PARCHMENT — Nothing beats Friday night lights, said Parchment senior Will Kovl.
“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.”
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.”
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 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@example.com 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.)
DETROIT – Dante Moore had no tears left to cry Saturday night, even happy tears, after he played his final high school football game for Detroit Martin Luther King at Ford Field.
“Everybody sees I’m not crying – I really cried before I got here to the game. Before I walked to the gate, I was crying and I cried last night,” Moore said.
King’s four-year starting quarterback cemented his legacy, leading the Crusaders to their second-straight MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 56-27 victory over Muskegon.
The Oregon commit finished 21-of-26 passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions to power King (10-3) to its sixth Finals title overall and fifth in eight years.
Before Moore even took the field for his first offensive series against Muskegon (11-3), junior Jameel Croft Jr. staked King to an immediate lead with an electrifying 96-yard return of the game’s opening kickoff.
The Crusaders never looked back.
“I wasn’t expecting that. I just followed my blocks. Guys were blocking for me and the coaches set it up perfectly for me, for real,” Croft said. “It gave us a lot of momentum in the beginning of the game. It helped us out a lot.”
Muskegon pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and 21-14 three minutes into the second, but Moore & Co. always seemed to have an answer.
Croft scored the game’s first two TDs, as he added a 13-yard scoring catch from Moore to make it 14-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
“We started out chasing. We gave up that opening kickoff for a touchdown and we just got ourselves chasing and kind of things went from there,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime and pulled within 14 with five minutes left in the third but got no closer.
Croft was Moore’s top pass-catcher, finishing with six receptions for 64 yards and two TDs. Senior Sterling Anderson Jr. was a blur as King’s top rusher, totaling 207 yards on only 13 carries, highlighted by his 80-yard scoring sprint that gave the Crusaders a 49-27 lead with 10:55 remaining.
Seniors Samuel Washington and Tim Ruffin paced King defensively with nine and eight tackles, respectively. For Muskegon, senior Julian Neely registered a team-high seven stops, while junior Stanley Cunningham recorded two sacks among his six tackles.
Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy ran 20 times for 135 yards with two TDs, including a 60-yard breakaway to pull the Big Reds within 14-7 midway through the first quarter. He also completed 2-of-4 passes for 97 yards, including a 71-yard scoring strike to junior Destin Piggee.
Muskegon junior Jakob Price added 93 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries, but the night belonged to King and Moore.
“There’s no excuse: That kid is amazing. He threw balls that we haven’t seen probably in my career,” said Fairfield, whose program was seeking its first Finals title since 2017. His Big Reds teams have been to the Finals to finish eight of his 13 seasons at the helm.
“Only one other guy threw touchdown passes like (Moore) and passes and balls like that in my career here, and that was (Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s) Alex Malzone – went to Michigan. Seems like we always see the (Dequan) Finns and the Dantes and Malzones and stuff when we get here, but you know, we’re here,” added Fairfield, whose 2018 squad lost to Finn and King, 41-25, in the Division 3 championship game.
King coach Tyrone Spencer said that his team overcame a lot of adversity this season. The Crusaders could not practice on their field because it’s undergoing a makeover, so they bussed to practice. They lost their season opener to Warren Central (Ind.), 44-26, and dropped the final two games of the regular season to Detroit Cass Tech (28-14) and Cincinnati Moeller (30-14).
The Crusaders got it going in the playoffs, however. They threatened the Finals record for points by one team, established Friday night by Grand Rapids West Catholic with 59.
“(The season) was up and down, but the kids, I mean, they trust us and we got it back going,” Spencer said. “They’re a resilient group of kids. It speaks to their character.”
Moore mentioned the “championship culture” at King, how one expects to be a champion once he puts on that jersey.
It’s also about giving back and respecting the game, too, which has been a custom of Moore’s since his freshman year when King lost to Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 Final, 35-26.
“My freshman year, me playing against Brady Rose and Muskegon Mona Shores, I remember Brady Rose pulled me to the side and that’s where I really got it from – him taking me to the side, telling me things I can work on, and me congratulating him for what he’s done and being one of the best players to come through Michigan to be honest and leading his team on his back,” Moore recalled.
“I just knew that I had to carry that on through this past year and really pull the (opposing) quarterbacks to the side, especially (those) younger than me. Me being a senior, I’ve been through a lot. I just want to give them the keys and terms to help them be the best they can be in high school.”
Croft called the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Moore a “great leader,” who is “so poised” and one who will leave “a great legacy right here for sure.”
“Special, man,” is how Spencer reflected on Moore’s four-year run.
“You know, he’ll be the one that they’ll talk about maybe the greatest we’ve ever had here,” Spencer said. “Just really proud of him and the person that he is. He deserves it. He works hard for it, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Meanwhile, Muskegon got off to a bit of a slow start this season by Big Reds standards. They lost two of their first five games, including a 49-16 road defeat to eventual Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, but got healthy and played their best football at the right time leading up to Saturday night.
Fairfield said the Big Reds battled and left it all on the field.
“They played 14 and when you play 14 games, of course this is going to hurt more because it’s the very last one and now you’ve got 364 days to get back,” he said.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit King’s Samuel Washington (10) wraps up Muskegon’s M’Khi Guy during Saturday’s night’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Crusaders quarterback Dante Moore rolls out looking for a receiver. (Below) King’s Sterling Anderson Jr. (3) follows his blockers through a sizable opening.