Sailors Eye 'Their Turn' after QB Moves On

August 25, 2015

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

CUTLERVILLE – With the 2015 season opener against Grand Rapids Christian a few days away, South Christian football coach Mark Tamminga said quarterback isn’t a position that's stressing him out.

That statement might be a bit surprising considering Tamminga graduated this spring one of the most prolific passers in Michigan High School Athletic Association history.

Jon Wassink capped a banner high school career last fall by guiding the Sailors to a Division 4 championship with a dramatic 28-27 win over Lansing Sexton.

Wassink, a three-year starter, took his talents to Western Michigan University, but not before finishing second all-time in the MHSAA record book for career passing yards with 8,124.

In fact, Wassink’s name appears in the MHSAA record book 17 times despite playing only three varsity seasons. He’s third in career passing attempts (884), second in completions (584) and fifth in touchdown passes (76).

“We’re never going to replace a Jon Wassink; there’s no doubt about that,” Tamminga said after practice last week. “But I have two kids right now fighting for the quarterback position, and whichever one gets the job is going to be a very good high school quarterback. Maybe an all-conference quarterback, I’m not sure, but the quarterback position right now is pretty far down on my worry list.

“We have other things to worry about. Our line, our receivers, but we’re going to be fine with our quarterback. We’re going to score some points.”

Besides Wassink, the Sailors graduated a bevy of talent from a senior class that won 12 straight games after an 0-2 start to win their second MHSAA Final in three seasons.

Eighteen starters are gone, leaving behind a young team stacked with juniors and sophomores.

The only remaining starters are seniors Ezinga, Niewiek, John Masselink (TE/S) and Dylan Brink (RB/LB).

“We lost a great senior class, all the way down,” Tamminga said. “They were such great leaders, and the kids rallied around them. I told this year’s group that it’s their turn. They have to step up. You can win games with underclassmen, but to win consistently you have to have senior leadership, and that’s what I need from those guys. So far they have shown that, and we’re pretty proud of them.”

The person attempting to fill the void left by Wassink was yet to be determined at the start of this week. Junior Eric Dykstra and sophomore Andrew Haan are vying for the starting position.

Dykstra is the frontrunner, but recently suffered a wrist injury. That allowed Haan to take a majority of reps in practice and during the Sailors’ preseason scrimmage.

Tamminga said both have the potential to step in and lead this year’s squad.

“I would say Eric has the upper hand if healthy, but it is so close,” he said. “We don’t lose a beat with Andrew in there either. Both of them realize they have big shoes to fill, but what is so great is they don’t feel they have to be the next Jonny Wassink. They are going to be them, and they are going to be very good high school quarterbacks.”

South Christian also will miss Wassink’s ability to run the ball. He rushed for 3,252 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons.

“He definitely made big plays with his arm and his legs, which I think is going to hurt us the most,” Sailors’ right guard Josh Ezinga said. “He was such a two-dimensional player that defenses had to either prepare for him running-wise or passing-wise.

“And even though as a lineman you try not to miss a block, it happens once in a while, and he would just make a play and make you look like you’re the best in the world because he would make people miss.”

The absence of Wassink will be felt from a leadership standpoint as well. He wasn’t only a playmaker, he was there to help the younger players improve.

“Obviously Jon was a great player, but he also was a great leader,” senior wide receiver Jake Niewiek said. “He helped me a lot when I was getting started with the offense. Being a receiver in the system was a little complicated, but he really took us under his wing and showed us what we had to do.”

But Tamminga said adjustments have been made to atone for Wassink not being on the field in 2015.

“We basically had it pretty easy when he was here, and now we have to step up and coach to our strengths,” he said. “You have to coach differently because Jonny was like having another coach on the field. These kids are not going to be able to do the things that Jonny did. We have to adjust as coaches to compensate for that.”

The key losses by the Sailors have other teams chomping at the bit to dethrone the two-time Ottawa-Kent Gold champions.  

But while others may deem this a down year, South Christian hopes to maintain the same tradition of winning to which it has become accustomed.

“I think there are different expectations for us from the public and the media, but I think all the pieces of the puzzle are there and we can still be a great team this year,” Ezinga said. “I definitely think we can win with sophomores and juniors, and they realize they have to go hard every single play.”

Niewiek agreed that this year’s team can still be a formidable challenger.

“Practices have been great and everyone has been working their butts off,” he said. “We obviously have lower expectations than last year, but we hope to surprise some people. We want to keep the bar set high.”

Tamminga said the first goal is to get to six wins, which won’t be easy with three straight playoff teams on the schedule to open the season.

“We want to make the playoffs,” he said. “Just make the playoffs, but what worries me is if we don’t have three good games and go 0-3. I still believe we can go 6-3 and make the playoffs. They have to believe it, and that’s the challenge ahead of us right now.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) South Christian’s Jake Niewiek celebrates a turnover during last season’s Division 4 Final at Ford Field. (Middle) The Sailors’ Jake Elzinga works to stay in front of a Sexton ball carrier; both he and Niewiek return this fall. 

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.