southwest or northern Lower Peninsula, or Upper Peninsula. And keep in mind, only Class D teams remain eligible for the 8-player playoffs – and only two of 61 teams playing 8-player this fall are larger than Class D and its enrollment limit of 203 students for 2017-18.
The story behind “a decrease of 57 schools” clearly is a little complex to explain and explain away, but it’s necessary to do so.
Yes, Michigan’s total number of football players is down a few percent. But the sport’s prominence and importance in our schools and communities remains high.
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.)