Understudy Shines as Shores' Lead Receiver

October 31, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

The understudy has become the star for the Muskegon Mona Shores football team.

James Gilbert was supposed to be “the other guy” this season, the receiver on the opposite side from Division I recruit Damari Roberson, who has committed to Western Michigan University.

But the cast list changed in June when Roberson, a 3.6 GPA student who at one time had more than 17 college football scholarship offers, tore the ACL in his left knee for the second time in nine months during a non-contact drill.

“That’s when everything changed,” explained Gilbert, who always had considered himself a basketball player on the football field. “The coaches and Damari sat me down and told me that I had to be the man, that I was the only one with the same type of ability that could take his place. They basically challenged me.”

Shores coach Matt Koziak said Gilbert, a 6-foot-2, 181-pound senior, has always had the physical skills. But since Roberson went down this summer, he has been focused, motivated and driven like never before.

The result has been an incredible senior season for Gilbert, who has 51 catches for 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns. His emergence as one of the top receivers in the state enabled the Sailors to climb all the way to No. 1 in Division 2 in the final Associated Press state rankings.

Mona Shores (9-1) will put its top ranking to the test Friday night in the MHSAA District championship game against visiting Ottawa-Kent Conference Black rival Jenison (7-3). The two teams engaged in a shootout just three weeks ago, with the visiting Sailors escaping with a 49-42 victory.

Gilbert played a huge role in that win, with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, coming up big once again when his team needed it most.

“JG has been unbelievable all year,” said Koziak, who has a 60-26 record in eight years as the Sailors’ coach, highlighted by a run to the Division 2 title game in 2014. “With all of the injuries we’ve had, he’s kind of been the one constant. When we’re scratching our heads, we can always throw it up to James.”

Coming into the season, Koziak knew he had senior battering ram running back Sincere Dent (5-11, 217), who has delivered with 118 carries for 1,082 yards and 20 touchdowns. The problem is that Dent has played in only seven games and his playing time was reduced in several others due to shoulder and ankle injuries.

Junior quarterback Caden Broersma (6-3, 206) also has been outstanding, completing 81-of-112 passes (72 percent) for 1,547 yard and 13 touchdowns, with just one interception. He also has rushed for 621 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The most surprising statistic for Mona Shores is that Gilbert has accounted for 76 percent of the Sailors’ receiving yards.

“I’m not surprised, because he’s always had it in him,” said Roberson, who has remained a key part of the team, attending every practice and serving as another assistant coach for Koziak. “I always learned from him in basketball, and I taught him everything he knows about football. With me being out, he’s had more of a chance to show what he can do.”

Gilbert is starting to garner more and more interest from college football programs, with Saginaw Valley State, Ferris, Davenport and Mount Union (Ohio) showing the most thus far.

Gilbert wasted no time proving he would be “the man,” showing his big-play ability with five catches for 159 yards (32 yards per catch) and a touchdown in a big 48-38 win over East Kentwood in the season-opening Gridiron Classic at Grand Valley State University. East Kentwood hasn’t lost a game since.

He also came up big in the cross-town showdown Oct. 12 against unbeaten Muskegon, which is ranked No. 1 in Division 3. Gilbert caught six passes for 118 yards, including a one-handed, 28-yard touchdown grab. He also threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Swick on a trick play in that 55-35 loss.

And Gilbert was at it again in last week’s narrow 34-28 District win over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, catching five passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. He sealed the win with an interception as the Rangers were driving for a potential game-winning score in the final minute.

“It’s been fun, but we know we still have a lot of work to do,” said Gilbert, who has impressed opposing coaches with his ability to come down with big catches in traffic. “Damari and I have been playing with each other and against each other since Little League, so I kind of feel that I’m playing for him this season.”

As for Roberson, he still believes that a season that began with a nightmare injury could have a storybook ending – both for the team and himself.

Roberson (6-2, 194) said his rehabilitation is going great and his possible return date from the injury is during the week of the MHSAA Semifinals. So there remains the possibility, if the team keeps winning, that Roberson and Gilbert could line up as opposite wideouts, like the original plan.

“Stay tuned,” said Roberson, who is on pace to graduate early in December and then enroll at WMU in January. “After all that this team has been through, with all of the injuries, that would be the perfect ending.”

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 senior James Gilbert makes a one-handed catch for a 28-yard touchdown on a pass from Caden Broersma early in the second quarter Oct. 12 at Muskegon. (Middle) Damari Roberson returns a punt last year as a junior against Reeths-Puffer. Roberson has not played this season due to a knee injury. (Photos by Eric Sturr.)

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.)