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 wmorgan@joeinsider.com 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.)

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)