Photo Credit: Aleshia Blauvelt
As the MSR football previews roll along, we take a step outside the OK Conference for a brief look at our 8-man football teams. We pride ourselves at Michigan Sports Radio in providing consistent 8-man football coverage for many teams in our coverage area. We talked with a few area 8-man teams about the 2022 season. Those previews can be found below.
2021 Season: 10-0
Last fall, the Bees posted a perfect 10-0 record. Bridgman dominated opponents to a 490-71 margin, with a 37-30 victory wrapping up their season. That final win over Northpointe Christian gave Bridgman their second straight “Division 0” championship, as they are ineligible for the MHSAA playoffs due to their enrollment (278 in 2022).
Aaron Locke is back for his seventh year as the head coach of the Bees. He returns some of his best players this fall, as they enter 2022 with a 16-game win streak. Reid Haskins, who the media voted as the SWMFL-II Player of the Year last fall, is back for his final campaign as the quarterback and defensive back. Christian Dinges (RB/LB), Brady Roberts (OC) and Tanner Peters (WR/K) are also returning for their final year at Bridgman.
“It should be a great season,” Locke shared. “We lost some great players, but we have some big returners back and new players ready to step up. Our defense is smart, and our offense is athletic. We can display real speed on both sides of the ball.”
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to Bridgman’s success will be itself. “We aren’t a very big team”, Locke revealed. “With only 14 players on varsity, depth may become an issue with injuries.” If the Bees are able to stay healthy, they should be at the top of the SWMFL again this fall.
Britton Deerfield Patriots
2021 Season: 9-2 (lost in Regional finals)
The Patriots set a program record with a nine-win campaign last fall. They suffered a pair of defeats, both at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian. In both of those contests, they were playing without a few key players due to injuries.
The senior class from last fall left a legacy, and big shoes to fill. This year’s Patriots only have four seniors and six players with varsity game experience. Logan Shiels (QB/RB/TE/LB), Tristan Johnson (QB/RB/LB), Nick Wayne (RB/DL), Asher Wiser (RB/DB) and Clayton Hauser (TE/LB) are skill players back for the Patriots. There is some depth to the offensive side of the football, but entire defensive backfield graduated.
Colin Johnson (OL/LB) is the lone offensive lineman back, an area that the Patriots will also need to bolster. They will look to James Bunker, a sophomore, to play both ways in the trenches.
“We have six players with tons of varsity experience”, Head Coach Erik Johnson revealed. “The rest of our team is taking their first varsity snaps. We need to replace two offensive lineman and the entire defensive backfield. These groups will need to grow up in a hurry. If the newcomers can come along, then it could be another successful season for the Patriots”.
Concord Yellow Jackets
2021 Season: 3-6
The ‘Jackets had a strong offense last fall, but their defense yielded big scoring tallies to their opposition. For example, Concord scored 60+ points in two straight weeks, but only posted a 1-1 record.
This fall, Concord will display their speed all across the field. Anthony Evans (QB/DB), Collin Thompson (DE/RB) Ja’Vion Taylor (RB/DB), Logan Lamb (LB/RB), and Mekhi Wingfield (WR/DB) are just a few of those skill players back for the ‘Jackets. Evans is making the transition to quarterback for the first time, while Wingfield is one the best athletes in all of 8-man football.
“We have a lot of players coming back for their second year of 8-man football. I think that we can compete with anyone and compete for a conference championship”, Head Coach Max Clark shared. “Our offensive line is green, but working hard. Their development will have a large impact on the success of our offense.” Brian Helms and Rollen Smith are two of the linemen that have experience, but they will need strong play from newcomers as well.
2021 Season: 1-1
Last fall, the Legends put together an 8-man campaign late in the fall. They were able to get two matchups on the calendar, posting a 1-1 record. On October 8, the Legends posted a thrilling Homecoming victory over Farwell. The following week, they battled but suffered defeat against three-time consecutive State Finalist Suttons Bay.
Lamar Marshall takes over as the Head Coach at Lee, trying to build some stability into this program that has seen many twists and turns over the last decade. “This is a young team that is eager to prove themselves,” Marshall shared. “This is an extremely young team with a lot to learn, but we do have many sophomores with varsity experience. I’ve enjoyed watching these groups work together on studying playbooks and their assignments. I’m excited to work with this group.”
The Legends’ key players this fall will include: Aidan Merriweather (WR/RB), Anthony Blok (QB), Charles Davis (WR), Elijah Beckwith (RB/LB), Jayden West (OC), JT Kennedy (WR/LB), and Kameron Washington (WR/DB).
2021 Season: 4-5
Last fall, the Wildcats raced out to a 3-1 start. In their final five contests, their lone victory was a forfeit as the schedule was stacked with the best of the SWMFL. As a result, Marcellus was a few playoff points short of qualifying.
Nathan Davies’ Wildcats will look to get back to the playoffs after a one-year absence. They return key contributors such as Brock Buck, Cole Thornburgh, Cordell Jones-McNally, Kade Nelson and Nathan Mihills. Marcellus will also count on Dawsen Lehew and Parker Adams as newcomers to make key contributions.
“Our goal is to get better each week,” Marcellus Head Coach Nathan Davies shared. “We lack experience and depth, but these kids love to play football. The SWMFL is a tough league, but we are excited for the season.”
