New Coach, Same Standard for SMCC

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

August 27, 2015

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.

Southfield A&T, Marshall End Belleville's 2-Year Reign with 1st Finals Championship

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 27, 2023

DETROIT – Isaiah Marshall took a second Sunday night to think about the interception he’d just thrown that led to Belleville taking a late lead in the Division 1 Football Final.

But just a second.

When Marshall and his Southfield Arts & Technology teammates took the field down four points with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining at Ford Field, the interception wasn’t on his mind. Neither was the raucous Belleville crowd that had awoken on the home side of the stadium. 

He wasn’t thinking about stopping a three-peat or snapping a 38-game Belleville win streak. He wasn’t thinking about the talk he’d heard during the week leading up to the game, that his team was on its way to getting blown out like so many of those previous 38 opponents. 

All Marshall was focused on was doing his job.

“As soon as I threw the pick, I knew what I had to do differently,” Marshall said. “I just wasn’t thinking about that last play. As soon as I threw the pick, I just thought about it on the bench, then as soon as I came out, it wasn’t on my mind at all. I just knew I had to go down the field and score.”

Like he had all night, Marshall came through when the Warriors needed him most, leading his team on a 69-yard scoring drive, finishing the final 11 with his legs for the go-ahead score in Southfield A&T’s 36-32 victory against Belleville. 

The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. His defense finished the rest, as Dorian Freeman intercepted a pass during the final seconds, sealing the first Finals title for Southfield. 

“It’s special,” A&T coach Aaron Marshall said. “It’s special for the community. It’s a long time coming. All week I’ve been getting calls from guys I’ve never met just congratulating the boys on making it. We had never even made it to the championship game, let alone won one. It’s real big for the community. I’m really proud.”

To do it, the Warriors needed to overcome the team that has dominated Division 1 for the past three seasons in Belleville (13-1). The Tigers had won the past two Division 1 Finals, and hadn’t dropped a game since Sept. 10, 2021.

They entered Sunday having outscored opponents this fall by an average of 49-7. They also featured the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 in quarterback Bryce Underwood.

But Sunday, none of that mattered to Marshall and the Warriors (13-1). Well, except maybe the last part.

“Just a little bit,” Marshall said when asked if he was out to prove he was the state’s top quarterback. “I do think I’m the best player in the state. Me proving that tonight, and showing what I can do on the big stage shows that, I think.”

He finished the night completing 20 of 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns, as well as two interceptions. He also rushed for 134 yards and the go-ahead score, as well as the two-point conversion that put his team up four.

“He came out there and played like I thought he was going to play,” said Belleville star linebacker and running back Jeremiah Beasley, who has committed to Michigan. “He’s a real tough player. Since we were little, he’s always been tough. He came out there and played with all his heart, and they came out on top.”

Underwood certainly had his moments, finishing 11 for 24 for 164 yards and a touchdown to go along with one interception. He also had five rushes for 39 yards. 

And A&T was certainly cognizant of what Underwood could do, especially when he got the ball back with 47 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead. But by playing coverage, they didn’t allow the Tigers to push the ball down the field, and eventually pressure from senior defensive tackle Reggie Gardner forced the throw that Freeman intercepted to clinch the game.

Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception.“My coaches just told me to spy the quarterback, and whatever he did, I would go,” Freeman said. “Then it was just right in my zone.”

A&T led for most of the game, getting a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mathias Davis during the first half, the second score giving them a 12-7 lead. 

After a 31-yard field goal from Belleville’s Brayden Lane made the score 12-10, Marshall engineered an 80-yard drive over the final three minutes of the second quarter to give his team a 10-point lead at the half. He accounted for 79 of the 80 yards with either his legs or his arm, finishing it off with a 13-yard TD pass to Tashi Braceful with 13 seconds remaining in the half. Braceful finished the night with 10 catches for 152 yards.

The Warriors nearly added to that halftime lead, as well, recovering a squib kick at the Belleville 43. Marshall hit Tyjuan Esper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, but he was tackled as the first-half clock expired.

Early in the third quarter, Marshall and the Warriors did stretch their lead when he threw a 19-yard TD pass to Xavi Bowman on a 4th-and-14. DaMario Quarles’ conversion run put them up 28-10 with 3:39 to play in the third quarter.

Of course, Belleville didn’t go away.

The Tigers responded immediately with a 45-yard TD pass from Underwood to Jalen Johnson. And after stopping Marshall on a 4th-and-2 run near midfield, they needed just three plays and 30 seconds to pull within three points of the lead as Beasley scored on a 15-yard run.

On the next A&T possession, Marquis Peoples put Belleville right back in business with an interception that he returned to the 35-yard line. Beasley again cashed in three plays later, with a 22-yard TD run that gave Belleville a 33-27 lead with 4:47 remaining.

Beasley finished the night with 106 yards and the two touchdowns on the ground.

“He’s a senior ball player; he did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Belleville coach Calvin Norman said of Beasley. “He came through in the clutch. When he ran the ball, he did his thing. I have nothing but love for the young man.”

Belleville cornerback Adrian Walker made one of the more remarkable plays of the weekend late in the first quarter, intercepting a Marshall pass deep in A&T territory. 

Walker got both hands on the pass, deflecting it up and toward himself as he was spinning up the field. The ball went over his head and Walker reached behind his back to make the catch at the A&T 26.

Four plays later, Belleville was on the board with a 16-yard Colbey Reed touchdown run, and the Tigers led 7-6.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T quarterback Isaiah Marshall stretches for the game-winning touchdown during Sunday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Warriors ended the night by raising their first championship trophy. (Below) Belleville’s Adrian Walker (2) makes a stunning behind-the-back interception. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)