Search for Longest FG Starts in '50s

October 30, 2020

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

Rob LaMielle’s first attempted field goal was a memorable one, and frankly, a bit amazing.

For starters, his track record on extra points, at least to that point in the season, was less than stellar. Flint Holy Redeemer entered their third game of the 1963 slate with a 1-1 record. The Flyers were defeated by Bad Axe in Week 1, then trounced Imlay City the next week. The senior had been successful on only 3 of 9 extra-point placements on the year.

“You had to bring that up,” said LaMielle over 55 years later, laughing at the statistic. “That’s probably so. Bad Axe was rated No. 1 in the state in Class ‘B.’ We were a ‘C’ school. They beat us 13-12 that night, because I missed two extra points. They scored in the very last couple minutes.”

The fact that his field goal was on the mark is all the more impressive considering it traveled 50 yards, clearing the crossbar by three feet, according to observers. Even more remarkable, it was a mere three yards shy of Lou ‘The Toe’ Groza’s best effort for the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns, and just six yards short of the NFL record, set by Bert Rechichar of the Baltimore Colts in 1953. Rechichar held the mark until it was famously topped by New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey in 1970 against the Detroit Lions.

“We practiced behind our football field,” said LaMielle, recalling how he got the job. “Behind our football field was two baseball fields with a backstop at each end. Well the coach lined everybody up on second base and said, ‘OK, we’re going to find out who can kick a field goal.’ So we started kicking the ball over the backstop. One of the times I kicked it, and it went a long ways.”

St. Redeemer’s coach Dick Clark stopped the drill and named LaMielle the team’s kicker.

“Before my senior year, I’d never kicked off, never attempted an extra point.”

At the time, the 220-pound LaMielle, who, like Groza, played tackle, was asked if he was surprised by the success of his kick.

“I was more surprised Coach Clark asked me to try it,” he said.

The field goal helped Flint Holy Redeemer top Bay City St. James, 29-6.

It also prompted another question from sports reporters. Was LaMielle’s kick a Michigan high school record?

The Search

The publicity surrounding the kick sent sportswriters around the state scurrying for the archives.

Initial inquiries indicated that Jim Yore of Battle Creek Central held the state mark, with a 56-yard field goal about 10 years prior, but a recheck of records by Dick Kishpaugh, “sports publicity director at Kalamazoo College and a close observer of Michigan prep football records,” indicated that Yore’s longest had been a 38-yard field goal, kicked on the last play of the game to beat Ypsilanti 3-0 on Oct. 3, 1952. It was thought to be the longest in state history.

Additional digging found that Port Huron High School’s Alfred Davis, a 212-pound fullback, had drilled a flawless 46-yard field goal in a 19-14 win over Hazel Park in 1953.

“The word ‘tremendous’ is probably one of the most overused words in sports lexicon,” wrote Port Huron Times reporter Fred J. Vincent, “but it should be used in describing this kick.”

Vincent called it “perfect, splitting the uprights and clearing the bar by about six feet.”

Impressively, Davis also had kicked a 36-yarder earlier in the contest. “Bob Boyd held on both kicks,” added the sportswriter. “Not since Oct. 8, 1930 had a Big Red player kicked a three pointer. Hank Ceasor did it then to best Ferndale, 3-0.”

Word came that Cheboygan Catholic’s Joe Poirier had kicked one “reported to have traveled at least 53 yards from the point of the kick to the goal posts” in a 10-0 victory over Alcona in 1957. Since the MHSAA didn’t keep records at the time, Kishpaugh added it to his listing of unofficial state records.

The Ironwood Daily Globe unearthed a nugget. While it wasn’t considered by Kishpaugh for his record book, it did bring back memories of changes seen in the game.

Ironwood’s John ‘Cutz’ Cavosie made a “tremendous boot on Oct. 10, 1925 in the final seconds of a game at Oliver Field here in which Ironwood swamped Menominee 41-0. Cavosie apparently was back to punt, but instead he dropkicked the ball squarely through the goal posts 55 yards away. He was in his senior year that fall and was captain of the team. He played a big role in the rout on Menominee by scoring on runs of 42, 51 and 67 yards.”

