New Football Coaches Rise for PCCP Schools

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

August 30, 2018

CANTON – Athletically, the Plymouth-Canton Community School system is like no other.

Canton, Plymouth and Salem are the three high schools and all equally share student-athletes, who are randomly assigned to one of the three high schools in seventh grade.

This football season there is an added twist for the football players. All three schools have new varsity head coaches.

Former assistant Andy Lafata has taken over at Canton, while Brian Lewis has taken over Plymouth after leading Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard last season and Justin Reed brings championship experience to Salem after most recently assisting at Warren DeLaSalle and then Livonia Clarenceville.

“We’re finding out as coaches that the seniors don’t care that there is a new coach,” Lafata said. “There are goals that are attainable. They have high expectations. They don’t care who’s coaching. They want results.

“Plymouth (as a school district) has high expectations. It doesn’t matter (who the head coach is). What you learn is the kids are still the same. And we owe it to them to be the best coaches we can be.”

Two started 1-0 last week, Plymouth downing Livonia Stevenson 35-11 and Salem defeating Wayne Memorial 23-14. Canton opened with a 35-21 loss to Livonia Churchill.

Athletes’ expectations may be the same at all three schools, but as noted, the district is unique. Without being specific to the point of confusing, here’s the nutshell on how PCCS students are assigned to a high school:

As noted above, students entering seventh grade in the district are assigned at random, by computer, to one of the three high schools. It doesn’t matter where they want to study or whether they want to play football at Canton or softball at Plymouth or soccer at Salem. A student’s name is in the computer, and the selection process plays no favorites. If a student transfers into the school system, that student also has a 33 percent chance of attending any of the three schools.

Individual classes, however, can be a mix of students from all of them. It’s common for a student at Plymouth to have algebra classmates from Canton or Salem. You could have a student sitting next to you, and on Friday that same student could be doing his or her best to tackle you in the open field. All three high schools are located on the same campus, so classrooms are equally accessible to students from all three.

Still with me? In addition there is just one marching band that represents all three schools – and the only time it plays during a football game is during homecoming for each.

Back to football. Of the three programs, the players at Canton might appear to have the easier time adjusting to the new coach. Lafata is a 2005 graduate of Canton and spent the last 10 seasons as an assistant coach under Tim Baechler, who retired as head coach following last season's 10-2 finish. Lafata was the starting center on the 2005 team that, with Baechler at the helm, reached the school’s only MHSAA Final – losing to Rockford, 31-21, in Division 1. 

Reed, Salem’s new coach, is leading a program for the first time. His previous coaching experience, seven years in all, was split as an assistant between four schools – Royal Oak, Sterling Heights Stevenson and Warren DeLaSalle and, most recently, at Livonia Clarenceville in 2017. The Rocks finished 5-5 last season. 

At 29, Plymouth’s Lewis is the youngest of the trio, but he does have experience as a head coach after leading Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard in 2017. Plymouth is coming off a 4-5 season, and his Gabriel Richard team was 7-3.

Lafata, 30, also benefitted by being hired in February. Reed was hired in early June, Lewis a few weeks later.

“To tell you the truth, having three schools on campus is unusual,” Lewis said. “We just focus on ourselves. The other things that happened (in the district) doesn’t affect us. The challenge for me, (Plymouth) is bigger than Richard. The bigger challenge is, I’m an east-sider. I have to learn the different nuances of how they run things here. It’s a work in progress. I have great administrative support. I’m hitting the ground running.”

Lewis was wise to surround himself with coaches who have experience at the high school and college levels. One important hire was his father Mike Lewis, a longtime defensive coordinator at DeLaSalle and Detroit Catholic Central, Mike’s alma mater. Lewis also lured Mike Mach away from Catholic Central where his father, the legendary Tom Mach, coached for 41 seasons. Cory Zirbel, a former University of Michigan offensive lineman, is also on the staff. Zirbel coached with Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.

Lewis played football at DeLaSalle and then cut his coaching teeth at his alma mater, Michigan, as an offensive analysist – or what Lewis termed as a sort of graduate assistant, from 2012-14. When Brady Hoke was fired as U-M’s head coach, Lewis decided to place his family (he has a wife, Teddi, and a 1-year-old child, Evelyn) above a potential college coaching career as he pursued teaching and coaching at the high school level instead.

Reed, 34, spent his first three seasons as an assistant at Royal Oak before going to DeLaSalle under Paul Verska, and he helped the veteran coach win the Division 2 title in 2015. He’s been working toward this kind of opportunity.

“To have your own program, for the first time, the hardest thing is to convince the community that it’ll work,” he said. “For Andy it’s different. It’s a carryover.

“It’s a positive atmosphere here. They’re craving for success. We’re adding kids all the time. I got my 35th player (on varsity) the day after our first scrimmage. We have a freshmen team, too. They didn’t have one last year. It’s invaluable. It was a lot of work. I was kind of like a salesman.

“It’s an exciting time. For all three of us.”

Lafata, by all accounts, was the right person at the right time to replace Baechler. The retired coach had built the program into not only one of the best in the Detroit area, but one that competed well throughout the state. Since 1999, Canton has made the playoffs every season but one. The Chiefs came within one play of reaching the Finals a second time but lost to Detroit Cass Tech in a 2015 Semifinal, 48-41.

“Last year we knew every week was a special week,” Lafata said. “We all knew Tim would leave once his son (Lou, a linebacker) graduated. It was like being a senior when you knew this would be the last year that this group would be together.”

Lafata also is the offensive coordinator, a position he held under Baechler. Don’t look for Lafata to change the way Canton plays, especially on that side of the ball. The Chiefs will continue to run the full-house, T-formation with double tight ends and on occasion slip a receiver out wide with one of the three backs on a wing.

“Canton stays Canton,” he said. “We coach what we know.

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clockwise from left: Salem coach Justin Reed, Canton coach Andy Lafata and Plymouth coach Brian Lewis. (Middle) Lafata stands for the national anthem with his players. (Below) Salem players celebrate last week during a win over Wayne Memorial. (Photos submitted by respective athletic departments.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.