Older, Wiser MCC Ranks with Elite Again

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

October 21, 2020

Max Price is right – Muskegon Catholic Central football is back.

Not that the Crusaders ever went too far away. But after winning four consecutive Division 8 titles from 2013 to 2016, failing to make it out of Districts the past three seasons felt like a 100-year drought to Price and his teammates.

“I feel like this is the way we should be playing here at Muskegon Catholic,” said Price, the three-year starting senior quarterback who has his team at 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Division 6 state poll.

“We were down, no doubt, but now we’re back up and ready for the playoffs.”

MCC has one more hurdle to clear to complete its first unbeaten regular season since 2016 when it hosts Holton at 4 p.m. Friday.

The Crusaders are doing it with defense, allowing a total of 18 points over five games. But even that low number is misleading, as the defense has only allowed one TD from scrimmage (a 79-yard run against Ludington), with the other points coming on an interception return and a kickoff return.

While the defense has been reminiscent of those MCC championship teams, one big change is that the Crusaders are now competing in Division 6 because of a cooperative agreement with nearby Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.

As a result, MCC appears on a collision course to host top-ranked Montague in a Division 6 District championship game next month – which would be a showdown between a pair of three-year starting quarterbacks in Price and Montague’s Drew Collins.

Ironically, MCC’s recent gridiron struggles can be traced back to its first-ever meeting with Montague during the 2017 regular-season finale. The Crusaders came into that game with a 27-game winning streak, but suffered a humbling 34-10 home loss. That game was followed by a lackluster 42-20 win over Decatur in the Pre-District, before a season-ending 26-15 loss at Mendon the following week.

The bad news continued that offseason, when three key sophomores transferred, leaving behind the youngest varsity team in MCC school history.

“We started 10 underclassmen and five freshmen in 2018,” said eighth-year MCC coach Steve Czerwon, whose team finished 3-6 that season. “There’s a lot of JV teams that don’t start five freshmen. I’m as proud of that team as any I’ve coached because of how they hung in there, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that this season.”

Price was thrust into the starting quarterback role as a sophomore and took a pounding behind a small and inexperienced offensive line. He played at less than full strength most of that season and missed the final three games when it was discovered that he had three fractured vertebrae in his spine.

“Looking back, I was scared back there and really didn’t understand the quarterback position,” said Price, who helped MCC flip its record to 6-3 last season. “I was new, and the game was so fast. I am very comfortable now, and that’s a huge thing.”

Price (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) came out this fall flinging the ball around in the Crusaders’ opening win over Ludington, completing 10-of-13 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns.

But for those worrying that the quintessential running football team has gone pass-happy, no worries. Since that game, MCC has settled into its running ways, with Price passing for just 235 yards and one touchdown over the past four games.

The Crusaders are back to pounding teams on the ground behind an offensive line that has grown bigger and more experienced under the direction of veteran line coaches Mike Ribecky, Joe Perri and Mike Hornak. Guard AJ Lock (6-1, 220) is still the lone senior starter on the interior line, with the other four being juniors – tackles Jaden Johnson (6-4, 235) and Alex Barnhill (6-0, 260), guard Jack Heminger (5-10, 210) and center Landon Patterson (6-0, 220).

The real secret of this year’s team is a stable of talented and interchangeable backs, led by senior Tommy Kartes and junior Joe Waller. The other backs getting significant touches are all underclassmen – juniors Nick Powell, Dane Rutz and Eliot Riegler.

“We were still in the first quarter last week against Orchard View, and seven different kids had touched the football,” said Czerwon. “I don’t think this team has any superstar on it. Quite frankly, we have a lot of kids of equal ability – we have a lot of good, solid players.”

The first to touch the ball each play is Price, who then distributes the ball around.

Price is thankful to be playing at all, after the COVID lockdown wiped out his junior baseball season this spring and a team that many believed was poised to make a run at an MHSAA Finals championship.

He is also thankful to be healthy. Price likely appreciates his health more than most his age because of the health issues of his father, Paul, who was paralyzed in 2015 after a fall at their home.

“I was in middle school when that happened, and I wondered if I should even play football with all the risks,” said Price. “But I know he wants me to follow my passion and be out there. He is a motivation for me, and I love seeing him on the sidelines at our games.”

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 kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top)  Muskegon Catholic Central senior quarterback Max Price runs behind the block of junior tackle Jaden Johnson during the Crusaders' 30-6 season-opening victory over visiting Ludington on Sept. 18. (Middle) MCC senior slot receiver Tommy Kartes hauls in this reception from Price while an Orioles defender works to break it up. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)