VanderLeest Working to Help Reeths-Puffer Make Most of Opportunities Ahead

By Tom Kendra
Special for

September 7, 2022

Tayte VanderLeest is a prototypical receiver and safety, with great size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash).

Muskegon Reeths-Puffer first-year coach Cody Kater also gushes about the senior’s work ethic and attitude, and concludes by saying, “He’s the kind of kid you want to date your daughter.”


“I would say he’s too nice,” said Kater, a two-time all-stater at Montague who went on to play quarterback at Grand Rapids Community College and Central Michigan. “We’d like to see him a little grittier, but he’s a gamer and I have seen him flip that switch. I expect him to do that this Friday night.”

Reeths-Puffer (2-0) plays one of its biggest football games in years Friday, when it travels across town to face Muskegon (1-1) in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green opener for both teams.

Historically, it hasn’t been much of a game, with Muskegon holding a lopsided 22-1-1 edge in the all-time series, and with most of those games in the blowout category. Muskegon has won the past nine games by an average of 44 points.

That puts the Rockets into a somewhat ideal position – no pressure, but with the opportunity to make a huge statement.

“It’s very exciting,” said VanderLeest, a returning all-conference receiver who has received interest from several Mid-American Conference schools including Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio). “We are 2-0, which is great, but this is the kind of game where we can really prove ourselves. We want to show that we belong in big games like this.”

Puffer opened the season with a convincing 32-20 win over visiting Grand Haven, then hit the road last Thursday for a 38-14 win over St. Johns.

Muskegon, meanwhile, has not looked like its normal dominating self thus far (although playing a pair of strong opponents certainly has been a contributing factor). The Big Reds rallied from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit for a 20-14 win over visiting East Kentwood in the opener, then lost 49-16 on Friday to reigning Division 2 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate. East Kentwood bounced back last week to defeat Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, and De La Salle hasn’t lost since the 2020 Division 2 championship game.

Some of the issues for Muskegon are injuries and youth, with 13th-year head coach Shane Fairfield looking for more seniors to step up in leadership roles.

VanderLeest cuts upfield during the 32-20 victory. VanderLeest and other strong senior leaders like quarterback Brady Ross and center/defensive tackle Hunter Allison have sparked the Rockets’ quick start. The soft-spoken VanderLeest is more of a leader-by-example, although Kater said he has noticed him becoming more vocal with the younger receivers and defensive backs.

VanderLeest is one of those players who has football in his blood, literally, as his father Rob VanderLeest was an all-state lineman at Muskegon Catholic Central and went on to play four years at Michigan under Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr.

“Football is in my DNA,” explained Tayte VanderLeest. “It’s been part of my life as long as I can remember. Now I’m a senior, and I feel the pressure on me to live up to the standards that my dad set.”

He will play a key role defensively from his strong safety spot, where one of his main duties will be trying to tackle Muskegon’s dynamic junior duo of running back Jakob Price and slotback Destin Piggee, preventing long TD runs and forcing the Big Reds to march the ball down the field.

VanderLeest had five tackles and an interception last week at St. Johns, in a game that was tied at halftime before Puffer pulled away with a 24-0 scoring edge in the second half.

“He has a knack defensively for knowing where he needs to be and always ending up around the ball,” explained Kater, who also was the offensive coordinator at Montague during the 2020 season, helping the Wildcats to an undefeated record and the Division 6 championship. “A lot of that stuff you can’t really teach. Because of that, we’re letting him roam around a little bit back there.”

On offense, VanderLeest and fellow senior wideout Clyde Bartee are the Rockets’ home run threats. Kater also lauded the stalk blocking of that duo during the first two games, allowing Ross and junior running back Brody Johnson to find running room downfield.

VanderLeest, who had five touchdown receptions last year en route to first-team all-OK Green honors, had a big game offensively in the opener against Grand Haven, making six catches for 106 yards – highlighted by a 47-yard touchdown reception.

Another storyline going into Friday’s game involves Kater, who played for former Muskegon coach Tony Annese at GRCC and was hired last spring as Muskegon’s offensive coordinator. However, Kater departed shortly thereafter to join former Lowell coach Noel Dean’s staff in Tipton, Ga. Kater then returned to West Michigan on Dec. 31, when he was named Puffer’s new coach.

Kater, 30, is calling the offensive plays for R-P, while his former CMU teammate Alex Smith – who most recently served as head coach at Holton – is the defensive coordinator.

The bigger goal for the Rockets, beyond this week’s showdown at historic Hackley Stadium, is to get into the playoffs and then win a playoff game – something they have not done in 30 years since their memorable, undefeated 1992 season, which ended with a Class A title.

Puffer has qualified for the playoffs five times since that championship season, but each of those postseason appearances were “one and done.”

Kater is encouraged that R-P has enough high school football players to field freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams – something that less than half of the teams in the O-K Green can claim. He also notes that the Rockets have good athletes and numbers in their middle school and youth programs.

He believes this year’s senior leaders like VanderLeest, who hung in there through a 3-6 junior season and a coaching change, will be remembered as the ones who turned the tide.

“I don’t think you’ve seen the best of Tayte yet,” said Kater, the sixth head coach for the Rockets since Hall of Famer Pete Kutches led them to that 1992 title. “We are coaching him extremely hard, and he is getting better. He is a pillar of our team.”

