New Coach, Same Standard for SMCC

August 27, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

MONROE – It would be understandable if first-year Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central head football coach Adam Kipf felt like he was taking over for University of Michigan legend Bo Schembechler a year after the Wolverines won the national championship.

Kipf, a graduate of SMCC, said he doesn’t feel that way at all as he replaces his former coach and mentor Jack Giarmo, a local icon who retired after 17 seasons leading the Falcons, including last year when they won the MHSAA Division 6 title.

“I feel I’m replacing Coach Giarmo after a state title,” Kipf said with a laugh. “Coach Giarmo is a good coach. He spent 17 years here, and I spent 11 years of my life with him on a football field.

“It’s certainly not an easy task, but I’m not trying to be Coach Giarmo. I’m trying to be the best version of myself.”

SMCC got off to a winning start Thursday night with a 62-39 victory at Tecumseh, but it will need more than a season-opening victory to live up to the standard that was introduced by the former coach.

Giarmo’s teams were 144-54 in 17 seasons, made the MHSAA playoffs 13 times and captured five Huron League titles. The Falcons made the MHSAA Semifinals eight times and played for the championship four times, finally winning it all last year – when, at Ford Field, they also ended Ithaca’s national-best 69-game winning streak.

Then, Giarmo decided to step down, and Kipf was chosen as the new head coach.

“It wasn’t a total surprise,” Kipf said of Giarmo’s decision. “He had sort of let on that he might be thinking about it, so when it came out, I wasn’t surprised at all.”

“I don’t think there is any other job out there that would mean as much. There are other jobs that would have a lot of meaning to them, but coaching at your alma mater and having the tradition that we have here – having the success we have here – I think that’s just awesome. It’s tough for me to even put into words what it means to me being back at my alma mater coaching football.” – Adam Kipf

It certainly was not an automatic choice for SMCC to promote Kipf from the head coach on the junior varsity to head coach of the varsity. He went through several interviews before landing the job.

“They asked me, ‘How do you determine success?’ ” Kipf said. “I said, ‘There are two ways. One is wins and losses, and that’s OK. But the other way is seeing what kind of men they become, five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”

Kipf, a social studies and religion teacher at Monroe Catholic Elementary School, did not set out to become a coach and teacher. He went to Western Michigan University to play football and was pursuing another field, but he left after one year.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and then I got involved in coaching in 2003 with one of my former coaches,” Kipf said. “He was coaching his son in the Monroe Catholic Youth Organization, and he got me into it, and I enjoyed it. The next year, he went to Monroe High as an assistant and I went with him, so I ended up coaching two years there.

“One Friday night after a game at Monroe, two coaches talked me into going into coaching. They said teaching was going to be my best bet to get into coaching.”

With that in mind, Kipf went back to school and attended Eastern Michigan University. In 2010, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in secondary education. By that time, he was back with SMCC coaching the offensive and defensive lines on the junior varsity.

Kipf had been an offensive lineman and defensive tackle from 1998-99 at SMCC. He played for Giarmo and then joined his coaching staff in 2006, giving him a unique insight into the mind of the man who was most responsible for building the successful program.

“He was a stickler for details,” Kipf said. “He coached every last little detail, and I am finding myself on offense doing the same thing. Jack and I will talk, and I will seek advice on plays and blocking and things like that. We talk probably once a week football-related, and we will talk more than that about other things. We still talk football.

“He isn’t going to distance himself from the program. He has strong roots here. I think he misses football. I don’t know if he would admit it, but he misses football.”

“We’ve basically kept the same concepts that Coach Giarmo kept, but we’ve added a lot of new traditions into it. We’re getting new traditions. We’ve got a couple of new decals on our helmets, and originally we had our straight gold helmets.” – senior running back Justin Carrabino

When Kipf played at SMCC, the helmets were green with decals of yellow birds on them. Lately, the helmets have been without decals, but the birds have returned this year.

