QB Carving Place in Pittsford Tradition

August 31, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

PITTSFORD – There’s nothing quite like the return of high school football each new season to small towns in Michigan.

There’s something about the way a town buzzes when students, parents and fans put on the spirit wear and make the journey to watch kids they’ve all known since they were born put on the helmet and play football against – usually – a neighboring school district.

Pittsford is one of those towns, and Jake Burger is one of those kids.

If it seems like Burger has been around Pittsford football forever, it’s because he has been around it for all of his life. He is two games into his senior year playing quarterback for the Wildcats – his third season as a starter – but his roots go much deeper. His grandfather, Bob Clement, coached at Pittsford for three decades. His father, Mike Burger, has been the head coach since 2010.

“I used to hang around the sidelines,” Jake said. “I’d be with my friends, and we’d be having fun. But, I wanted to be out there, to be on the field.”

These days, Burger’s grandfather usually watches games from above the Pittsford press box. His uncle, Frank Clement, another longtime Pittsford coach, is closer to the action as the Wildcats’ special teams coach. Burger’s cousin Jesse Clement is a senior linebacker. Burger’s dad – also a teacher, boys basketball coach and athletic director at Pittsford – calls the plays that Burger tries to execute on the field.

“Jake really understands the game,” Mike Burger said. “He grasps concepts quickly, and then is able to put them into action. He just wants to win, and winning with his buddies makes it that much more gratifying.”

Pittsford is coming off a 9-2 season in which it qualified for the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 14 seasons. The Wildcats are members of the Southern Central Athletic Association and reigning league champions after a year when four of the five teams in the conference reached the playoffs.

Pittsford is a community of about 1,500 people and has just 186 students in its high school. Nineteen play football including 11 seniors – an unusually large class.

“I think that helps a lot because we all have a lot of experience,” Jake Burger said. “We grew up together, playing football and basketball. We all just love sports.”

The Wildcats opened the 2018 season by shutting out 2017 playoff qualifier Morenci 28-0, and then shut out Petersburg-Summerfield 10-0 on Thursday. Burger – who also starts at safety – made a key play in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to stop a potential Summerfield touchdown.

“Early season wins are so important in getting to the playoffs,” Burger said. “I think we are going to have a really good year.”

Burger was a tight end in grade school but shifted to quarterback around fifth grade. He’s played the position ever since.

“The coach moved me to quarterback,” he said. “I love the position. I like being the field general – sort of the coach on the field. I like how you get to make decisions on the fly. Hopefully, I make the right decisions.”

Burger’s decisions are usually spot-on. He was an honorable mention choice on last year’s Associated Press Division 7-8 all-state football team after throwing for more than 1,300 yards. He already holds several Wildcats records and entered Thursday’s game with 2,910 career passing yards.

At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, Burger said he’s also not afraid to take on a would-be tackler. He has more than 1,000 career rushing yards.

“I’m not a traditional type of quarterback,” he said. “I like to pass the ball and move the ball downfield, but I’ll also run the ball. I usually don’t run out of bounds. I’m not going to juke anybody out. I’ll lower my shoulder and take on someone and try and fight for those extra yards.”

Burger grew up about five minutes from Pittsford, which is in Hillsdale County, only a few miles from the Ohio state line. The Wildcats won the 1996 Class DD championship under Clement. With the return of Burger and much of the offense and defense from last year’s playoff team, there are high hopes this season as well.

Mike Burger said it’s been a blessing to coach his son.

“Coaching your son is a tremendous experience,” he said. “I have had such a great time being able to be part of this process. Sure, it can be stressful at times with all the pressures that go with being a varsity coach and coach’s son, but it has been far more rewarding than I could ever had imagined.”

His son agrees.

“He’s always explained things to me,” Burger said of his dad. “It’s been great having him there with me. He’s a great coach. I’m grateful he is my coach.”

The two also have that bond during basketball season. This past spring, Jake developed a routine in which he would get to school by 6:30 a.m. to work on basketball, then go back to school at night to work on quarterback fundamentals. He played AAU basketball this summer and maintains a 3.7 grade-point average. He’s unsure of his college plans at this point but would entertain the idea of playing either sport at the next level – as long as the college he chooses “feels like home,” he said.

“Jake's work ethic is off the charts,” Mike Burger said. “He is a great example of someone who plays multiple sports rather than concentrate on one.  I am not sure which sport he loves the most, but I can say he loves playing both games and he plays both with a real joy.”

For Jake Burger, being part of the hometown football and basketball teams seems second nature. He wouldn’t want it any other way. Cars start filing into Pittsford football games early on Friday nights, some fans hopeful for a spot in the front row overlooking the west end zone.

“For our first game, we had a ton of people in our stands,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere in Pittsford, no matter what sport. For basketball games, the parents and fans will get into the game and cheer and the football games are loud with a lot of fans. It’s a great place to be around.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Jake Burger prepares for Thursday’s game against Petersburg-Summerfield. (Middle) Burger follows through on a pregame pass. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)