Davison's McRill Packs Plenty of Thrills

August 30, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

DAVISON — The sense of excitement is palpable when Brenden McRill recalls one of the biggest adrenaline rushes he's had on a football field.

He's in his third year as Davison's starting quarterback, but it's the one time he got to play on the other side of the ball that makes McRill really light up.

Although he's put up impressive numbers at the game's most glamorous position, the opportunity to make eight tackles as a safety in a first-round playoff loss to Lapeer last season was about as fun as it gets for McRill.

"Oh, it felt great," he said. "I was so excited for that, because I hadn't played defense since my freshman year. I was ready to go out there and hit somebody."

Spoken like a true ... wrestler.

The willingness to absorb punishment is considered a barometer of toughness for a quarterback, and McRill is certainly willing to do that for the good of the team. Most quarterbacks, however, don't get as hyped as McRill to deliver a blow.

But he isn't wired like most quarterbacks, which is why Davison coach Kyle Zimmerman could confidently add the following hash tag to a Twitter post about McRill: #MyQBIsTougherThanYours.

The groundwork for McRill's unique makeup was forged on the wrestling mats of the Davison youth program and fine-tuned at the high school level under the guidance of Roy Hall, who has coached the Cardinals to six MHSAA team championships and four runner-up finishes since 2000.

McRill was the MHSAA Division 1 champion at 189 pounds as a junior.

"It definitely makes me different, because I love to hit," McRill said of his wrestling background. "If I'm near the sideline and see a guy, I'm going for the hit; I'm not sliding. That aggressiveness and toughness has definitely helped me."

While McRill is as tough as they come, Zimmerman is reluctant to have his quarterback playing both ways on a regular basis.

"To be honest, he probably should play defense," Zimmerman said. "He's one of our best defenders. At the first day of practice, everybody does drills to simulate stuff. He's lights-out. Anything he does on a football field, he's going to excel at. He's played end for us, he's played linebacker, he's played safety, he's played quarterback.

"We've got other guys we know can play. You know it's a huge drop-off if you put yourself in a position where you could lose someone. If you see the quarterback out there, people are going to be attacking him, trying to tire him. We want him to play at a high level on offense."

And that he does.

McRill received honorable mention on The Associated Press' Division 1-2 all-state team last season as a dual-threat quarterback. As a passer, he was 68-for-136 for 1,306 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran 161 times for 642 yards and 11 touchdowns.

In the 2016 opener against Saginaw Arthur Hill, McRill was 3-for-5 for 52 yards and two touchdowns passing to go with five carries for 27 yards and a touchdown in the first half of a 62-12 rout of the Lumberjacks. 

The mission for McRill and his teammates is to get Davison back on the state high school football map. The Cardinals made the MHSAA playoffs seven straight years from 2002-08, reaching the Semifinals three times and going 65-19 during that span. In the seven years that followed, Davison went 33-33 and made the playoffs three times.

"We had three starting sophomores that first game my sophomore year," McRill said. "There was me, offensive tackle Zach Slezak, who at the time played defense, and Corran Thornton, who started at defensive end. We started it together. Our senior year, we want to make it our best and have one of the best years Davison's ever had." 

On the wrestling mat, McRill knows what it's like to compete at a high level.

McRill added his name to the list of individual MHSAA champions coached by Hall when he won the Division 1 title at 189 pounds with an overtime decision over previously unbeaten Nicholas May of Kalamazoo Loy Norrix. McRill was fifth at 152 as a freshman and third at 160 as a sophomore. 

"Going into high school, I planned to win it right away my freshman year," said McRill, whose only blemishes on a 38-2 junior record were against MHSAA champions. "Just with that legacy and Coach Hall's style, you're expected to win. You're working as hard as you can. ... It felt real good to get that out of the way."

He helped Davison reach the MHSAA Division 1 Team Finals in 2014 and 2016, with a semifinal appearance in between in 2015. Each of the last four years, however, Davison has lost to the eventual champion. 

"It's kind of upsetting, but it will make us hold each other more accountable that we need to finish this year," McRill said. "We need to win. We've got a lot of guys back and some incoming freshmen who are ranked guys and very good. So I'm very excited for this team coming up."

McRill does what he can to maintain his sharpness as a wrestler, but he devotes most of his attention to football over the summer. 

"I try to get a couple of drills in right now when the season's going," he said. "When we get to the playoffs, I try to stay off it, focus on football and stay healthy for that. Right after football, I try to get a couple days off and get ready for wrestling. I try to train hard, because I know I have a lot of catching up to do."

McRill doesn't compete in the national wrestling tournaments that many of his competitors do over the summer, but that hasn't hurt his exposure to college scouts. He is weighing offers from Central Michigan, University of Michigan and West Virginia. 

Once football and wrestling seasons conclude, McRill said he may return for one final season on the baseball diamond. He grew up playing baseball, but cut back on it once he realized his college future was likely to be in football or wrestling.

He didn't play baseball as a freshman, because he was working to win the starting quarterback job the following fall. McRill was called up to the varsity baseball team as a sophomore after throwing a no-hitter on the junior varsity team. 

"I think I'm going to come out my senior year," he said. "We've got a great group of guys in baseball, too. That's one that people kind of sleep on, but we could come up with something in baseball."

In the meantime, the arm that threw a no-hitter for the JV baseball team will be firing touchdown passes for a football team that could have a special season. 

"The first day I saw Brenden, I knew who my quarterback was from how he competed and how he threw," said Zimmerman, whose first year at Davison was McRill's sophomore season.

"We were probably going to take our lumps early, but it's going to pay off in the long run. He was steady his sophomore year, he was good last year and he's going to explode this year."

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Davison quarterback Brenden McRill lines up over center during his team's game last season against Saginaw. (Middle) McRill holds up his weight's bracket sheet after winning the Division 1 title at 189 pounds last winter. (Below) McRill looks to lock up during his championship match. (Click to see more from 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:

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.)