Performance: GR Catholic Central's Nolan Fugate

October 13, 2017

Nolan Fugate
Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior – Football

Fugate, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back, ran 37 times for 477 yards and five touchdowns in GRCC’s 57-50 win over Comstock Park on Oct. 6. His rushing yardage ranked fourth-most in MHSAA history for one game and second-most in the state since 1990, earning Fugate the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Also the leading rusher on last season’s team that won the Division 4 championship, Fugate has carried the ball 111 times for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall – averaging 10 yards per carry. He's amassed those numbers despite limited attempts in four running clock games this fall. After coming up for the playoffs but seeing little action as a sophomore, and then moving into a prominent role the last two seasons, Fugate is fourth in GRCC history with 335 career carries, second with 2,537 career yards, tied for second with 27 career rushing touchdowns and fifth with a career average of 7.6 yards per carry. And like any good back, he knows to credit those clearing the way – Fugate follows an outstanding line led by 6-5, 270-pound Jalen Mayfield, who has committed to sign with University of Michigan.

Fugate also ran track last season for the first time in high school and plans to do so again this spring. He hopes to return to the basketball program as well – he played subvarsity his first two years before taking last season off. He’s aiming to continue his football career after high school and has interest from many of the state’s top Division II programs plus a few at the Division I mid-major and NAIA levels. Fugate is planning to study business and carries a 3.2 grade-point average. Wherever he goes, that program will get a proven winner – GRCC is 7-0 this fall heading into tonight’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue title-deciding matchup with reigning Division 5 champion Grand Rapids West Catholic, and the Cougars are 21-2 with Fugate on the roster.

Coach Todd Kolster said: "I think the world of Nolan. He is a very self-motivated young man. He is very mentally tough and has worked extremely hard to help lead our team. He is a great teammate and a high-character person. He's is a great competitor. ... He is one of the best tailbacks in the state of Michigan; he rushed for over 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago. He could have very gaudy statistics and surpassed those totals already if I played him in those other (running clock) weeks." 

Performance Point: “We had a good gameplan coming in, and I think we executed really well and our line blocked really well and it was just a good night offensively,” Fugate said of the Comstock Park win. “I knew I was having a pretty good night. I knew I had some big runs, and I was just following my blocks, but I didn’t know the exact yards I had. I was actually pretty surprised (at the yardage total). I had some big runs the first possession, and I could see our offensive line executing their blocks well so I was figuring I would have a pretty big night. The first play we had the ball in the second half, I broke a 72-yard run. That was my favorite run because I broke out into the open and I just ran past everyone and I could hear the crowd screaming.”

Following Jalen: “He’s my best friend too, and it’s pretty special. You don’t get a chance to run behind the best lineman in the state very often, so I’m pretty fortunate. We shared a moment when we talked about how good of a night it was, and it was just a really special night overall.”

Great expectations: “We’ve just been listening to the coaching staff, and whatever they’ve asked we’ve been executing to the best of our ability. And we’ve been staying focused throughout the week trying to have the best practices we could have. We realize the expectations are high, so we just have to stay focused on each game and play united and just get better each day. You’ve just got to worry about one thing at a time and for that (opponent), and you can’t look ahead to the playoffs. … We knew the expectations were high, but I had faith. We definitely had more talent last year, but I feel like we’ve executed a lot better this year up to this point. I knew we could be special, and if we just keep working out each day and bringing it every day I think it will turn out really well.”

Running like “All Day” Adrian: “My favorite running back is probably (the Phoenix Cardinals’) Adrian Peterson, so growing up I always watched him. He’s a strong, explosive, physical runner. I like how he runs downhill and he’s always physical, and when he gets an opening he’s very explosive.”

Hooping like a football player: “A kid I grew up with (point guard Austin Braun) has been talking to me about (playing basketball). I was thinking about it, and I think I’m just going to do it. I think our team will do really well this year, so it would be fun to be a part of it. I’ll probably play really physical. I’ll probably be like the sixth man, bring intensity and defense and rebounding. That’ll probably be my job."

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Nolan Fugate runs away from the Comstock Park defense during last week’s 57-50 win. (Middle) Fugate prepares to take on a Comstock Park defender. (Photos by Murray Sports Photography.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

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) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)