Undefeated Colon Turning Work into Wins

By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com

October 2, 2018

Monday Run Day for the Colon varsity football team is far from a fun day. But the Magi have embraced the burning in their lungs, the cramps and the piercing sound of the next whistle sure to bring on more agony.

The grueling session of sprints follows study hall and weights. Then position groups work on their particular craft. And as the sun sets, the long day finally ends with a thorough cleaning of the locker room.

As third-year coach Robbie Hattan began the interview for this story Monday, he paused for 30 seconds to survey the grounds surrounding the football field, taking mental notes as to which players stuck around for even more voluntary cardio.

“The biggest thing that was a change in culture for Colon was the work ethic in the offseason,” said Hattan, whose team is 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the latest Associated Press 8-player poll behind Pickford. “We went from maybe having 10 kids in the weight room two summers ago to no less than 25. These kids are working hard. We’re in Week 7 and these kids are working like they’re in two-a-days.”

It’s paying dividends as the Magi have outscored opponents 122-40 during the second half this year.

“We make sure we get a lot of cardio in and make sure we’re conditioned enough to get to the fourth quarter,” 6-foot-5, 190-pound senior lineman Brenden Shelton said. “We end up running a lot of teams down because they just can’t hang with us. It’s a noticeable difference, especially from the beginning (of the year). What we did today (in practice) we probably wouldn’t have been able to do (at the beginning of the year). When we’re playing in the fourth quarter, you can see it in the other team. They’re gassed, and we’re firing.”

Colon also has earned its first conference championship in school history. The Magi wrapped up at least a share of the Southern Central Athletic Association A division title with last week’s 51-0 win over Camden-Frontier.  

Colon made a calculated move to 8-player this year, but not because of dwindling participation numbers. In fact, with 34 players, the program is healthy compared to other small schools still playing 11-player football.

The cost of scheduling opponents all over the state to fill out a nine-game slate, along with the possibility of lower participation in the future, were considered.

“That’s not smart with our taxpayer dollars,” Hattan said of long treks from past seasons. “Now, we still have our identity. We still have games here on Friday nights. Now, with more schools going to 8-man, the competitiveness and the level of play (have improved). If you would have come here and watched Colon versus Bellevue and you would have thought that wasn’t a football game, I would have called you a liar to your face.

“That was a smash-mouth, hard-hitting football game. The more schools you get, you’ll find that middle ground. When 8-man first started, you were getting so many blowouts. You were either really good or you were really bad. We still have our blowouts, but we had that in 11-man. But it’s few and far between now.”

Schematically, Hattan initially overcomplicated the transition, thinking an overhaul of the offense might be in order. Following a conversation with Crystal Falls Forest Park coach Dave Graff at a summer clinic, the plan became simple and clear.

“He said, ‘Hey, run what you run, but just run it in 8-man.’ We started playing with some stuff with the veer and how we could still be an option school,” Hattan said. “Colon has always been an option school since Coach [Spencer] Henley was here. We know we have some good running backs and some speed, so we just started implementing our option offense. Now we’re getting a little more creative with our options and motions. We’re getting more out of our kids. The option is great because you can leave two guys unblocked every single play and you’re good.”

Sophomore running back Brandon Crawford has racked up 862 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 99 carries through six games. Junior quarterback Phillip Alva has added 569 yards and 10 TDs on 64 carries. Junior Jonathan West and freshman Kaleb Johnson have combined for 476 yards and six TDs.

Crawford played as a freshman and finished with just over 600 yards last fall.

“It definitely humbled me. Coming into the season, I thought I was just going to start instantly,” he said. “But seeing how much bigger everyone was made me want to push myself harder.”

Though the Magi certainly don’t focus on the passing game, Alva and West have connected on three touchdowns through the air.

Defensively, senior linebacker John Ruby leads the squad with 59 tackles (six for a loss), Crawford has notched 42 (two for a loss), and Shelton has made 35 stops (14.5 for a loss).

“John Ruby is a stud,” West said. “He can lay a hit and fill a hole. Crawford really gets in there and can lay a hit. Shelly (Brenden Shelton) never lets anyone get outside of him.”

Added Alva: “I believe it’s just buying into the program with Coach Hattan. He’s building a pretty good program from Rocket all the way through high school with the weight room and everything. Every single kid is buying into it. I think that’s why we’re doing as good as we are.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Philip Alva gets around the corner during last week’s win over Camden-Frontier. (Middle) Brenden Shelton locks up a Camden-Frontier ball carrier. (Photos by Laura Alva/JoeInsider.com.)

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.)