Transformed Shores Continues to Rise

September 8, 2015

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

This is not your father’s Muskegon Mona Shores football team.

Or even your older brother’s.

This is not the team that went its first 51 years of football without making the MHSAA playoffs and whose only traffic jams leaving its parking lot occurred early in the third quarter – when the band was done performing.

Heading into one of the state’s marquee Week 3 matchups at home against perennial Division 1 powerhouse Rockford, Shores is looking to snap a 10-game losing streak against the Rams, which has included some forgettable affairs like a 49-7 loss in 2000 and 10-7 loss last fall, the Sailors’ lone regular-season defeat.

“Great job tonight,” Mona Shores coach Matt Koziak told his huddled players last Thursday night, allowing them a few seconds to enjoy their 2-0 start and a dominating 55-14 win over host Fruitport, before quickly shifting gears.

“But now we have Rockford coming to our place. We can’t make the mistakes we made tonight, or they will make us pay for it. We have to play top-notch.”

The emergence of Mona Shores as a power has changed the landscape of football, not only in the Muskegon area, but West Michigan as a whole. As other Muskegon-area schools struggle with declining enrollment – most notably Muskegon High, Muskegon Heights and Muskegon Catholic Central – Mona Shores is now the largest school in Muskegon County and a legitimate force, bursting onto the state scene with a memorable run to last year’s Division 2 championship game at Ford Field.

After putting up 55 points in back-to-back wins over Holland West Ottawa and Fruitport to open the season (and with their defense not allowing a single point), the Sailors are showing that the 2014 season was far from a flash in the pan.

“Last year we were the hunters; now we’re the hunted,” explained senior quarterback Tyler Trovinger, who set a school record with six TD passes in the Week 2 win over Fruitport. “We have to be great because no one is looking past us anymore.”

The Sailors’ fortunes, and attitudes, began to change in 2011 with the hiring of Koziak as head football coach. He turned out to be the perfect choice, as a 1994 Mona Shores graduate who cut his coaching teeth at Muskegon High School under Tony Annese, serving as offensive coordinator when the Big Reds won MHSAA titles in 2006 and 2008 and as head coach for one year in 2009.

His words upon taking the Mona Shores job in 2011 were prophetic:

“I'm tired of people badmouthing my school,” Koziak told The Muskegon Chronicle at that time. “I’ve heard people say the Shores kids are cake-eaters. It’s not true. There are a lot of blue-collar kids and families there. I’m excited to change the football culture.”

While Koziak knew Shores football history, he also was smart enough to recognize changes that needed to be made – beginning with the installation of the spread option, veer attack which was so effective across town at Muskegon High.

The most notable player was quarterback Tyree Jackson, who Koziak inserted into the starting lineup as a 5-foot-9 freshman. After struggling mightily and making people question whether the new coach was running the wrong system, Jackson sprouted to 6-4 and started throwing to targets like Asantay Brown and Marquon Sargent.

Brown is now a starting safety at Western Michigan University, Sargent is at Grand Valley State University and Jackson is a freshman quarterback at the University of Buffalo, but the Mona Shores system and the athletes haven’t missed a beat.

Trovinger (5-11, 200 pounds) has stepped into Jackson’s big shoes and possesses a cannon for an arm and terrific running ability.

Trovinger’s passing options are nothing short of an embarrassment of riches. Three of the starters in the Sailors’ four-wide attack have already made Division I college commitments – Hunter Broersma (6-2, 190) and Darece Roberson (5-9, 165) to Western Michigan and Kobe Burse (6-3, 205) to Miami of Ohio – with the fourth starter being dangerous Deandre Oakes-Owens (6-0, 175), an all-league selection as a defensive back last season.

“We have a ton of weapons, no doubt,” Trovinger said. “When we’re all focused, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

The defense is led by two more senior standouts who could possibly sign with Division I schools. Dom Shermeta (6-0, 215) is a Chris Spielman clone at middle linebacker and a battering-ram fullback, and Christian Boyd (6-2, 280) is a run-stuffer at left defensive tackle.

Koziak said a big part of the Shores turnaround is the supportive administration, notably seventh-year athletic director Ryan Portenga, the outspoken, energetic and unapologetic leader of the Shores athletic program.

Portenga has written a book about the Mona Shores football turnaround and the storybook 2014 season, entitled: “Flipping Football: A True Story of Resilience and Transformation.” The book, which costs $20, will be released Friday, in conjunction with the Rockford game.

“It’s a story that needed to be told,” said Portenga, who noted that half of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Shores athletic program.

So … with all of this talent, all this excitement, all this momentum (even a book!), are the Sailors ready to take the next step and knock off the biggest kid on the block – Rockford? Or will the Rams’ mystique win out again?

It’s the same question Muskegon-area residents were asking last October, when the upstart Sailors traveled to historic Hackley Stadium to face the Big Reds, which had downed Shores 14 games in a row. Shores matched the athletes for Muskegon and made believers out of many in a convincing 48-27 victory.

While every eye in Muskegon was on that game, many eyes from around the state will now be on Sailor Stadium when a senior-laden Rockford team comes to town Friday, looking to swat away the latest challenger to its perch atop the West Michigan football heap.

Rockford (1-1) is coming off a 47-0 romp over visiting Holt, and will bring its usual big offensive line, bevy of running backs and unparalleled special teams – especially senior kicker and punter Quinn Nordin, who has committed to sign with Penn State University.

The Rams have extra motivation as coach Ralph Munger has 299 career coaching victories over his 36-year career, the first 12 spent at Frankenmuth and the past 24 at Rockford. His next win would make him the 11th coach in state history to register 300 wins.

Shores is not motivated to deny Munger, but rather to avenge last year’s 10-7 loss at Rockford. In that game, Roberson scored on a 79-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, but failed to score again, fumbling twice in the fourth quarter.

With a huge crowd expected for the rematch, Koziak said his players will be motivated to come out and not let another game against the Rams slip away.

“We talked about how Rockford beat us last year,” said Koziak, who is assisted on the varsity level by Brian Sikkenga, Holsey James and Aaron James, Chris Hilliker and Kyle Brott. “They have that in the back of their minds that they let one get away, and that’s motivation for them.

“I think there’s a new energy for football with what we’ve been able to build the last four years. The community has waited forever for this. They’re ecstatic.”

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 [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mona Shores’ Darece Roberson strides for additional yardage during last season’s MHSAA Division 2 Final against Warren DeLaSalle. (Middle) Tyler Trovenger, surrounded by teammates, celebrates his third-quarter touchdown catch at Ford Field. He moved to quarterback this fall. 

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)