Watching Destin Piggee do his thing on the football field – drawing collective gasps from the crowd with an array of moves, bursts of amazing speed and dramatic stops and starts – is nothing short of pure joy.
What a contrast from the tragedy the quiet, humble, 15-year-old Muskegon High School sophomore suffered two months ago.
Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said his young sensation has the heart of a lion, but that heart was ripped out of his chest on the afternoon of Sept. 3 – just hours before the Big Reds hosted Detroit Cass Tech in the biggest game in the state that weekend.
Piggee learned that his previously healthy father, 43-year-old Dereko Piggee, had died from complications after a short bout with COVID-19.
He then did what his dad would have wanted that night and played for the Big Reds, ripping off a 43-yard run (appropriately, one yard for every year of his dad’s life), giving a packed house at Hackley Stadium a preview of what was to come over the next eight games.
“I played that game, but I wasn’t in my right mind,” admitted Piggee, a 5-foot-6, 160-pound slot back and return man.
“My teammates and my coaches have helped me like you wouldn’t believe. If I didn’t have football, I probably would have gone out and done something stupid.”
The next game at Zeeland West was even more challenging, as earlier that day was his father’s funeral service – and then the young man who is too young to drive a car had to lay his father and best friend to rest at the cemetery.
He responded once again, scoring the winning touchdown on a 32-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Piggee hasn’t slowed down since, rolling up 705 rushing yards on a mere 30 carries, for a staggering 24 yards per attempt, with nine touchdowns. He also has caught nine passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, giving him 17 plays of 20-plus yards on only 39 offensive touches.
“He is a gifted natural athlete, but you should see the way this young man works,” said Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield, who has led his team to nine straight wins after the humbling Week 2 loss to Cass Tech. “His love for the game and for his teammates is contagious.”
Muskegon (9-1) hopes to win its 10th-straight District championship at 1 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Cedar Springs (8-2).
The Big Reds, who have also won five straight Regional titles, are aspiring to make it to Ford Field for the eighth time in the past 10 years. Muskegon has won a state-best 878 games and 18 state titles, including six in the playoff era, with the latest coming in 2017.
It has been the emergence of super sophomore “smurfs” Piggee and his good friend, running back Jakob Price (5-7, 165), which has keyed this team’s resurgence.
Exhibit A was Muskegon’s 49-28 win over crosstown rival and two-time reigning Division 2 champion Muskegon Mona Shores on Oct. 8. With the Sailors keying on senior quarterback Myles Walton, the sophomores stole the show – Price with six carries for 217 yards and TD runs of 70 yards and 99 yards and Piggee with six carries for 123 yards and two TDs, along with two catches for 71 yards and another score.
Against Wyoming earlier this year, Piggee touched the ball twice all game and scored touchdowns both times, on an 82-yard run and an electrifying 50-yard punt return.
Although he makes it look easy on the field, it’s been a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute battle off of it for Piggee and his family, especially his mother, stepmother, grandparents and siblings.
“One day after school, I just started crying and I couldn’t stop,” said Piggee, who is the youngest of his father’s five children.
That was when his Big Red family stepped in.
Senior Damari Foster hugged him and held him for a long time, before passing him off to freshman coach Corey Bibbs, who then handed him to Fairfield.
“Coach Fairfield finally got me to stop crying,” said Piggee, who wants to study electrical engineering in college. “He told me about some of the hard things he dealt with growing up, and I learned some things from him.”
Piggee said he draws motivation from his friend Dametrius “Meechie” Walker, a towering, 6-5 senior defensive lineman who was diagnosed last fall with osteosarcoma in his left leg, a rare bone cancer most often seen in teenage boys. The cancer has ended the playing career for Walker – who already had six Division I scholarship offers including from Michigan State, Minnesota and Kentucky – but he remains a positive, smiling force on the Muskegon sideline.
While Piggee is motivated to play hard for Walker, he is also determined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a 1996 grad who was a three-year varsity player and all-area defensive back for the Big Reds. He played running back, but was better known as a dangerous return man and lockdown cover man in the secondary.
“I remember Dereko was a nice, nice kid,” said Dave Taylor, Dereko’s head coach at Muskegon, who led the Big Reds to Class A championships in 1986 and 1989. “He did what I told him to do, and he was one of my favorites.”
This year’s Muskegon team is the youngest in Fairfield’s 12 years as head coach, with as many as eight freshmen and sophomores starting in some games.
The turning point in the season came after the 49-14 defeat at the hands of Cass Tech, when Fairfield challenged Piggee and his underclassmen teammates to rise above their youth and start playing “big boy football.”