2021 Season: 11-1 (lost in Semifinals)
Last fall, the Clippers made their second straight trip to the semifinals. For the second straight year, their season ended at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian. Martin has their eyes set on finally advancing to, and capturing, the State Championship.
This senior class at Martin is back for one more run, trying to achieve those goals. “There’s some pressure that comes with our expectations,” Martin Head Coach Brad Blauvelt explained. “However, this has been the standard for us since moving to 8-man football. We want it. We truly believe we are the best team in the state and that we can only beat ourselves. The seniors have been tremendous in the programs success. These are the kids that have come to everything; every workout, camp, pop can drive, film session. These kids have been nothing short of a coach’s dream class. It is obvious they love the sport and everything that goes into that.”
JR Hildebrand is back at quarterback and linebacker for Martin. Last year, he led the offense that averaged 44 points per game, and a defense that allowed only 8 per contest. Braeden Shanley (RB/LB), Chris Tuinstra (RB/LB), Geno Ramos (G/DT), Karter Ribble, Sam Jager (TE/S), and Tanner Bird (DT) are just some of the returners for this Martin team.
Experience is a key to this team. They are a prepared group that feel comfortable with all assignments and terminology. A physical team with lots of speed, Martin is one of the state’s best in 8-man football. If they stay healthy, they should be one of the favorites in the SWMFL, and in the State Playoffs.
2021 Season: 8-3 (lost in Regionals)
The Hornets were a strong team last fall, with three losses to top programs (Bridgman and twice to Martin). They will have some key pieces returning this fall, with their eyes set on a SWMFL title chase and a run in the playoffs. Mendon benefits from having the following players back: Evan Lukeman (RB/DB), Gabe Haigh (TE/DE) Kace Gonser (OC), Khayvien Brown (OL/DL), Luke Schinker (QB/DB), Nate Vergauwen (LB) and Noah Iobe (OL).
The offensive line should be a strength for this team, with the returning starters above. Players such as Dylan Cupp (DB), Grant Croster (TE/LB), Jack McCaw (RB/LB) and Nic Stiver (TE/LB) look to step into roles in skill positions to keep the winning tradition of Mendon moving forward in 2022.
“Two of our first three games (Bridgman and Martin) are against top 8-man programs,” Mendon Head Coach Bobby Kretschman shared. “This league is going to be extremely competitive. We will need to be ready to go each week. Last year, we struggled getting off the field on 3rd and 4th down. That is an area we are putting heavy focus on.”
2021 Season: 5-5 (lost in playoff opener)
The Bulldogs raced out to a 5-2 start last fall. Defeats in the last three weeks, including consecutive losses to Suttons Bay, sent Mesick packing in the playoff’s first round. This year, they will be under the direction of a new head coach, Brian Mumby.
Mumby has been on staff at Mesick the past two years, serving most recently as the offensive coordinator. He has previous stops as a coach at Big Rapids, Fife Lake Forest Area, Lakeview, Leroy Pine River and Reed City.
“We are looking to build off our playoff appearance in 2021”, Mumby explained. “This is an athletic, experienced and talented group. Our goals are to win the conference and regional championships. A big priority for us will be staying healthy, since we don’t have depth.”
Ashtyn Simerson, the quarterback for Mesick, is back again this fall. He is joined by top rushers Colten Eckler and Joey Hornback. Ben Parrish (OL/TE/LB) and Bradley Smith (OL/DL) are also back as seniors with experience for the Bulldogs.
Mesick will be tested early and often this fall. They will face Marion (Week 3) who played in the Division 2 semifinals last fall, and Suttons Bay (Week 8) who has played in the Division 1 title game each of the past three years. Relying on the experience offensively while the Bulldogs implement a new defensive system will be vital for their success this fall.
2021 Season: 2-5
The Bulldogs make the transition to 8-man football this fall. Last year, they picked up a pair of victories in their 11-man finale. In their maiden 8-man season, they will be competing in the Tri-River.
“The Tri-River is a strong league with BD (Britton-Deerfield), our former TCC rival, as the reigning champion,” Head Coach Stefan Wilkinson shared. “We also have four Ohio schools on our schedule, including Northern 8 champion Toledo Christian.”
The Bulldogs are a younger team, but they have a strong group of seniors. Morenci’s backfield is experienced with quarterback Landon Mansfield and running backs Brodie Pike and Jayden Ables. Up front, JT Hintz and Owen Blaker will anchor Morenci. We have seen a wide range of success levels from programs in their transition season from 11-man to 8-man football. I would expect that Morenci should be competitive throughout Tri-River play this fall.
Twin City Sharks
2021 Season: 0-9
The Sharks were an extremely young team last fall. On both sides of the football, this team started 6 freshmen. “We are poised to change the narrative from last year”, Head Coach Pete Murphy shared. “Through those trials, our boys got hardened and sharpened. I’m not going to need to dig deep for pregame speeches to get these guys motivated to go to battle.”
Murphy views chemistry as the biggest strength to this team. Players come from three schools: Benton Harbor Countryside Academy, St Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic and St Joseph Michigan Lutheran. “The ability to come together as if these guys had been buddies their whole lives is amazing to me.”
This is still an extremely young team, but this is becoming less of a weakness with each game that this group plays. With the SWMFL-II featuring some strong teams, the Sharks will be tested. But this team should be in more games this fall, and they will see a positive number in their win column.
2022 MSR FOOTBALL PREVIEWS