Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

July 20, 2023

Jamie Potts put a major strain on his feet and ankles for many years.

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Potts was constantly twisting and contorting in cleats and sneakers as a three-sport standout at Muskegon Oakridge and later as a rare two-sport star at Grand Valley State University, where he is still listed in the school’s football and baseball record books.

So it’s fitting that the 30-yeaar-old Potts is now helping to heal feet and ankles as a medical device salesman for Stryker.

“It’s a very competitive, fast-paced job and lifestyle,” said Potts, who graduated from Oakridge in 2011.

“I am very thankful for that because there is a huge void there. When you put so much of your time and energy into it, transitioning out of competitive sports is difficult.”

Potts is the youngest of four boys, so he practically grew up in the bleachers at Oakridge. By the time he got to high school, he fell effortlessly into the rhythm of football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring – all while maintaining a 4.1 GPA, good for fifth overall in his class.

Potts did everything on the football field at Oakridge, as a 6-foot-3, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback. As a senior, he rushed for 1,561 yards and 24 touchdowns and threw for 696 yards and 10 TDs – along with totaling 64 tackles and successfully booting 9-of-13 field goal attempts.

“He was a fantastic high school athlete and one of the best athletes to ever come out of Oakridge,” said former Eagles coach Jack Schugars, the all-time winningest high school coach in the Muskegon area who is now the special teams coordinator at Ferris State. “He was a tremendous leader and the epitome of a role model for younger kids.”

Potts was a solid, if not spectacular, basketball player, known as a defensive specialist who wasn’t afraid to guard anybody.

Then in the spring, he was back to all-state status in baseball as an outfielder, batting .584 his senior year with six home runs, 38 RBIs and 34 stolen bases.

That meant it was decision time when it came to college – would it be football or baseball?

Potts received several Division I offers, including from Central Michigan University for football and Oakland University for baseball.

But it was Division II Grand Valley, particularly then-assistant coach Matt Yoches (now the director of football operations at Miami of Ohio) that floated the possibility of playing both sports – a very rare feat at the DII level.

Potts made the GVSU coaches look like geniuses. He was a four-year starter at tight end and receiver, finishing his career second all-time for the Lakers in TD receptions (35) and third in career receptions (169). In baseball, he finished with 241 career hits, the fifth-most in school history at the time.

“People told me that playing both in Division II wasn’t realistic,” said Potts, who now lives on the east side of the state in Fenton, with his 1-year-old daughter, Brooklyn. “But I wanted to give it a shot and I think I did all right with it. Growing up in Oakridge, my life was all about sports, so it prepared me.”

Potts, second from left, is advancing in his career in medical device sales. Potts was drafted by the Texas Rangers shortly after his senior collegiate baseball season in 2015 and played that summer for Class A Spokane (Wash.), batting .217 with four home runs in 57 games. He missed training camp and the first two games of the 2015 football season, but returned to help the Lakers to the DII Semifinals his senior year.

He prepared to resume his baseball career and left in late February for the Rangers spring training complex in Surprise, Ariz., before announcing his retirement in March with a long and heartfelt Facebook post, which concluded:

“My best advice I can give is that you should always chase your dreams until your heart says it’s time to stop,” Potts wrote. “No matter how far out of reach you think it is or how old you are, you can do it with enough hard work and preparation.”

Potts, who completed his degree in allied health sciences with a minor in psychology during the Lakers’ 2015 football run, then had to shift gears and find his place in the “real world,” outside of competitive sports.

Potts said Oakridge, in addition to being a hard-working sports community, also did a mighty fine job preparing him and his three older brothers, sons of Tom and Kathy Potts, for life after athletics. Oldest brother Chris is an engineer, Andy works as a logistics manager and Aaron is an orthopedic surgeon.

It was actually Aaron who pointed him in the direction of medical device sales. He went through five interviews shortly after his retirement before landing his first job in the field at Arthrex in Grand Rapids, before moving on to Kalamazoo-headquartered Stryker last year.

“A big part of my job is being in the operating room with the surgeons and making sure that everything is working,” explained Potts, who is part of a six-member team which covers much of eastern Michigan. “It’s very intense, very much like the feel of a close game. No doubt all of those years of sports help me every day.”

But Potts could not leave sports behind completely after his baseball retirement.

He was back in Muskegon in the spring of 2016 and attended a Muskegon Ironmen indoor football game. He spoke with team owner TJ Williams, who Potts used to watch playing for Oakridge as a kid, and a few weeks later, he was in an Ironmen uniform.

Potts played two years with the Ironmen as a receiver, linebacker and kicker.

“It was a lot of fun, really, getting to play in front of fans in Muskegon again,” said Potts. “The worst part was the walls. I’ve never experienced getting tackled into walls before and, I tell you, that takes some getting used to.”

More recently, Potts helped out last month as a coach at Schugars’ kicking camp at Oakridge, getting him back on the turf at Russell Erickson Stadium, where the field is now known as Jack Schugars Field.

“I’m happy to be a role model for kids,” said Potts. “You learn so many life lessons from playing sports. It really gets you ready for the second chapter of life.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Jamie Potts runs the offense for Muskegon Oakridge as a senior in 2010, and now. (Middle) Potts, second from left, is advancing in his career in medical device sales. (Photos courtesy of Jamie Potts.)

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)