Parchment's 1st-Time Football Seniors Writing Unforgettable Story

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 18, 2022

PARCHMENT — Nothing beats Friday night lights, said Parchment senior Will Kovl.

Southwest Corridor“The fans, the atmosphere, scoring a touchdown, nothing beats it. It’s amazing,” he exclaimed.

What is amazing is that Kovl, who has become one of the Panthers’ top receivers, never played football before this year.

In fact, Kovl is one of nine seniors who are playing their first season of football for coach Brian Huberty.

During the summer, athletic director Brennan Davis heard rumblings about the seniors trying out for the team.

“My initial thought was disbelief because I hear a lot, so my mindset was ‘I'll believe it when I see it,’” Davis said.

“Once football started working out this summer, I heard these kids were actually attending and at that point it became a reality. We have a quality senior group, and those kids have a very strong bond. It is a special group of young people.”

Senior tight end/linebacker Jacob Guzior said it was definitely a group decision.

“At first it was a joke,” he said. “Eventually it turned into ‘We are actually playing football now.’”

The other senior newbies are kicker/cornerback Mason Ragan, wide receiver/linebacker Blake Smith, defensive back Breckyn Bootland, defensive end/tight end Ashtian McClanahan, wide receiver Tanner Slack, kicker McKaylah Shank and team manager McKenna Nunn.

Huberty, who teaches in Plainwell and is the interim coach at Parchment, said he is not sure where the team (4-4 overall, 2-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore) would be without those nine.

“We would have had a team, but we would have been a lot younger and we would have had to pull a few more kids up, and that’s not what you want to do,” he said.

“You don’t want young kids having to come compete against 18- and 17-year-old kids.”

Front, from left: Mason Ragan, Blake Smith. Back, from left: McKenna Nunn, Will Kovl, Jacob Guzior, Breckyn Bootland and Ashtian McClanahan. Kovl said senior quarterback Aaron Jasiak was instrumental in peaking his interest in playing this season after Jasiak scored the winning touchdown in last year’s homecoming game.

“I remember it like it was yesterday; it was awesome,” Kovl said. “The student section was bigger than ever, and I was in the student section.

“We rushed the field. He told me to play football (my senior year), and the story wrote itself.”

One aspect of the game was a bit daunting for Guzior.

“At first (hitting) was hard to get used to. Now I do like hitting people,” he laughed.

“It was a rough first week. By second week we were starting to get the hang of it, and by week three it felt like I’d been playing a while.”

Bootland is using football to help him with hockey.

“Hockey gave me a base idea of hitting in football, but hitting in football is going to take my physicality in hockey to another level, which is my biggest weakness on ice,” he said.

However, “the biggest shock for me was how analytical it is to make plays and how much smarts it is over pure athleticism.”

Huberty said Bootland was a surprise.

“He’s a hockey kid,” the coach said. “He surprisingly adapted well to playing defense. The physical part, it surprised me how he’s embraced it.”

Although she is not on the field, Nunn keeps everyone on time and on task as the team manager.

Her job varies during the week.

“Sometimes I get equipment out for them,” she said. “I’m usually taking pictures because I run our social media pages.”

Huberty said she also keeps him on task.

“She is so amazing to have here,” he said. “I give her a practice schedule, and she lets me know when our sessions are done.

“We have a drone we sometimes run at practice, and she’ll run the drone for us and record practice.”

Ragan, who is Parchment’s leading goal-scorer in soccer, said “I never imagined myself on a football field in my life. I like it. I think it’s really fun.

“Football has definitely helped me with soccer. It’s made me more physical on the field for sure. I think that’s definitely a benefit.”

The Panthers’ Will Kovl attempts to pull away from a Tigers defender. Huberty said Ragan, who booted a 25-yard field goal two weeks ago, “came out just to be a kicker. We got him out playing defense, and he liked it.”

Smith had some experience after playing football in middle school. But after watching the Panthers games, he realized he missed it.

“Wish I had played before,” he said. “I recommend playing football all four years. It’s a great experience.”

Kovl, who pulled in eight catches for 96 yards two weeks ago, said his best game was in a losing effort against Kalamazoo United.

“I had 126 yards, six receptions, two touchdowns,” he said. “It was a tough loss, but it was definitely one of my best games.”

McClanahan spends summers in Tennessee and made the choice to return to Parchment early this time so he could play football.

“I definitely like the energy we get at practices and during games with all my teammates,” he said. “A lot of my friends were coming out, so I decided I’d just hop on the train and come out.

“We’ve been close since sixth grade and anything one does, we all do together. We’re a really close friend group.”

Two more seniors, Slack and Shank, are juggling first-year football with other fall sports and sometimes miss practices.

“(Slack) has really started to emerge as a guy who can contribute to the team,” Huberty said. “He caught a touchdown pass against United and is starting to emerge as a guy who should start getting more playing time.”

Shank is the second-string kicker and also balancing a club commitment this fall.

“She runs cross country, her primary sport, and also does travel soccer in the fall,” Huberty said. “She comes when she can be here.”

As for the veterans on the team, “They have done a great job of embracing those first-year kids,” Huberty said.

“There’s no real wedge between kids who have played in the past and those who haven’t.”

Now that they've tasted success on the football field, the "Senior 9" all agreed on one regret: Waiting until their senior year to play football.

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Parchment’s Jacob Guzior (83) prepares to defend from his linebacker spot during a 21-17 Week 7 win over Allegan. (Middle) Front, from left: Mason Ragan, Blake Smith. Back, from left: McKenna Nunn, Will Kovl, Jacob Guzior, Breckyn Bootland and Ashtian McClanahan. (Below) The Panthers’ Will Kovl attempts to pull away from a Tigers defender. (Action photos by McKenna Nunn; group photo by Pam Shebest.)

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.)