South Christian 2022 Finishes Best in Division 4, Best in Sailors' History

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

November 25, 2022

DETROIT – Grand Rapids South Christian’s football team wasn’t perfect Friday night at Ford Field, and it didn’t have to be. Now, the Sailors’ season as a whole – that was flawless.

Even when they faced adversity, they never panicked. They moved on and kept making plays, all the way to a Division 4 championship and 14-0 record.

South Christian shut out Goodrich, 28-0, in the MHSAA Final to become the first group of Sailors in program history to finish a season unbeaten.

“I mean, it’s crazy. We’ve had a lot of great teams at South and just to imagine that we’re the only ones to be undefeated is a great feeling,” said South Christian senior quarterback and defensive back Jake DeHaan, whose squad became the fourth in program history to capture a state title and the first since 2014.

South Christian’s first Finals championship came in 2002, when now-coach Danny Brown was a Sailors player. This is Brown’s first state title as a coach.

South Christian, which made its eighth Finals appearance Friday, also won it all in 2012.

“I think I was more nervous as a coach. I think as a player, at least in my experience, I never really got that nervous,” Brown said. “It was another way to hang out with your friends and play the game you loved. But as a coach, you start thinking about all the what-ifs and things that can happen. You want the kids to win so bad that you kind of take on that pressure.”

Vermaas leaps over defender Gavin Valley (32). It wasn’t easy against Goodrich (12-2), which was making its first Finals appearance, as South Christian scored 14 points in the second quarter and 14 in the fourth.

DeHaan, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound playmaker, finished 14-of-21 passing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ran 12 times for a game-high 99 yards and one TD, plus he finished with four tackles and an interception. DeHaan’s signature moment was his 54-yard scoring run to give South Christian a 21-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

Junior Jake Vermaas, who fractured his collarbone in Week 3 and returned for the Sailors’ playoff opener, was the other “Jake” to make big plays. He made seven receptions for 152 yards and returned an interception 32 yards for a TD to put it away with 5:07 remaining in the game.

“It makes us that much better, right, to have all these playmakers. I mean, every guy can make a play and that’s what makes us so good,” Vermaas said. “We put in so much work to be that good and it shows, right? Fourteen-and-0.

“We’re the best – you can’t be better than that,” he added. “We were the best to do it at South Christian.”

Goodrich senior standout running back Jace Simerson finished with 91 yards on 20 carries. Martians senior quarterback Gavin Hart was 9-of-25 passing for 100 yards with two picks.

South Christian’s bevy of playmakers on offense and athletes with length on defense made it tough on opponents all season, and Friday was no different. Those strengths allowed the Sailors to overcome three turnovers.

“This is just one of those teams, and I know there’s a lot of them out there that no matter what the situation is, no matter what the moment is, there’s never a panic. They just continue to rise to the occasion,” Brown said.

A Martians defender bats away a pass intended for the Sailors’ Carson Vis (13).“We felt that Week 6 with the (Grand Rapids) Catholic win, I think that kind of solidified – that was a back-and-forth game – that even when things get tight and there’s adversity, they can step up.”

That, the Sailors did.

In a scoreless game, DeHaan hit senior Nate Brinks on a 3-yard TD pass with 9:48 left in the first half. Four minutes later, he found sophomore Carson Vis on a 23-yard scoring strike.

Veteran Goodrich coach Tom Alward said he felt his team had opportunities to make plays, but the Martians just couldn’t capitalize. He attributed much of that to the Sailors.

“They’ve got athletes galore. They’ve got athletes at every position. I mean, it’s incredible,” Alward said. “You’re trying to match up. We thought we’ve got some athletes as well, but it’s tough to match up everybody. 

“They do a good job. They sit there and they look, ‘Oh, that’s a linebacker.’ You run out of defensive backs against these guys. Plus, that quarterback, he’s a special young kid.”

DeHaan directed South Christian to this championship, helping the Sailors survive tests in the previous three rounds of the playoffs.

South Christian put away Hudsonville Unity Christian late, 35-20, in the District Final. In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the Regional Final, the Sailors outlasted Whitehall, 28-21. In the icy Semifinal, South Christian held off Edwardsburg, 26-20.

“Our coaches stress (not to panic), which just helps us to keep persevering. And we knew that if we keep going and keep going that eventually our team’s going to come out on top and make plays when we need to make plays,” said DeHaan, who suffered a shoulder stinger late in the game but re-entered a play later.

It was a tough finish for Goodrich, which reeled off 12 straight wins to get to Ford Field after suffering a 27-2 season-opening loss to Frankenmuth, which is competing in the Division 5 Final on Saturday.

Alward said he loves every one of his teams, but this one will always have a special place in his heart.

“This team is exceptional – they’re exceptional,” the 30-year head coach said. “And not just football players, I’m talking about young men.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian’s Jake Vermaas (2) tries to pull away from the grasp of Goodrich’s Owen Deciechi during Friday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Vermaas leaps over defender Gavin Valley (32). (Below) A Martians defender bats away a pass intended for the Sailors’ Carson Vis (13). (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Robichaud 3-Sport Legend Wheatley Selected to National High School Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 11, 2024

The playing career of 1991 Dearborn Heights Robichaud graduate Tyrone Wheatley remains one of the most storied in Michigan high school sports history. His prestige gained during that early stage of his athletic stardom has been recognized nationally as well, as Wheatley was one of 12 honorees announced today as this year’s inductees into the National High School Hall of Fame by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

Wheatley – who grew up in Inkster and is currently the head football coach at Wayne State University – will be inducted as one of 11 honorees selected for the 41st Hall of Fame class at a ceremony during the NFHS summer meeting July 1 in Boston. The rest of the class is made up of three more athletes, four coaches, two former state association administrators and a game official. Wheatley was nominated by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Wheatley will become the Hall of Fame’s 10th inductee from Michigan, joining the MHSAA’s first full-time Executive Director Charles E. Forsythe (inducted 1983), River Rouge boys basketball coach Lofton Greene (1986), Warren Regina athletic director, softball and basketball coach Diane Laffey (2000), Fennville basketball and baseball standout Richie Jordan (2001), Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett boys and girls tennis coach Bob Wood (2005), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook hockey standout Jim Johnson (2007), Owosso football, basketball and baseball all-stater Brad Van Pelt (2011); Vermontville Maple Valley baseball national record holder Ken Beardslee (2016) and retired MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts (2022).

