'Unknown' Suits Whitmore Lake Well

October 11, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

WHITMORE LAKE – The move to a new athletic conference has put some renewed energy into the Whitmore Lake football team and has the Trojans thinking playoffs for the first time in years.

Whitmore Lake, a Class C school on the northern edge of Washtenaw County, moved to the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference this season after 46 years in the Tri-County Conference. It was a big move for the school, which hoped to inject some enthusiasm into its student-athletes, including a football program that was lagging in numbers and had made the playoffs just once during the last decade.

“I feel pretty good about the buzz and excitement that is going on,” said fourth-year Whitmore Lake head coach Brian Boron. “There’s definitely a resurgence with a lot of new things.”

Four-year starting offensive tackle Alex Williams noticed the change soon after Whitmore Lake announced the move from the TCC to the MIAC after last football season.

“I feel like interest in football picked up a lot more,” said Williams. “Being a captain, you see it in school. The eighth graders will come up to you and talk about football. We had more people in our weight room all winter. The culture has definitely changed.”

The first year in a new conference has brought all sorts of new experiences to the football team, both for players, coaches and fans.

“Do we miss the TCC? Absolutely. We were one of the founding teams,” Boron said. “We miss being part of that history and tradition.

“From a win-loss standpoint, things are going well. But this year I also have 12 seniors on the team, by far the most of any team I’ve had in my four years here. Are we competitive more because of that, or because of the new league? I don’t know.”

Whitmore Lake beat Auburn Hills Oakland Christian 62-33 last Friday to improve to 4-2 on the season. Its only losses were nonleague games to undefeated and state-ranked Royal Oak Shrine Catholic and Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard. Against Shrine, the Trojans fumbled three times; and against Richard, Whitmore Lake thought it had tied the game late in the contest, but a 2-point conversion was called back and the Trojans didn’t convert on the next attempt.

Several teams on Whitmore Lake’s schedule are first-time opponents, including Sterling Heights Parkway Christian, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian and Friday’s opponent, Southfield Christian. 

Senior running back Evan Romeo, a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore, is enjoying a big senior season as well.

“Evan is having a great year,” Boron said. “Last year he missed five games with a hamstring pull.”

Logan Kurth, Cole Henning and Evan Vaughn are other backfield mates, and the quarterback is Zach Brady.

“He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he’s the architect of the whole thing,” Boron said of Brady. “He makes it go. Every game we have a referee or member of the chain gang come tell us that they can’t find the ball because Zach is doing such a great job with his fakes.”

Whitmore Lake’s biggest win this season came against Oakland Christian, which came into the game 4-1. The Trojans appear to be on a league title-deciding collision course with Week 9 opponent Livonia Clarenceville, also undefeated in the MIAC. Whitmore Lake’s last league championship in football came in 2002.

“In this league, we are playing against teams with 18 or 19 kids on the varsity, just like us,” Boron said. “When I took the program over, we had maybe 17 kids in the entire program. They aren’t great numbers, but now we are closer to 30. I’m hoping to add more.”

In making the move last fall, Whitmore Lake Superintendent Tom DeKeyser said it had become apparent that, at least in some sports, the Trojans were not competing at the same level as other TCC schools.

“We have built a lot of great relationships in the TCC,” DeKeyser said. “But our coaches and athletes are excited to try something different.”

Everyone in Trojans camp hopes that “different” translates into more student-athletes.

“We had 10 or 12 freshmen come out this year, some who had never played football before,” Boron said.  “That’s been a good thing. We’re not sure about next year, how many kids we’ll get up from our youth program. We’ll have to see. The team having success, I believe, will help that.”

One thing Boron has found is that the move is demanding on the coaching staff, which has a whole new set of opponents for which to prepare. It used to be one or two new teams would join the schedule. This year, nearly all of the Trojans’ opponents are new.

“No other team in our league runs the ‘T’ which means we don’t see how anyone is going to defend it on film,” Boron said. “We kind of rep everything because we don’t know how they are going to line up against us. We’re still getting a feel for these other teams. It’s fun. As coaches, we watch a lot of film. We have to be able to adjust and be ready for just about anything.”

The Trojans already have scored more points than any team it has fielded since 2008, which is the last time Whitmore Lake finished with a winning record. The 2013 team made the playoffs but finished 5-5 after a first-round loss. That 2008 season capped the greatest football era in school history, when Whitmore Lake made the playoffs seven times during an eight-year span. 

Boron isn’t making predictions for Whitmore Lake’s future just yet. There are still a lot of unknowns.

“Everybody is still trying to figure things out,” he said. “We will sometimes get to a school a half-hour or 45 minutes early because we are unsure of the traffic patterns still. Teams get to our school way early some weeks for the same reason.

“I think it’s a good thing for the future of football at Whitmore Lake. The unknown is exciting.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Whitmore Lake now-senior running back Evan Romeo breaks into the open. (Photo courtesy of the Whitmore Lake football program.)

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.)