Performance: Morrice's Hunter Nowak

November 15, 2018

Hunter Nowak
Morrice senior - Football

Morrice’s third-year varsity quarterback continued the play Friday that has helped his team to the best season in program history. Nowak ran 28 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Orioles to a 40-8 win over Colon in an 8-Player Division 1 Semifinal, earning the senior signal-caller the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Nowak has run 204 times for 1,922 yards (9.4 yards per carry) and 33 touchdowns this season, and completed 24 of 49 passes for 529 yards and eight more scores. His 232 points rank third all-time since MHSAA-sponsored 8-player football was added a decade ago. He took over the QB spot in 2016, and Morrice went 4-5, but the Orioles improved to 9-2 last season and this fall finished the regular season 9-0 for the first time in the program’s 11 or 8-player history. Last week’s Semifinal was the team’s second ever and first since 1996, and this Saturday’s championship game against Pickford at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome will be the Orioles’ first trip to the MHSAA Finals in this sport. Along the way, Morrice avenged last season’s playoff loss to North Central Thumb League Red rival Deckerville – which went on to finish 2017 Division 1 runner-up – and handed Wyoming Tri-unity Christian its only defeat this fall in the Regional Final two weeks ago.

Nowak plays only football at Morrice, but does also play on a high school-level rugby club team based in Howell. He carries a 4.0 grade-point average while dually enrolled at Lansing Community College, and hopes to study aviation after high school with aspirations of becoming a commercial airline pilot.

Performance Point: “The defense played great. They played shutout. The defense really won us the game, I think,” Nowak said of the Semifinal win over Colon. “We were able to put up 40 points, but that was a great offense they had. … It’s the first time we ever went to a state final for this, and we’re just really excited about it. We’ve been playing football since third grade, and we’ve always had successful seasons. We always thought that especially our senior year, we always thought, man, we really need to do really good that year. For it to happen, I think it’s great, because we’ve been working hard all year (and) ever since we started playing varsity. We’re thankful to the town for showing up at the games. Everyone comes out. It’s a big deal.”

That’s when we knew: “Our sophomore year, we didn’t do too great. We got four wins as sophomores; we could’ve done better. Last year we were OK – we lost to Deckerville in the second round (38-0). … Our first game (this season), we beat Deckerville (34-14). I think that was big. We went there, we won by 20 points, and that’s when we realized we’re a good team this year – we really have a shot to go far. We had lost the second round of playoffs the year before by a lot there. So to have our first game, since playing there, be right there again, and to be able to win – it put behind all the doubt that we had last year.”

Taking this on together: “I think it’s the combination of a lot of us have been playing since third grade together. And there’s not a whole lot of us, so that bond has just grown through the years. And I think we’re just really good at football, and the whole speed thing really helps too. … I think it’s just knowing what someone else is going to do. If I’m running the ball, I can get a sense of where my lead blockers are going to go, what they’re going to do. We can try to get a sense of what other people are going to do. We can communicate easier. If something happens, we can fix it real quick, because we know how to talk to each other.”

It’s a speed thing: “I think 11-man was more about who’s going to be bigger on the line and then trying to work around that. (Eight-player) is not so much who is bigger on the line, it’s who can get off the line quicker and find the hole faster. We’re not the biggest team, but we’re a very fast team. That definitely helps us out.”

Revved and rallying: “When you’re done with the game and you’re walking back to the stands, there’s a lot of people I’ve never met before. But they’re all congratulating us, and they seem really excited about it. They’re there. They don’t know us personally, but they’re excited for the football team and they want to tell us, ‘Good job.’ There’s a lot of people talking about coming up (for the Final).”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 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. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

November 8: Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Morrice quarterback Hunter Nowak (32) pulls away from a Colon defender during last week’s Semifinal win over the Magi. (Middle) Nowak and teammate Sam Koresky celebrate one of his touchdowns. (Photos courtesy of the Lansing State Journal.)

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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 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.)