Wassink, Sailors Take Back Championship

November 28, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

DETROIT – The first time Jon Wassink led Grand Rapids South Christian to Ford Field, he spent the 2012 MHSAA Division 4 Final on the sideline with a broken collarbone as his back-up took the team the rest of the way to a title.

Wassink brought the Sailors back to Detroit in 2013 – but they couldn’t keep pace with Marine City despite his three touchdown passes and two scoring runs.

Friday night against Lansing Sexton was Wassink’s last chance to be part of an MHSAA football champion – and play a physical part in a championship game win. 

And he didn’t let it slip by. The Sailors' senior quarterback threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 122 and another score as South Christian edged Sexton 28-27 for its second Division 4 title in three seasons.

Oh, and Wassink also had four tackles and an interception from his defensive back spot and averaged 39.8 yards on six punts. 

“Two years ago when we won it, I was just happy for the team and the community. Part of me obviously wanted to play too, so that was really disappointing but (I was) really happy at the same time,” said Wassink, who was injured in the Semifinal win that season.

“(Last year) was the driving force behind our whole season. We just didn’t want to end our season like we did last year.” 

But Sexton came so close to sending Wassink to Western Michigan University with another runner-up finish instead.

The Big Reds (13-1), undefeated on the way to their first MHSAA Final appearance, scored on the game’s opening drive, 2 minutes and 22 seconds into the first quarter. 

South Christian (12-2) scored the next two touchdowns, and Sexton then answered. The Sailors took a 21-13 lead into halftime after a Wassink touchdown pass with seven seconds to go before the break and extended the advantage on his 68-yard touchdown run 13 seconds into the third quarter. But the Big Reds battled back with two more scores to pull within a point of the lead with 10:43 to play.

“They’re a scary team. They have all of those great athletes and big bodies,” South Christian coach Mark Tamminga said. “We knew going in they scored a lot of points during the second half and wear you down with all of those big bodies. Our kids just stepped up and made plays when they had to.” 

The first set of offensive plays didn’t result in a score – but burned 5:16 off the clock to give the Big Reds only 5:25 to work with as it drove to take the lead.

The second set of difference-making maneuvers actually came on the same play – and on defense. Sexton had a new set of downs at its 38-yard line when senior linebacker Sam Heyboer burst into the Big Reds' backfield for a 12-year sack. In the process he helped cause a fumble that was recovered by another senior linebacker, Nick Bosch. 

But again, South Christian didn’t score – yet took an additional 2:13 off the clock before Wassink was stopped short on a fourth down run by Big Reds senior lineman Isaiah Brown. Only 1:35 remained, and Sexton could advance only 32 yards to its 39-yard-line before the clock ran out.

“Our defense had a heck of a goalline stand down there, and I’m proud of my kids. They fought hard against a really good football team,” Sexton coach Dan Boggan said. “We’re an outstanding football team ourselves, and it could’ve gone either way. I’m disappointed, but I’m not broken.” 

Sexton allowed only 63 more second-half yards after Wassink’s long scoring run during the first half-minute of the third quarter. But Sexton also had three turnovers total, while the Sailors never turned over the ball, and missed an extra point after its final touchdown that would’ve tied the score. The Sailors also held a Sexton rushing attack featuring two 1,000-yard rushers to only 101.

Big Reds quarterback Malik Mack finished an outstanding varsity career with 224 yards and two touchdowns passing and another score on the ground. Both of his touchdown passes went to sophomore tight end Kahari Foy-Walton, and senior Rayshawn Wilborn added eight catches for 84 yards and eight tackles at linebacker. 

Junior lineman Marshaun Blake had a game-high nine tackles and his teammates combined for six tackles for losses and three sacks. “They were one of the best, if not the best we played all year,” Wassink said. “Fast, physical, just really tough.” 

Heyboer finished with two of his team’s three sacks and also caught one of Wassink’s three touchdown passes. Seniors Ryan Veenstra and Eric VanVoorst caught the others, and senior Geff Plasman finished his career with 80 more rushing yards to end up with 1,300 for this fall. 

Wassink’s final numbers for his final season set the bar high for those who follow. Adding in his Ford Field heroics, Wassink finished with 1,426 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing and 2,494 yards and 28 touchdowns passing.

And he'll graduate as a two-time MHSAA champion – this time having had something to say about the final result. 

“He’s been driven all year. This is what he wanted,” Tamminga said. “He felt he didn’t play the best here last year, and he wanted to go out with a state championship.

“What a tremendous athlete.” 

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lansing Sexton’s Malik Mack (4) and Ardis Davis (9) work to wrap up a South Christian ball carrier Friday night. (Middle) Mack prepares to unload a pass with the Sailors’ Jake Wierenga applying pressure. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS:

WASSINK'S OFF TO THE RACES - Grand Rapids South Christian scored touchdowns on its last possession of the first half and its first of the second half against Lansing Sexton. Here's the second TD, a 68-yard run by quarterback Jon Wassink. The TD and extra point that followed turned out to be the winning scoring sequence in a 28-27 Sailors win.
 
SEXTON TIGHTENS IT UP - Early in the fourth period, Lansing Sexton pulled within a point of Grand Rapids South Christian on a 29-yard pitch/catch/run play from Malik Mack to Kahari Foy-Walton. It was the second time the duo connected for a score in the game.

Watch the entire game and order DVDs by Clicking Here.

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)