“Big boy football means being confident and being in control of yourself at all times,” said Piggee. “We got on a group text and talked about that after our loss.
“We support our brothers here even when no one else does. These guys have helped me to get through every single day since my dad passed; you have no idea. I just want to go out and play as hard as I can for them.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Muskegon’s Destin Piggee (3) eludes the grasp of a Lowell defender during the Big Reds’ District Semifinal win Saturday. (Middle) Piggee takes the field with his teammates before the Sept. 3 game against Detroit Cass Tech. (Below) Piggee makes his move upfield against East Kentwood. (Top and below photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal. Middle photo by Tim Reilly.)
Over the last decade we’ve previewed intriguing football matchups every week from every region of the state, detailing one and highlighting four others. We usually choose from six or seven possibilities in each area that really stand out.
We could have put together a Week 5 list 10 deep in the Detroit area – any other week we may have included Rochester Adams (3-1) at West Bloomfield (3-1), Macomb Dakota (4-0) at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (2-2), Grosse Pointe South (3-1) at Roseville (3-1), Dearborn Heights Robichaud (3-1) at Redford Union (3-1) or Clarkston Everest Collegiate (2-2) at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (3-1) in that group.
Head just west, and Dexter (2-2) at Ann Arbor Huron (3-1) has potential. Go farther west and Hudsonville (4-0) at Grandville (3-1) is in the conversation. In the Thumb, Marlette (3-1) at Harbor Beach (3-1) likely will be important down the road, and Houghton Lake (3-1) at McBain (3-1) would make the Northern Lower Peninsula top five most of the time.
And those are just some of the few that also caught our attention as we dive into many more below.
Bay & Thumb
Chesaning (3-1) at Montrose (4-0) - MHSAA.tv
Chesaning’s continued improvement and Montrose’s excellent start have given the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference a fuller field of contenders, and these two are the only ones undefeated in league play. The Rams have defeated both the reigning champion (Durand) and runner-up (Ovid-Elsie) from a year ago – by eight and seven points, respectively – and also have defeated Chesaning all six times (including once in the playoffs) since the two schools began playing in this league together. Chesaning also has an impressive victory this fall, as it provided a loud statement to start the league schedule with a 27-22 win over New Lothrop in Week 2.
Belleville (4-0) at Livonia Franklin (3-1) - MHSAA.tv
Belleville has won 29 straight games and the last two Division 1 titles, and after getting past River Rouge 35-28 in its season opener has won its first three Kensington Lakes Activities Association East games this fall by a combined score of 165-7. In fact, the Tigers are a combined 36-1 against KLAA East teams since joining the league in 2018. But this weekend’s matchup starts an intriguing month as Belleville pursues big goals again. Franklin has won two straight Division 2 District titles and had the most success among league teams against the Tigers last season, although that still ended with a 42-14 Belleville win.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Flat Rock (4-0) at Riverview (3-1), White Lake Lakeland (3-1) at Walled Lake Western (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Detroit Catholic Central (3-1) at Warren De La Salle Collegiate (2-2) - MHSAA.tv. SATURDAY Detroit Edison (4-0) at Warren Michigan Collegiate (4-0).
Lansing Everett (3-1) at Grand Ledge (4-0) - MHSAA.tv
The Capital Area Activities Conference Blue title race could fall a number of ways, but at this moment these two and East Lansing are undefeated in league play with Grand Ledge also the reigning co-champion and with a win already over last year’s other title winner, Holt. Everett bounced back from an opening 23-20 loss to still-undefeated Sexton and has generated some buzz – the Vikings were just 2-6 a year ago, but their defense especially has impressed this fall giving up a combined 37 points over four games. Grand Ledge won last year’s meeting 34-6 – but also just got past Lansing Waverly last week by a point, after Everett had downed the Warriors by 20 in Week 3.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lake City (3-1) at Beal City (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-0) at Hastings (2-2), Haslett (3-1) at Mason (4-0), Lansing Catholic (2-2) at Portland (4-0).
Northern Lower Peninsula
Whitehall (4-0) at Manistee (4-0) - MHSAA.tv
This might be Manistee’s biggest game since it finished its perfect regular season in 2018, as the Mariners welcome Whitehall in what eventually may determine the West Michigan Conference Lakes champion. Whitehall won last year’s meeting 55-0 – but Manistee already has avenged a 46-19 loss to Muskegon Oakridge and improved on last season’s results over Mason County Central and Muskegon Orchard View as well. A strong defense (35 points allowed over four games) will get its best challenge yet as Whitehall has scored 34 or more in all four of its games.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gaylord (4-0) at Cadillac (3-1), Charlevoix (3-1) at Benzie Central (2-2) - MHSAA.tv, Traverse City St. Francis (2-2) at Kingsley (3-1) - MHSAA.tv, East Jordan (3-1) at Maple City Glen Lake (3-1) - MHSAA.tv.