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) Muskegon Reeths-Puffer’s Tayte VanderLeest (5) works to break away from a Grand Haven defender during an opening-night win. (Middle) VanderLeest cuts upfield during the 32-20 victory. (Photos by Joe Lane.)

Ubly Offense, Kicker Pile Up Record Book Listings During Championship Run

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 12, 2024

Ubly finished a combined 27-1 over the last two seasons, following up a Division 8 runner-up run in 2022 with its first MHSAA Finals championship this past November. And the Bearcats stacked plenty of record book performances along the way.

Individually, senior Brett Mueller made the single-season extra point list again this past season with 76 in 81 tries, and he set the MHSAA career record with 220 extra points over 232 attempts, 40 games and three seasons. He has signed with Saginaw Valley State.

As a team, Ubly was added to the record book 13 times for achievements over the last two years, most notably in the rushing game. The Bearcats topped 5,200 total yards both seasons, and also made the rush yardage list twice including with a sixth-best 5,148 in 2022. Their 90 touchdowns in 2022 rank seventh all-time, and their 85 this past fall tied for 13th, and they tied the record with 10 rushing touchdowns in a 2022 win over Reese and set another record with 84 rushing touchdowns total that season.

See below for more recent record book additions in 11-player football, and click the heading to see the record book in full:

11-Player Football

Dundee’s Ben Miller has a pair of basketball record book entries, and he’s also been added in football for scoring seven touchdowns in his team’s 72-36 win over Erie Mason on Oct. 20, 2017. A senior that season, he ran for five scores and caught two touchdowns passes.

Nearly four decades later, Howard City Tri County’s Mike Wagoner has reached the record book for his work on defense in 1985. A junior that season, Wagoner returned three interceptions for touchdowns – 65, 55 and 35 yards – which would have been second on the list at the time and remains tied for third-most for one season.

Jaxon Lippert tops the list of 21 who have returned kickoffs 99 yards. Lippert, now a senior at Walled Lake Western, joined the list against Davison during his junior season.

A handful of records from Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s recent run of Ford Field teams and also one from decades ago were added. Jake Badalamenti was added three times for kickoff returns between 96-99 yards, one as a junior in 2016 and two as a senior the following fall, and Marty Wyzlic was added for his 95-yarder in 1976. Mason Muragin is the new leader for tackles for loss in a career with 71 over three seasons, and he also was added to the single-season list with 31 as a junior in 2021, as was Will Beasley for 38 as a junior in 2020. Wayne Wright was added for his 16 sacks over nine games as a senior in 1984, and Josh Cox was added for his 100-yard interception return as a senior in 2012. Muragin plays at Illinois, Beesley plays at Princeton, Cox played at Central Michigan, and Badalamenti played baseball at Wayne State.

Pinckney junior Nolan Carruthers caught 16 passes during a 13-7 loss to Jackson on Sept. 15, good to tie for ninth-most in one game and breaking the Livingston County record of 14 by Hartland’s Greg Matthyssen in 2007 – a listing that also was added.

Ethan Wissner did some major lifting, or rather carrying, during Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker’s 28-14 District Final win over Montrose in 2022. The then-senior ran 42 times to make the record book, for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He’s continuing at Siena Heights.

Senior quarterback Andrew Schuster and junior receiver DeShaun Lanier formed a game-changing pass-catch combo this past season for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, with Schuster finishing his career with nine record book listings and Lanier totaling six with a season to play. Schuster most notably was added for 212 completions on 301 attempts for 2,766 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, and 321 completions and 4,199 career yards over two years and 22 games. Lanier was added in part for 73 receptions for 1,132 yards and 15 TDs this fall. Junior kicker Juliano Haddad also earned impressive mentions with 10 field goals and 50 extra points – and he’ll carry a streak of 35 straight extra points into next fall. Schuster has committed to Grand Valley State.

Fulton’s Evan Barton has been added to the single-game touchdowns list after catching four scoring passes Sept. 8, 2017, against Potterville. He was a senior that season.

Saginaw Heritage’s Braylon Isom completed his career this past fall as arguably the most accomplished receiver in MHSAA history. His name is listed in the record book eight times, with career records of 3,837 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns over 34 games and four seasons, and with a single-season record 26 touchdowns this past fall over 12 games. His 91 career receptions rank fifth, and he’s also listed for 82 catches and 1,617 yards (seventh-most) as a senior and 1,428 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. He will continue at Miami (Ohio).

Evart’s 24-8 run over the last three seasons has been its most successful of the MHSAA playoff era, and senior quarterback Preston Wallace has played an enormous part. He finished his 33-game career in the fall – he came up for one game as a freshman – on record book lists twice for single-season passing yards and touchdowns and on career lists for 662 attempts, 421 completions, 6,955 yards and 88 passing touchdowns over those 32 games and three seasons. The yardage ranks 15th all-time, and the touchdowns are tied for sixth-most for one career.  

The 2005 Midland Bullock Creek team was added for scoring 547 points over 12 games. The Lancers finished 11-1, their only loss in a Division 5 Regional Final.

PHOTO Ubly's Seth Maurer (30) carries the ball during the Division 8 championship win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in November.