“To me, that bird, I worked so hard when I was a freshman to get that bird when I got to varsity,” Kipf said. “It was a thing of honor because you took those birds off at the end of the year and kept them. I still have them in scrapbooks.

“We have brought those back. With the gold helmet we’ve got green birds, but we didn’t put them on until two days before the first game.”

The decals on the helmets might be the easiest change to notice, and Kipf said there won’t be a lot of others made right away.

“I don’t know that I want to bring a whole lot different to the program,” he said. “I’ve added a few things here and there that are a little different than last year, but I’m not prepared to share that.

“We might throw the ball more, but finding people to catch and throw isn’t an easy task, especially since in the last 14, 15 years in the system it has been 95 percent run. I’m a big proponent of, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ ”

Not every change is going to be related to strategy or scheme. Everyone has a different personality, and Kipf’s high-intensity style could light a spark under the Falcons.

“He’s very vocal and gets into it with the players a lot,” senior guard/linebacker Hunter Coombe said. “He gets us hyped. He’s very intense. It’s good.”

The word intense seems to go hand-in-hand when describing Kipf.

“Practices are run with a lot of intensity,” Carrabino said. “There is a lot of physicality, but there is with a lot of defenses. You can tell by the tone of practice that it’s a lot different.”

“I don’t feel pressure coming off a state title because I know what we have and what we are capable of. People have high expectations and expect success. To me, success is more than a state title. If we go 14-0 but don’t get better, it’s a state title but it’s not successful. I want kids who are going to compete and get better every day, and at the end of the season, if they are better football players, better student-athletes, better Catholics, better Christians, than we’ve done our job. That’s success.” – Adam Kipf

Success breeds expectations, and MHSAA championships sometimes breed unrealistic expectations. Teams don’t win an MHSAA title every year.

The Falcons have made the playoffs 14 of the past 16 years with double-digit win totals during nine of them. The program has become not just recognized regionally, but statewide.

The players reflect the attitude of a new season and a new challenge and said they refuse to look back.

“We have to totally forget about last year,” Coombe said. “This is a new team with the same goal, obviously, but we aren’t thinking about it. We’ll just go week-by-week and game-by-game.”

Carrabino, who rushed for 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, echoed those comments.

“I think you have to prove yourself every year,” Carrabino said. “Nobody has a set spot. You just have to give your all in practice.”

Senior quarterback/defensive back Austin Burger feels the same way.

“We feel no pressure at all,” he said. “We feel like we’re a different team from last year, but we are trying to keep the tradition.”

Tradition is important at SMCC. Giarmo was a player on the 1980 team that went 9-0 but failed to land a spot in the playoffs.

Kipf is one of three brothers who played football for the Falcons. It’s family.

“We’ve got 12 years in my family of playing football at this school, and now this will be my 10th of coaching football at this school,” he said. “Twenty-two years I’ve been a Falcons football supporter either through my family or myself, so it certainly means a lot to me.”

Maybe it’s the tradition – or maybe it’s the “band of brotherhood,” as Burger called it – but something special seems to happen to a bunch of young football players who don’t necessarily look like they should be championship football players.

“We don’t always have the best athletes or the biggest athletes or the fastest athletes, especially in this day and age,” Kipf said. “We have kids who are undersized for the most part, but they have heart and they work hard, and that’s what made our program successful over Coach Giarmo’s tenure. Between him and (former defensive coordinator) Scott Hoffman, they brought out the best in guys.

“They had guys on the field you would think had no business being on a football field. They bring out the best in our kids, and our kids give them everything they’ve got in order to succeed.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Monroe St. Mary’s coach Adam Kipf and his captains stand together earlier this month (from left to right): Hunter Coombe, Justin Carrabino, Kipf, Riley Woolford, Mitchell Poupard and Austin Burger. (Middle) The Falcons’ helmets will feature decals again after going without during the program’s recent past.

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly 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:

8-Player Football

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.)