To the greater public, Wheatley surely is best known as a star running back for University of Michigan who went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL for the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. However, he is arguably most glorified in Michigan high school athletics for his accomplishments on the track, where as a junior in 1990 he became the first (of still only two) athletes to win four individual events at an MHSAA Lower Peninsula Finals – placing first in the 100 and 200-meter dashes, 110-meter hurdles and long jump. He led Robichaud to the Class B team title that day, scoring 40 of its 49 points. Wheatley completed his high school career in 1991 with three more Class B individual track & field championships and nine total over his final three seasons; he was injured in the 100 during that senior-year meet and could not run his final race to attempt another four-title day.

Wheatley’s meet records of 13.7 seconds in the 100 at the 1991 LP Class B Final and 23-10¾ in long jump in 1989 still stood when the four-Class track & field format was retired after the 1999 season. He also remains the only athlete to win the 100 three times at the prestigious Mehock Relays in Mansfield, Ohio, also finishing first in the 110 hurdles and 200 and runner-up in the long jump at that meet in 1991.

Wheatley was similarly accomplished on the high school football field, leading his team to a state championship in 1990 and earning a Parade All-America honor. Over three varsity seasons total he ran for a combined 4,257 yards and 67 touchdowns, including 2,010 yards and 33 scores on 208 carries as a senior in 1990 – the latter despite playing quarterback half of that season (and throwing five touchdown passes). He played quarterback, running back, defensive back, punter, kicker and returned kicks, and he scored 252 points over 13 games as a senior and 484 over 38 career games.

Wheatley also was a standout on the basketball court for Robichaud, averaging 14 points and 16 rebounds per game as a senior in earning all-state recognition in that sport as well.

“My city where I come from, Inkster, means the world to me. I grew up in an incredible era of sports in Michigan (with successful University of Michigan and Detroit pro teams) … but if you ask me who my idols were, they were the guys I grew up with playing on the playground,” Wheatley said. “After you come from a basketball game where you see Jarvis Walker drop 30, or Earl Jones running the last 200 of a race backwards … you hear people talk about them, you hear their reverence about them, and I just wanted to be put in the conversation of the best to come out of Inkster, forget the state. I can tell you this for sure: I’m not the best athlete to come out of Inkster, just the person who got the recognition. And my foundation was built watching, taking notes, preparing, working out and just trying to be one of the guys.

“(Robichaud was) the step. Because without Robichaud … Michigan, the NFL, me coming back to coach, it doesn’t happen,” Wheatley said. “Without the Robert Yaucks (his football coach at Robichaud), the Coach (Leit) Jones (his Robichaud track coach), the Coach (Mercer) Brysons, the (coach) Wade Cooks, the (coach Jeff) Flounorys, the Millie Hursins (his academic advisor) of the world, this doesn’t happen. Without my high school teammates, none of this happens. So it’s not just a step. What’s the saying – the first impression is the lasting and best impression? Robichaud was it.”

Wheatley returned to Robichaud as its varsity football coach in 2007 and led that team to a 9-2 record and the MHSAA Playoffs for the first time since 1994 – after Robichaud had finished 0-9 the previous season. He has served as an assistant football coach at four college programs including U-M and Syracuse, and with the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos.

He also served as Morgan State University's head coach from 2019-21 and just completed his first season as head coach at Wayne State, which finished 3-8 – an improvement of two wins from 2022 and the program’s best record since 2019.

Wheatley graduated from University of Michigan in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. He and wife Kimberly have five children: Tyrone Jr., Terius, Tyrique, Tiana and Tamari. Tyrone Jr., an offensive tackle, played this past season for the New England Patriots.

“Many of us who grew up in Michigan grew up as fans of Tyrone Wheatley because of what he accomplished at the college level – but his legendary story begins at Dearborn Heights Robichaud, where his outsized athletic ability was on full display in every sport he played,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “Michigan has produced several professional athletes in a variety of sports and nearly 50 Olympians in track & field alone, and what Tyrone Wheatley achieved as a high school athlete remains a standard few have approached. We are ecstatic that he will deservedly take his place among the all-time elite high school athletes nationally as well.”

The National High School Hall of Fame was started in 1982 by the NFHS. The 11 individuals were chosen after a two-level selection process involving a screening committee composed of active high school state association administrators, coaches and officials, and a final selection committee composed of coaches, former athletes, state association officials, media representatives and educational leaders. Nominations were made through NFHS member associations. Also chosen for this class were athletes Joe Mauer (Minnesota), Takeo Spikes (Georgia) and Dot Ford Burrow (Mississippi); sport coaches Paula Kirkland (South Carolina), Gary Rankin (Tennessee), Roy Snyder (Pennsylvania) and Ronald Vincent (North Carolina); former state association administrators Mike Colbrese (Washington) and Marie Ishida (California), and baseball/football game official David Core (Oklahoma).

For more on this year’s Hall of Fame class, visit the NFHS Website.

PHOTO Tyrone Wheatley crosses the finish line first during one of his nine MHSAA Finals track & field championship victories. (MHSAA file photo.)