By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
SAND CREEK – Alec Muck doesn’t take for granted that he’s one of the fastest athletes in the state.
It just makes him want to become faster.
“I’ve always had speed,” said the Sand Creek senior. “I guess you could say I was blessed with speed. But I train hard, too. I do a lot of stuff on my own, I work with a personal trainer and I lift. It motivates me.”
Muck is a five-time MHSAA Finals track champion and has rushed for more than 2,600 career yards for the Aggies’ varsity football team. As he prepares for his senior season on the football field, he said he’s healthy and ready to go out a winner.
“I just want to go out and play hard and give it my all,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes for my team. High school football is so different than anything else. I want to leave it all out there.”
Muck has a future as a college athlete. He’s just not sure in which sport. This summer, he went on a multi-state, multi-campus recruiting tour during which he blazed to a 4.3-second 40-yard time in Columbus, Ohio.
“That definitely caught the attention of a few coaches,” he said. “I kept my time around that 4.3 all summer.”
Other stops on the tour included Louisville, Cincinnati, Findlay and Western Michigan University. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster doesn’t have any formal offers to play college football, but he expects that to change this season.
“I have a passion for both track and football,” he said. “But, I love the grind of football and everything about the game. If I could choose, I’d probably say football. I’ve always wanted to play at the Division I level.”
Muck was part of the Sand Creek varsity football team as a freshman. He blossomed into a weapon as a sophomore. In the third game that season, against Whitmore Lake, he carried the ball 11 times for 277 yards and five touchdowns. It remains his most productive game of his career. In all seven Tri-County Conference games that year, he rushed for at least 100 yards. He went on to rush for 1,505 yards as a sophomore, racking up nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns.
His junior season saw a slight dip in his carries, but he still averaged more than seven yards per rush and came up two yards short of 1,000. He started the season spending some time at quarterback. That experiment ended early in the season, however, and he expects to line up at several different spots on the field this year – but not quarterback.
“I like running back,” he said. “That’s where I’ve played since my Pop Warner days. I like to run and see the whole field. Running with the football is way different than running the track. You have to know when to go only 50 percent, so you know where to make your cut, then explode. You have to have more lateral movement.”
Sand Creek coach Scott Gallagher said the Aggies need to find more and creative ways to get Muck the football.
“He’s explosive,” said Gallagher, in his second season leading the program. “We have to put him in different positions and get him the football in a lot of different ways. He’s had the best camp he’s had since I’ve coached him.”
Muck causes headaches for opposing coaches. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
“Obviously Alec has tremendous speed; however, his ability to take over and change a game is underrated,” said Ottawa Lake Whiteford coach Jason Mensing. “His imprint on the TCC will be lasting.”
Gallagher said Muck sets high expectations for himself.
“He’s hard on himself,” Gallagher said. “He is very driven to be successful, and he wants to that success to rub off on his teammates.”
Muck’s training has involved a lot of speed drills – often on his own. His weightlifting is for strength and maintaining speed, not bulking up.
“My normal warm-ups are low sprints, not long-distance running,” he said. “When I run the short sprints, I set a goal for each sprint and try and beat that time. I run for time.”
Prior to the Regional track meet this spring, Muck injured his hamstring. He took a week off running before the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals, but the break didn’t slow him as he won both the 100 and 200 dashes. He won the same events as a sophomore and won the 200 as a freshman. His championship winning times this spring were 10.98 seconds in the 100 and 22.02 in the 200.
“I was really careful warming up at the state meet and, in the preliminaries, I ran easy, just so I could get to the final,” he said. “Once I got there, I knew I could do it.”
Throughout a summer of football camps and 7-on-7s, Muck also attended physical therapy for the hamstring. He said he’s now at 100 percent and ready to start football – and go out with a bang.
“This is the most dedicated the team has been since I’ve been playing,” he said. “The offseason training, the commitment to the weight room, it’s all there. I’m just ready to go out there and lead by example. It’s time to play football.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTO: Sand Creek running back Alec Muck is a five-time MHSAA Finals track champion with more than 2,600 career rushing yards. He's healthy and ready for a breakout senior year of football. (Photo by Mike Dickie.)
LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.
As a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.
Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.
“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.
“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”
That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.
He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.
He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.
“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better.
“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”
Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.
His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.
“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).
“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.
Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.
“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”
The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.
"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.
On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.
“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.
Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.
“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”
Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”
Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.
“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.
"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”
The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.
“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”
Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”
Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.
“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”
The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.
“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”
Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes.
“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.
“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)