Blahas Building Lasting Owosso Legacy
February 5, 2020
By Tim Robinson
Special for Second Half
Owosso seniors Hunter and Colton Blaha, born 11 months apart, have been competing with each other nearly every day of their lives.
“We’ve been competing forever,” said Colton, the younger of the brothers, with a laugh. “Sprinting down the road so you can get to the house first.”
“We’re always competing, no matter what it is,” he said. “Board games, chores. It doesn’t matter.”
The Blaha brothers have channeled that competitiveness into a work ethic and sense of community that has helped lift the Owosso High School sports programs in which they’ve competed.
Both played football (Hunter at quarterback, Colton at running back), while Hunter plays basketball and runs track and Colton is an all-state wrestler who plays baseball in the spring.
Most of the programs they have played for have not had recent success. The brothers endured part of a 43-game losing streak in football, Hunter’s basketball team recently snapped a 30-game losing streak, and the Owosso baseball team has struggled in recent years.
And, to the Blahas, that doesn’t matter.
“I honestly don’t care what our record is,” Colton Blaha said. “We always had a close bond with the kids in our grade, and that means more than anything. It means more than any record we could have had in wins or losses.”
Trojans athletic director Dallas Lintner, who also is an assistant football coach, said what sets the Blahas apart is that selflessness – a willingness to help build a program despite an outward lack of success.
“What’s refreshing to see at the high school level is that they’re competitive, but they’re classy,” Lintner said. “They mean a lot to us at Owosso High School. They mean a lot to our community particularly with the relationships they’ve built with middle-school kids, with elementary school kids. They really do it all for us.”
Both Blahas have worked, assisting the coaches in their sports, with younger athletes at all levels to help them feel a part of the program.
“When we got here, the senior leadership was horrible,” Hunter Blaha said. “We got treated horribly by the upperclassmen, and that plays a big part in a program, having a bond and a relationship with the younger kids. We set that as a goal in the eighth grade, because we knew how important it was to our program if we got the youth program going at a young level and got them going at the same pace.”
And so Owosso football players at lower levels have seen the Blahas at their games or matches the last four years. Both attend youth level games and interact with future Owosso athletes as much as their schedules allow.
“They’re like rock stars to those kids,” football coach Devin Pringle said. “We do things at elementary schools like reading to kids, and we take the Blahas. They’re like NFL stars to those kids. They wrestle with them, give them high-fives, talk about grades.”
At one point during the football season, Hunter became involved with a troubled elementary school student as part of a class in social tolerance.
“I was chosen to help this kid,” he said. “My idea was to bring him to a game, come see a coin toss, maybe get him a signed football.”
Which he did. The youngster got to do all three and went home with a lasting memory.
“It was an awesome experience,” Hunter said. “I could tell he was really happy that he got the chance to do that.”
Another thing that makes the Blahas stand out, their coaches said, is their commitment to their hometown.
“A lot of kids transferred out of here to play on better sports teams,” Colton Blaha said. “My mom has always taught us to make a name for ourselves, and I feel that Hunter and I have both done that here. We’ve done the best we can to try to change the sports programs around, and we hope the kids under us have picked up on that.”
Naturally, coaching and commitment by those younger players is critical, but there are signs of a turnaround in Owosso football. The Trojans varsity won two games last season and lost three more by a single point. The rest of the teams in the program all had winning records.
“We knew coming in it would take some time to get a new culture established,” Pringle said. “When it happens, it’s because these young men decided to stay.”
After his freshman year of football, Hunter Blaha was promoted to varsity. As a sophomore, he was a unanimous choice as a team captain and started at quarterback.
Colton finished third at 160 pounds at last year’s Division 2 Individual Wrestling Finals, a rise fueled by the competitive fires built during his youth.
“We used to have basement wrestling tournaments, and he used to kick my butt,” Colton said of Hunter. “I used to get so mad at him.”
The boys wrestled and sometimes fought at school, too.
“I always beat him,” Hunter said. “I remember one day I stopped and he came up to me and said, ‘I’m not going to let you whip my (butt) any more. It’s just not going to happen. That’s the day he started wrestling, and he’s been working his tail off ever since. It’s pushed me to work harder and get some goals in mind.”
As for the rivalry, “a year later, (Colton) started whipping my butt,” Hunter said, smiling. “It’s escalated from there.”
Both Blahas plan to compete in college, Hunter in football and Colton in wrestling. Both plan to become teachers, and Pringle has a not-so-subtle plan for Hunter.
“Colton is amazing in his own right,” Pringle said. “But Hunter, when he gets that degree, he’ll be head football coach at Owosso someday. We’re getting a new weight room, and I tell him, ‘I’ll have this ready for you when you take over.’ He’ll be a kid who impacts hundreds of kids before he’s done.”
But first, there’s a senior year to complete.
“It feels like it came up way too fast,” Hunter said. “It feels like yesterday I started at quarterback my sophomore year. I kind of get emotional about it. I don’t like talking about it. Most kids are ready to get out of here, to get their lives going. But I’ve been here since I was 6 years old, and it’s all I’ve ever known, playing with these kids.”
Colton Blaha is known as an athlete who’s the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave, almost to a fault.
“I have him in a fourth-hour class, and he always wants to get in a couple of extra sets,” Pringle said, chuckling. “He always leaves the room last, and sometimes I’m late for lunch because of it.”
A few lost minutes of lunch, though, has been a small price to pay.
“I know they’re going to do great things,” Lintner said. “They’re going to be great husbands. They’re going to be great fathers. They’re going to be great college athletes no matter what university they choose. We’re super proud of them, and as an educator, I’ve been fortunate to be with them the last four years of their journey.”
Asked what the most important thing is that they've gained through athletics, both brothers pause for several seconds before answering.
“Hard work can take you anywhere,” Colton said. “Always. Through hard work, you go through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of lefts and rights, but if you keep working hard, keep your head balanced, you can go anywhere.”
“Being a family, definitely,” Hunter said. “That’s what it’s all about. Life’s not always about football and athletics. You want to make your friendships and talk about these memories 20 years down the road.”
But the Blahas have done more than make memories. They’ve made an impact, one that will be felt ‘years down the road.’
PHOTOS: (Top) Colton, left, and brother Hunter Blaha. (Middle) Colton, left, begins his third-place match during last season’s Division 2 Individual Finals at Ford Field. (Middle photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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:
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.)