Shores' QB Stands Tall During 2-0 Start

September 6, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Muskegon Mona Shores certainly has a scary offense, with Division I college receiving prospects on the edges, two powerful running backs and a much-improved offensive line.

If only the Sailors had a taller quarterback.

If seventh-year Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak had a nickel for every time he’s heard some variation of that statement, he’d be an extremely wealthy man.

“People who say things like that don’t know Tristan Robbins,” Koziak said of his 5-foot-10, 173-pound senior quarterback in his second year as the starter. “He is tough, he is fearless and he is a leader – the guys rally around him. We are very happy with our quarterback.”

Robbins has come up big in two impressive wins – completing 7 of 11 passes for 137 yards and rushing for another 47 yards in a 41-23 win over Canton at the University of Michigan on Aug. 26, then turning around and completing 7 of 13 passes for 129 yards, with 90 yards rushing, in a come-from-behind, 42-20 win at Zeeland West last week.

Robbins has the chance to prove the doubters wrong again this Friday, in the first of two blockbuster home games on the Mona Shores schedule this fall.

Rockford, the perennial Ottawa-Kent Conference Red powerhouse, comes to the lakeshore this week, led by 6-5 senior quarterback Jason Whittaker, who has committed to continue his career at Northwestern University. On Oct. 13, the Sailors welcome cross-town rival Muskegon, the winningest program in state history, which features a Division I quarterback of its own in 6-2 senior La’darius Jefferson, who has verbally committed to sign with Central Florida.

Robbins is ready to rise to the challenge.

“I just go out there and do what I can with what I’ve been given,” said Robbins, the middle child and only son of Brent and Jane Robbins. “Our offense has been doing great so far. Now we get a home game and it should be a huge crowd, and that will just add to the excitement.”

Robbins was thrust into the starting role in last year’s opening game as a junior after senior starter Drew Switzer broke his collarbone in the preseason scrimmage. Robbins threw four interceptions as the Sailors struggled to a 1-3 start, which ultimately kept them out of the playoffs for the first time in three years. But since that rough beginning, Robbins has thrown 13 TD passes without a single interception, leading Shores to six wins in its last seven games.

“He has grown more and more comfortable in his role,” explains Koziak, who led Shores to the Division 2 championship game in 2015. “We rely on our quarterbacks to make a lot of reads, before the play and during the play, and he’s done a great job.”

Robbins follows in the footsteps of two standout, pro-style quarterbacks in Tyree Jackson (6-7), who is now the starting quarterback at the University of Buffalo, and Tyler Trovinger (6-1), the starting shortstop on the Oakland University baseball team.

Koziak said Robbins makes up for his lack of size with a series of intangibles.

•  First, Robbins is a 4.0 student whose intelligence pays dividends in a complicated offense.

Lining up almost exclusively in the pistol formation, Robbins triggers an offense which features a pair of Division I prospects at wideout in junior Damari Roberson (6-2, 190) and senior Keyshawn Summerville (6-0, 175). Charles Allen and Ke’Sean Sandifer are dangerous in the slot and senior Dee Davis and junior Sincere Dent have been a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield.

Who gets the ball on any given play depends largely on the position of the defense, explains Koziak, and the responsibility of reading the defense falls largely on Robbins.

•  Second, he possesses incredible leadership skills.

Understand that Robbins is far from a prima donna quarterback; he’s a wrestler in the winter and played rugby for the first time last spring (“I loved it,” Robbins explained). He regularly inspires his teammates by lowering his shoulder and “laying it out” for his team.

•  Third, and perhaps most importantly, what he lacks in size and/or pure athletic ability, he makes up for in an underrated category: grit.

Robbins’ true grit was on display at a critical moment of the Sailors’ victory at Zeeland West on Friday. Holding a slim 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter, Shores faced a crucial 4th-and-4 situation at the Zeeland West 16-yard line. After a timeout, Shores ran its outside veer, where Robbins had the ball with the choice of handing off to Dent, pitching wide to Allen or keeping it himself.

“The linebacker went right for (Dent) and I saw a little room and thought I could get it, so I kept it myself,” explained Robbins. “I was able to get around the corner and make it to the end zone.”

After opening the season with a 340-mile roundtrip to Ann Arbor and 88 miles back-and-forth to Zeeland last Friday, the unbeaten Sailors are expecting a packed house for their showdown with Rockford. This will be the fourth straight season the teams have played; the Rams hold a 2-1 edge in the recent series and won last year 37-23.

Adding to the excitement (and certainly the crowd size), Friday’s game will be the second “Sailor Salute” – a massive tribute to all of those who serve the country and their communities, complete with military responder vehicles, a U.S. Army Lakota Helicopter, 300 motorcycles, elementary students singing the national anthem on the field and even a pre-game performance by a U.S. Army rock band.

Robbins can’t wait to do his “small” part on what could be another huge night for the new-look Mona Shores football program, which made the playoffs for the first time since 2013 but has returned twice and posted four straight winning seasons.

“We do so much work and so much conditioning when no one else is around, which is no fun while you’re doing it, but it pays off on Friday nights,” said Robbins. “I can’t wait for Friday night.”

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 with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon Mona Shores quarterback Tristan Robbins finds a crease during his team’s Week 1 win over Canton. (Middle) Robbins drops back to pass during that victory. (Photos courtesy of Muskegon Mona Shores High School.)

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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 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.)