By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Beating Muskegon Catholic Central in the playoffs was hard enough before Cameron Martinez came along.
Martinez, a 5-11, 180-pound, dual-threat sophomore quarterback, has added many new dimensions to the Crusaders’ offense – which had become synonymous around the state with ground-and-pound, power football.
“It’s pretty apparent that if we’re sitting in the T (formation) all the time, we’re not maximizing his abilities or our other guys’ abilities,” said fifth-year MCC coach Steve Czerwon, who has won a Division 8 championship in each of his first four seasons as the Crusaders’ head coach. “Cameron makes us coaches look good, too, because with him sometimes a bad play turns into a good play.”
MCC, which is 8-1 and ranked No. 1 in Division 8 by The Associated Press, goes on the road this week for a showdown with a familiar foe and another playoff powerhouse, Mendon (10-0 and ranked No. 3), in a MHSAA District championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Mendon fans will see a different MCC team than they have become accustomed to during the two schools’ seven prior meetings (MCC has won five) – a team that often operates with Martinez in the pistol formation, with just one running back, no tight ends and four receivers spread wide across the field.
The point man is Martinez, whose athletic ability was noticed by Central Michigan University two years ago as a 14-year-old eighth grader. His potential was so apparent that he was offered a scholarship at the conclusion of that camp, before he ever played a snap of high school football.
Last fall, he split time at quarterback with senior Trenton Bordeaux, and started to prove himself on the field as a quarterback, free safety and punt returner. Many other Division I schools are now following him as he is the unquestioned leader of this year’s Crusaders.
Martinez, who was born on the infamous day of Sept. 11, 2001, knows that college is still three years away. More immediate on his mind is the challenge of a 240-mile roundtrip journey to face a Mendon program which has amassed 10 MHSAA championships, the most recent in 2011. MCC has won 12 MHSAA titles during the playoff era.
“We’re all very excited,” said Martinez, whose older brother, Christian, guided MCC to Division 8 titles in 2014 and 2015 and now plays quarterback at Northwood University. “It’s a little bit of a trip, but I’ve always liked playing on the road. We know all about them and their tradition.”
Mendon will have to, first and foremost, contain Martinez if it wants to snap a three-game losing streak to the Crusaders.
The numbers tell the story: Martinez has rushed for 979 yards on 90 carries (10.9 yards per carry) and 15 TDs, more than double as many yards as MCC’s second-leading rusher, sophomore Tommy Watts (441 yards). Others sharing carries in the backfield-by-committee are juniors Dawson Steigman and Avery Davis and senior Riley St. Amour.
Martinez’ completion percentage is down considerably from a year ago, but he has still hit on 45 of 94 passes for 720 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. His primary targets are seniors Ryder Smith (14 catches) and Jackson Riegler (11 catches) and sophomore Nolan Convertini (10 catches).
Martinez & Company looked flat-out unbeatable and a mortal lock to complete the “Drive for Five” – and join East Grand Rapids and Farmington Hills Harrison as the only schools to win five titles in a row – until Montague rolled into Kehren Stadium on Oct. 20 for the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Montague frustrated the Crusaders with a disciplined pass rush and stingy coverage, limiting Martinez to just 10 of 31 passing for 131 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, as MCC’s 27-game winning streak was snapped in a stunning 34-10 loss.
“I put that loss on me,” said Martinez, who did rush for a team-high 80 yards in the defeat. “I need to react better and make better adjustments during games. All respect for Montague, they are a great team, but that game was a wake-up call for us.”
MCC bounced back with a 42-20 win over visiting Decatur last week, in a game that was much closer than many expected.
Now comes the big test against Mendon, which appears to be back to its old, powerful self after posting its first undefeated regular season since 2104.
“This is a classic Mendon football team,” said Czerwon, who is 2-0 against the Hornets as a head coach, posting playoff wins in 2013 and 2014. “They are a power team that wants to run downhill on you. They make very few mistakes and rarely have a negative-yardage play.”
Mendon, champions of the Southwest 10 Conference, are led by quarterback Cole Decker and running backs Wyatt Cool and Austin Rensi. Bobby Kretschman, a former standout player and 10-year assistant coach for the Hornets, is in his second year as head coach after taking over from legend John Schwartz.
MCC will use many different formations, all directed by Martinez, in an attempt to move the ball against a Mendon defense which has six shutouts in its first 10 games.
“We are very diverse, which is what I like about this team,” said Martinez. “Our coaches come up with a lot of different schemes for every game. We just have to go out and execute it.”
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 Catholic Central’s Cameron Martinez, a 5-11, 180-pound sophomore, surveys the field while awaiting the snap from center Owen Linstrom during the Crusaders' 42-20 victory over visiting Decatur in last week's Division 8 Pre-District game. (Middle) Martinez goes airborne for an incredible interception from his free safety position during the Crusaders' 31-6 victory at Frankfort on Sept. 1. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom 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 [email protected] 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) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)