'Oakridge Family' True in Name & Purpose
October 3, 2018
By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Every football team talks about being a family.
But at Muskegon Oakridge, it’s more than just a motto.
Three of the Oakridge varsity coaches have sons on the team, including head coach Cary Harger with two-way starting senior lineman Cole Harger.
“It does make it extra special, being a senior and playing for my dad,” said Cole Harger of the Eagles’ high-flying start, which has them 6-0 and ranked No. 3 in Division 5 in the latest Associated Press poll.
“The family thing is real out here. This is such a tight-knit community, and we’re just together all the time. We know each other so well and know how to push each other.”
Oakridge faces its toughest test of the season Friday when it hosts conference rival Montague (5-1), which comes in riding a five-game winning streak and ranked No. 10 in Division 5.
Oakridge has been the dominant team for almost 40 years in the West Michigan Conference, a league which has put 14 teams in MHSAA state championship games and celebrated nine Finals winners. Oakridge has made it five times, winning titles in 1997, 2005 and 2008.
Early on in that stretch, the Eagles’ main league rival was North Muskegon, and later Ravenna. In the 2000s, the most competitive rivalries shifted north to the White Lake area in Whitehall and Montague, particularly Montague.
Oakridge is 7-4 against Montague over the past 11 years, with many of those games classic back-and-forth battles that came down to the final minutes (and sometimes, seconds). But the only game that anyone at Oakridge seems to remember is from a year ago, when host Montague pounded Oakridge 40-0 – the most lopsided conference loss in school history.
“We have waited 51 weeks for the opportunity to erase that memory,” said senior linebacker Jaden Parker, whose father, Tim, is the Oakridge defensive coordinator. “We got shell-shocked last year and didn’t fight back. This year we have more seniors, and we won’t let that happen again.”
This year’s matchup features two of Michigan’s top running backs. Montague senior Bryce Stark, a returning Associated Press all-stater, has gained 542 yards on 74 carries (7.3 per carry), despite being slowed early in the year with a knee injury. Oakridge counters with battering ram junior fullback Leroy Quinn (6-1, 216), the leading rusher in the Greater Muskegon area with 111 carries for 1,119 yards (10.1 average) and 19 touchdowns.
Coach Harger is quick to point out that Stark is just one of many weapons on this Montague team who worries his team.
“The first thing that strikes you about Montague is their athleticism and the number of quality athletes we have to focus on,” said Harger, a 1990 Oakridge graduate. “But they are also big up front, so you have to be concerned with that, as well. We need to play our best game.”
The final father-son connection on the Oakridge varsity staff is offensive coordinator Nate Danicek and his son, Jacob, a sophomore who starts at safety and plays slot receiver on offense when the Eagles break out of their full-house backfield and go with a spread look.
But the Oakridge football family goes far beyond just the coaching staff – it’s a way of life.
After a long practice Tuesday evening, Coach Harger and Coach Parker (whose fathers coached them on an Oakridge youth football team almost 40 years ago) went down the varsity roster and quickly pointed out all of the players whose fathers also played varsity football at Oakridge.
On that list is senior starting quarterback Koleman Wall (6-3, 197), whose father, Scott Wall, was the starting fullback on the 1990 team, the first Oakridge team to reach the MHSAA title game. Other father-son duos are starting running back and linebacker Blake Masterman (father Dan Masterman), starting center Mavrick McLouth (Dude McLouth), Jacob Barber (Nate Barber) and Sander Brott (David Brott).
Sander Brott is also a third-generation Eagle, as his grandfather, Mark Fazakerley, played on the first Oakridge varsity team in 1966.
“We are doing our best to carry on the tradition that Jack Schugars started out here,” said Coach Parker, referencing Schugars, who had a 262-78 record in 31 seasons at Oakridge from 1979 to 2010. “It’s a point of pride that these are all Oakridge kids. We don’t have schools of choice, so almost every one of these kids has been playing together since the youth leagues.”
The Oakridge youth league still boasts more than 150 players and is the starting point for one of the state’s most consistent programs.
With its six consecutive wins to open the season, Oakridge has qualified for the playoffs for the 15th straight year and 23rd of the past 24. Many believe this team could be good enough to get all the way to Ford Field for the first time since 2008.
The Eagles have an experienced backfield led by Quinn, but also featuring speedy senior Masterman (359 yards) and multi-talented senior Jalen Hughes (315 yards). Wall provides a fourth running threat and has been efficient through the air, completing 28-of-43 passes for 516 yards and 10 touchdowns, with just one interception.
The defense is led by senior tackle Brandon Wilde (5-9, 212), who has 38 tackles on the season with half of those tackles in the backfield for negative yardage, including six sacks. Masterman leads the team with 40 tackles, and senior cornerback Jaxon Fri has three interceptions.
Oakridge could possibly play Montague a second time in the playoffs. Montague has traditionally been a Division 6 playoff team, but with its enrollment up 36 students from last year to 445, it could end up with Oakridge in Division 5.
Another possible Eagles rematch down the road is with top-ranked Saginaw Swan Valley, which beat Oakridge in last year’s MHSAA Regional Final, 48-14.
The “Oakridge family” isn’t looking near that far ahead, but is focused on proving itself after last year’s lopsided loss at Montague.
“The way we played in that game last year was our biggest motivation all offseason,” said Cole Harger. “That wasn’t Oakridge football. I think one of our biggest strengths this year is our togetherness as a team, and we have the opportunity to prove that on Friday night.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Senior Cole Harger and Oakridge coach Cary Harger are one of three sets of fathers and sons on the varsity this season. (Middle) Harger (66), a two-way starting lineman, lines up his block during a Week 2 win over North Muskegon. (Below) Harger, with Jacob Danicek (middle) and Jaden Parker, whose fathers also are on the coaching staff. (Photos by Sherry Wahr.)
Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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:
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.)