Southeast & Border
Adrian (4-0) at Chelsea (3-1) - MHSAA.tv
Chelsea saw its three-year Southeastern Conference White title streak end at three last fall, but the Bulldogs are shaping up as favorites again – especially after they followed an opening loss to Grand Rapids Northview by nearly doubling up Edwardsburg the next week. The Bulldogs won a 10-game winning streak against Adrian, including 31-7 a year ago. But this Maples team is resembling more those that made the playoffs all but one season during the first decade of the 2000s, with the 4-0 start their best since 2010. They handed reigning league champion Tecumseh a 29-7 defeat last week.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Blissfield (3-1) at Clinton (3-1), Napoleon (4-0) at Grass Lake (4-0), Dearborn Divine Child (3-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Monroe (3-1) at Saline (4-0) - MHSAA.tv.
Portage Central (3-1) at St. Joseph (3-1) - MHSAA.tv
St. Joseph has bounced back well from an opening-week loss to Niles and can put that first game further out of mind over the next three weeks as the Bears face Central, then Portage Northern and Stevensville Lakeshore – the other three teams that have started 2-0 in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference. St. Joseph has won five of its last six against Central, but only 13-12 a year ago. The Mustangs are rebounding from last season’s 4-5 finish, with a nice win over East Lansing to start and their only loss the closest game Division 3 top-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central has played this season.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Benton Harbor (2-2) at Dowagiac (3-1), Parchment (3-1) at Kalamazoo United (2-2), Centreville (2-2) at White Pigeon (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Niles (3-1) at Sturgis (2-2) - MHSAA.tv.
Menominee (4-0) at Houghton (2-2) - MHSAA.tv
The Maroons have started well with their move to the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper, outscoring their first three league opponents by a combined 154-6 after opening the season with another shutout of century-old rival Marinette, Wis. But things get only more challenging from here. Houghton has won two straight as it looks to build off last season’s best finish in a decade. Menominee then will face Gladstone, Negaunee and Kingsford over the final three weeks of the league schedule. Those three have been dealing each other losses over the last three weeks but remain in the title hunt.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Calumet (1-3) at Kingsford (3-1) - MHSAA.tv, Sault Ste. Marie (3-1) at Marquette (1-2) - MHSAA.tv, Negaunee (3-1) at Hancock (1-3), Ishpeming (1-3) at Bark River-Harris (2-0).
Byron Center (4-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-0)
Anticipation of this rematch goes back to last season as their Ottawa-Kent Conference White opener ended up deciding the championship in FHC’s favor thanks to its 21-13 win. Byron Center didn’t lose again over the final six weeks of league play, and the Rangers went on to finish Division 2 runners-up at Ford Field. Forest Hills Central is Division 3 this season and, as noted above, top-ranked. Both can boast large average margins of victory and impressive wins over Division 4 No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian. The main difference perhaps is that East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Northview and Lowell also are looking like O-K White contenders – and the winner of this matchup surely will have an important edge when considering the full league picture.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY East Grand Rapids (4-0) at Grand Rapids Northview (3-1) - MHSAA.tv, Spring Lake (4-0) at Grand Rapids West Catholic (4-0), North Muskegon (4-0) at Hart (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Zeeland West (4-0) at Zeeland East (4-0) - MHSAA.tv.
Gaylord St. Mary (3-1) at Onaway (3-1)
Onaway followed a 2-7 finish in 2021 with a 1-8 run a year ago and a forfeit of this fall’s season opener after a late-breaking coaching change. But the Cardinals' immediate resurgence has been awe-inspiring. With boys basketball coach Eddy Szymoniak also taking over this program, Onaway has outscored its last three opponents by a combined 132-38. Gaylord St. Mary has bounced back nicely as well from an opening loss to Pickford, shutting out its first two Ski Valley Conference opponents (and receiving a forfeit from a third). The Snowbirds join Indian River Inland Lakes – which received that Week 1 forfeit from Onaway – as the teams undefeated in league play.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Climax-Scotts (4-0) at Bellevue (3-1), Lake Linden-Hubbell (2-2) at Powers North Central (4-0) - MHSAA.tv, Marion (3-0) at Rudyard (3-1), St. Ignace (4-0) at Rogers City (2-2).
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PHOTO Bark River-Harris's Dominick Lantagne (13) finds a big hole and gains several yards during his team’s opening day win over Ishpeming Westwood. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)