New Coach Takes Next Step at Escanaba

September 1, 2015

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA – When school ended in early June, Dave Howes took a vacation trip to Florida and began thinking about his upcoming fourth season as junior varsity football coach at Escanaba High School.

Within a month he had become the school's varsity head coach, a position he had never thought about taking on.

"To tell you the truth, I never wanted to be a head football coach," Howes said in the Eskymos’ lockerroom before the start of a recent practice. "It just kind of fell in my lap."

Escanaba had a 10-17 record over the last three seasons under previous coach Jim Hansen, who was dismissed in June, but opened this fall with a 21-7 win over Alpena on Thursday. The Eskymos travel to Petoskey on Friday. 

When Howes was contacted about moving up from the jayvees, he said, "I had to make up my mind. Do I want it? It happened real fast. I wasn't expecting it. It just happened."

He was encouraged to apply by several people, including an Escanaba High School administrator, and was given the blessing of his wife, Holly, to pursue the position. He is the second coach in four years to direct the Eskymos, who during the previous 50 years had just two head coaches, Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame inductees Jerry Cvengros and Dan Flynn.

When Howes first joined the Eskymos’ coaching staff in 2005, he said Flynn asked if he ever wanted to become the school's head coach. "I said, I don't know," said Howes. "I didn't envision it. Now I'm more than happy."

Howes said he has received excellent support from family, friends, players, coaches and the community during the short time he has been in charge.

"I want our fans to know that our kids are going to be competitive, and they are going to work hard. They will see there will be an edge about them," he said.

About 100 students came out for the three football levels, with 48 on varsity. Howes didn't have any preseason contact until after July 4, about a month behind the normal period. A big plus in the transition was all the previous assistant coaches stuck with the program, and they have all moved up a level in the process.

"They have all the kids they had in previous years, and we're running the same system," Howes said.  "It has been an easy transition. Knowing the kids and knowing the coaches was easy. We had the same kids, the same coaches, the same philosophies. It's made practice easier."

Athletic director Nick Nolde brought the coaches and players together and provided the introductions, which weren't really necessary because of the carry over. "It's been smooth sailing ever since," said Howes of the best-case scenario coming together.

Nolde said given the way "everything went down, it has been a seamless transition. He is familiar with the kids, and he is familiar with the program."

Howes is a native of neighboring Gladstone, graduating in 1993 and playing against Escanaba teams in football, basketball and baseball. "It's weird. As a kid, I hated Escanaba with a passion. Now, here I am," said Howes, whose older brother Dave is an assistant varsity coach with former Escanaba player Don Koish and former Gladstone athlete Jason Micheau.

"It is so funny how things happen," said Howes, who also coached subvarsity football in Gladstone and Beal City following his 1998 graduation from Northern Michigan University and before coming to Escanaba in 2005.

He does not feel any pressure taking over the tradition-laden, highly-respected program spotlighted by the MHSAA Class A championship in 1981 and 1979 runner-up finish.

"To me, it is just a game and we're going to be competitive and try our hardest," Howes said. "We are moving forward. Every day we come in here and see the (old) pictures. It is a great tradition with great pride. But the focus is now. Everything is about the present."

He already has noticed the difference of being in charge of the whole program, from dealing with the news media to handling financial situations and MHSAA rules and regulations. "There is a lot more on my plate. Instead of being in charge of 30 kids, you are the boss of the whole program grades 7-12," he said.

He has also installed his own touch, starting with practice sessions. "The last couple of years we have had super-paced practices. This year we're doing more teaching in our practices," he said. "We are keeping it as simple as possible and putting kids in position to succeed. We're getting more done in a shorter amount of time."

He is not worried about matching X's and O's against such legendary Upper Peninsula coaches as Chris Hofer at Kingsford or Joe Noha from Menominee, nor is he concerned about the imprint made by Cvengros and Flynn, or even his high school coach, the highly-regarded John Mileski.

"I can't follow in their footsteps," he said. "They are irreplaceable. We've just got to move on."

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba High School football coach Dave Howes makes a point to members of the Eskymos recently at Escanaba Athletic Field. Howes took over the tradition-laden program in July and is the second head coach in the past four years, after the late Jerry Cvengros and Dan Flynn served as the only head coaches during the previous 50 years. (Middle) Howes encourages his football team during a practice session.

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.)