Record Toppled

So it was quite the event when, nearly 19 years later, junior Derrick Underwood broke Poirier’s mark on a cold October Friday at Inkster.

A week earlier, Underwood had made his first field goal of the season, a 23-yard boot in overtime to give Ecorse its first victory of the year in five starts, 9-6, over River Rouge. This time, his kick gave Ecorse a 3-0 victory over the Vikings, although in decidedly less dramatic fashion as the kick came in the second quarter.

“The strange thing is I didn’t even know that I was kicking it from the 44-yard line. To be honest, I wasn’t paying that much attention and it didn’t look that long,” Underwood told the Detroit Free Press in 1976. “But I got a real good snap on it and an excellent hold.

Red Raiders coach Patrick Kearney believed the kick would have been good from another five or 10 yards out.

“It felt good when I hit it,” added Underwood, “but because I was in front of the goal posts, I couldn’t tell whether it went over or under the crossbar. But I saw my teammates jumping up and down on the sidelines and I knew it made it.

“I was pretty loose because I figured that if I missed, we still had another half to come back and win it.”

Underwood’s accomplishment garnered national attention in the June/July ’77 issue of Joe Namath’s National Prep Sports magazine. At the time, Jerry Spicer of Hobart (Ind.) High School held the national record with a kick of 61 yards in 1975.

Exasperation to Jubilation

Underwood, who also served as the Red Raiders’ quarterback and defensive end, guided the team to Inkster’s one-foot line in that same game as the clock wound down. But with the lead, instead of pushing for the end zone, they let time expire.

A year earlier, in 1975, the Ecorse players watched their season disappear after a single game.

“The school millage was defeated just prior to the start of that season,” said Underwood, recalling his high school days some 45 years later. “I was the starting QB for the Red Raiders through my senior year ('78). We were heartbroken that our season was over after the first game against Muskegon Heights. No energy for that game.

“We were foaming at the mouth to be playing organized football. Some of us played flag football to stay active.”

“I was just practicing holding for a teammate,” Underwood had told the Free Press back in October 1976. “Eventually I thought I’d try and I got to be pretty good at it.”

“I didn’t take kicking seriously at all,” he states now. “I wasn’t a dedicated kicker. My stars were aligned in my head as being the next Thomas Lott.”

Lott, a Parade All-American out of San Antonio, Texas, played quarterback at Oklahoma, where his coach, the legendary Barry Switzer, once called him the greatest wishbone quarterback in Oklahoma history.

“Went down to Tennessee State University and found out how much football I didn’t know,” Underwood said.

Reminiscing he added, “Looking back, wouldn’t change a thing growing up in Ecorse.”

Equaled, then Topped – in the Same Game

Underwood’s mark would hold in Michigan until 1979, when junior Harold Moore of Dearborn equaled, then topped the mark in a season-ending game against Plymouth Canton.

Moore, a left-footed, straight-on kicking specialist, matched Underwood’s record with a 54-yard boot in the game’s first half, and then topped the record with a 55-yard field goal during the second half.

“I’ve never seen anyone with the leg power he has,” said his coach, Dick Ryan. “His 55-yard field goal cleared the bar with 20 feet to spare.”

Over the next two seasons, three players – Mike Prindle of Grand Rapids Union (1980), Bob Hirschman from Sterling Heights Ford (1980), and Dave Blackmer of Farmington Hills Harrison (1981) – would match Moore’s longest kick.

Since then, only five players have matched or exceeded 55 yards. John Langeloh of Utica shattered the mark in 1985 with a 58 yarder. Doug Kochanski of Warren Woods-Tower is the state’s current record holder, with a kick in 1994 that traveled 59 yards before splitting the uprights. The successful kick came in his final high school contest.

In these days of more and more specialization, one wonders, will Michigan ever see one of 60 yards or more?

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Detroit Free Press told the story behind Derrick Underwood’s record field goal for Ecorse in its Oct. 30, 1976 edition. (2) Battle Creek Central’s Jim Yore was one of the earliest record holders for longest field goal in Michigan high school history. (3) Alfred Davis also was a standout fullback for Port Huron. (4) Underwood also played quarterback and defensive end for the Red Raiders. (Photos gathered by Ron Pesch.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)