Team of the Month: Martin Football

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

December 13, 2022

Two straight trips to 8-Player Semifinals

Two seasons over the last three with double-digit wins.

Three straight seasons where the only loss on the field came in the playoffs to the eventual Division 1 champion.

Martin’s football team had come so close a few times to earning the ultimate prize in Michigan high school football. And finally, this fall, it was the Clippers’ turn.

Paced by 11 seniors, the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for November claimed the 8-Player Division 1 championship at the Superior Dome in Marquette – the Clippers’ first Finals title since 1987 – with a 74-24 win over previously-undefeated Merrill.

“This is the most seniors we’ve ever had, as long as I’ve been coaching here,” said Martin coach Brad Blauvelt, a 2003 graduate of the school who just finished his fifth season leading the program after serving as an assistant coach nearly as long before taking over. “Program kids – from rocket football to middle school, all the way up, they’ve been committed to the program the whole time.”

Martin has an interesting recent history as a program, to say the least. After five straight winning seasons from 2003-07, the Clippers didn’t win a game from 2008-2013. They got back on the plus side at 6-4 in 2018, then made the move to 8-player – where they’ve gone a combined 40-6 over the last four seasons. 

This one started with a 30-28 win over Mendon – the eventual 8-Player Division 2 runner-up – and over 13 games Martin averaged 54 points while giving up only 14.5. There were a pair of losses along the way – to Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian and Bridgman, which both finished 9-0 but have enrollments too high to qualify for the 8-Player Playoffs. Those losses helped Martin move forward, especially the 35-34 defeat against Bridgman in the regular-season finale. 

“The biggest thing was being OK with a loss, because we were so used to winning … not being OK with it, just understanding we’ll get better from it,” Blauvelt said. 

The Bees were able to get their playmakers outside on the Clippers – which generally means big plays in the 8-player format. So Martin’s coaches made a sharp adjustment heading into the postseason, putting all-state safety Sam Jager at one outside linebacker, and moving middle linebacker (and all-state quarterback) JR Hildebrand outside on the other side.

So while Hildebrand was able to continue leading the offense to totals of 68, 56, 42 and 74 points over the four playoff games, the Clippers during the playoffs gave up just 52 points total – and held a two-time reigning champion Adrian Lenawee Christian team averaging 48 points per game to just 14 in a 59-14 Regional Final win. 

The Cougars had eliminated Martin from the playoffs the last two Semifinals on the way to those two straight Division 1 championships. In 2019, Martin lost to Colon in a Regional Final, and the Magi went on to claim the Division 1 title.

“The last couple of years, we lost the last game of the season, and you can’t do anything about it,” Blauvelt said. “Losing in-season, we were able to fix and change some things around that I think ultimately helped us.”

Hildebrand was one of the state’s best at his position this fall, rushing for 1,340 yards and 23 touchdowns and throwing for 1,234 yards and 25 scores. He owns two school records on offense, and also led the team with 90 tackles, to go with four sacks and seven more tackles for loss. 

Jager caught seven of those touchdown passes and was the best blocker for a team that ran for more than 2,600 yards. He had 51 tackles and five interceptions, including one he brought back for a score. Another senior, Karter Ribble, topped 300 yards rushing and receiving, with a combined 12 touchdowns, plus scored twice on kickoffs and again on a punt return. He also made 90 percent of his extra-point tries and set a school record with a 43-yard field goal.

They were part of that senior class that, although graduating, has helped bring a buzz and momentum that Blauvelt hopes carries over into other sports, academics and the community as a whole.

“They come to morning workouts, they come to all the summer stuff, and they do the extra work to push themselves over the hump,” Blauvelt said. “They’re so talented athletically too, that doing that pushed them over the top even more so.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23

October: Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report

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.)