St Phil Football Thrives with 8 on Field

By Pam Shebest
Special for

August 22, 2016

BATTLE CREEK — Five years ago, the future of football at Battle Creek St. Philip looked rather bleak.

The Fighting Tigers had won just three games over the previous two years, and numbers continued to dwindle.

“Our last year of 11-man, I think we had 18 boys out for football,” said Dave Downey, who has coached at St. Phil for more than 20 years. “We were not competitive playing 11-man.

“The kids just weren’t coming out because it wasn’t fun. We were getting beat all the time.”

The school decided to go to 8-player football, and the program has thrived.

Last season, the school’s fourth playing 8-player, St. Phil finished 12-1, losing only 58-33 in the MHSAA 8-player Final to Powers North Central.

“After we went to 8-man (five years ago), we had 28 on the roster,” Downey said. “The program really grew because we went to 8-man. It actually saved the program.”

The transition was not without a few fumbles.

“We didn’t know what we were in for,” Downey said. “That first year we struggled a little bit. We ended the season 7-4, but we learned a lot.

“It was an eye-opener for us. We didn’t know what to expect.”

Although the length of the field for 8-player is still 100 yards, the width is five yards fewer on each side.

That first season, Downey said he had confidence his 8-player team could play on an 11-man regulation field – but soon found out why the field is not as wide.

“Our first year, we didn’t move the markers in and we couldn’t cover the field, especially anyone with speed who would get on the outside and go,” he said.

“Our first game, we lost bad because we thought we could play on a big field, which we couldn’t.”

This year’s nine seniors have played 8-player all four years, but it gets even better than that for St. Phil.

“They’ve actually played 10 playoff games already (over four years), so they’ve already played (the equivalent of) four seasons,” Downey said.

“This is almost like their fifth season. Experience-wise, this group of seniors is really valuable.”

Success and motivation

Last Thursday, St. Phil scrimmaged Lawrence and then Big Rapids Crossroads to get game experience before opening the season this Friday at Kingston.

“We didn’t keep score, but it went well,” Downey said. “It was good experience for some of the younger kids, especially the freshmen, to play and learn.”

He said the veterans, especially the co-captains, are like having extra coaches on the field.

“They know exactly what our schemes are and our blocking patterns and they really help us out,” he said. “Our line is coming back. We’re solid up front. 

“We have Noah Ellinger, our captain; Grant Hallacy who started last year as our other guard; Andy Forche at center and all of them played a lot last year on the line.”

Senior co-captain Grayson Obey has played football since fourth grade and said going from the traditional 11-player in Rocket youth football and middle school football to 8-player was no big deal.

“I think going from middle school to high school, not 11-man to 8-man, was harder,” he said.

Obey said last year’s success is a great motivator.

“We got a taste of a really good team last year, so it’s good motivation to work hard and try to push to get that again this year,” he said.

Ellinger agrees that the transition to 8-player was not a big deal.

“It’s two less linemen and I’m a lineman, so it’s just kind of shortening it up a little bit,” he said.

Playing both ways on the field takes some getting used to at the beginning of the season, Ellinger said.

“The first couple games it’s pretty hard,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to manage your time. It’s kind of tiring, but you get used to it.”

Downey said the parents like 8-player because “it is a little bit safer.

“We don’t have as many big kids on the field as 11-man. When you have the big kids, the little kids are the ones who seem to be getting hurt all the time.”

St. Phil lost all-state quarterback Brendan Gausselin to graduation, but Downey is eyeing sophomore Ryan Reincke and freshman Connor Gausselin for the position while senior Drew Lantinga recovers from a basketball injury.

“Last year Drew played wide receiver and linebacker,” Downey said. “He was the leading tackler on the team last year at linebacker.”

Connor Gausselin is Brendan’s brother.

“My brother played football and was pretty good, so I want to follow in his legacy,” Connor Gausselin said. “He’s helped me a lot. In every sport I play, I like being in control like a leader, so quarterback is a leader on the field and I like that.

“I’m very excited. My brother said high school football is the best part of high school, being under the Friday night lights. It will be fun.”

8-player grows statewide

Enrollment numbers are key to 8-player football in Michigan.

Of St. Phil’s 140 students, 21 are on the football team.

While Michigan has 564 schools playing 11-player, the state had 40 playoff-eligible 8-player teams last season. Currently, 48 teams are eligible for the postseason heading into this fall's first games. 

Only Class D schools are eligible for playoffs, and enrollment must be 206 or fewer this year.

Class C schools or those with larger enrollments (cutoff was 212 students for the 2015 season) may compete in 8-player but they are not eligible for postseason play.

This fall, four Class C schools are competing in 8-player: Kingston, which was Class D last year; Dryden, Rudyard and Grand Traverse Academy. The latter two fielded 11-player teams last season.

Burton Madison Academy was Class C last year but dropped to Class D this year and is now eligible for postseason play.

St. Phil plays in the Southern Michigan 8-Man League with Tekonsha, Burr Oak, Camden Frontier, Waldron and Litchfield.

Other seniors on the Tigers are Tim Minier, Mike Scriber, Ben Swagler, Alex Yacovoni and Jordan Snyder. The other juniors are Justice Steiner and Morgan Bohannon.

Other sophomores are Chris Kubasiak, JC Downey, Nolan Kersten and Brodie Landstra. Other freshmen are Marcel Williams, Charley Harrington and Gus Strenge.

Assistant coaches are Jack Brown, Marc Pessetti and Jeff Minier.

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) Battle Creek St. Philip’s Drew Lantinga hauls in a pass last season; he’s moving to quarterback this fall. (Middle top) Dave Downey, Noah Ellinger, Grayson Obey. (Middle below) Senior Tim Minier surges after taking a hand-off during practice earlier this month. (Below) Ben Swagler pushes ahead during the Tigers’ 2015 win over Portland St. Patrick. (Photos from 2015 courtesy of Battle Creek St. Philip; practice photo and head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.