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FOOTBALL PREVIEW: An overview of Michigan’s 8-player 2019 season

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 5, 2019, 6:20 pm

With a total of 74 schools now participating in 8-player football for the 2019 season, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a look at what you might be able to expect from the 8-player game this fall.

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DIVISION 1

Defending champ: Morrice (13-0, won NCTL-Red)

Runner up: Pickford (12-1, won Great Lakes 8-man East)

Defending the title: Morrice (13-0, 5-0 North Central Thumb 8-Man League-Red) — The Orioles have to replace a lot of graduated production, particularly that of All-American quarterback Hunter Nowak, and all-state fullback Connor Lucas, but they’ve got decent numbers returning to fill in the gaps. Defensive backs Shane Cole and Jarrett Wood, and defensive linemen Max Jackson and Jack Nanasy, and linebackers Peyton Smith and Wyatt Wesley return from a defense that posted five straight shutouts to end the regular season, and another to open the postseason. 

The challenger: Colon (10-2, 5-0 Southern Michigan 8-Man Football League) — In his fourth year as the head of the Magi, Robbie Hattan has his first group of freshmen who’ve gone all the way through his program. Last fall, he oversaw the transition to the 8-player game, going 10-2 and losing in the semis to eventual champ Morrice, after the Magi posted a 2-7 season in their last 11-player campaign. Colon lost two-way all-state lineman Brendan Shelton, but return 32 of 36 players, including all-state back Brandon Crawford (1,800 yards rushing), to go with quarterback Phillip Alva (1,000 rushing, 500 passing) and all-state athlete Jonathan West (700 rushing, 300 receiving). 

The Dark Horse: Pickford (12-1, 6-0 GL8C-East) — The Panthers had just two seniors on last year’s 18-man roster, returning plenty of talent. That was on display already this season, won their 25th consecutive regular-season game in last week’s 48-16 win over Crystal Falls Forest Park, led by all-state quarterback Jimmy Storey (more than 2,300 combined yards and 43 touchdowns in 2018), running backs Stephen LaMothe (just under 1,000 yards rushing, 17 TDs) and Isaac Brown. 

Other contenders: Deckerville, Gaylord St. Mary’s, Suttons Bay

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Returning all-staters:

Brandon Crawford, RB, Colon (2021) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State HM

Curt Vogel, OL, Deckerville (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State HM

Jonathan West, DB, Colon (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State HM

Jeffrey Frost, OL, Mayville (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1

Travis Trigger, DL, Deckerville (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1

Justin Trigger, OL, Deckerville (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1

Isaiah May, L, Pickford (2020) — AP 8-Player Football All-State

Jimmy Storey, QB/LB, Pickford (2020) — AP 8-Player Football All-State

Nicholas Edington, WR, Pickford (2020) — AP 8-Player Football All-State

Graduated all-staters:

Brayden Ophoff, QB/ATH, Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Grant Papineau, RB/LB, Central Lake (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Nicholas Briggs, L/LB, Bellevue (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Benson Heath, DB/RB, Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Logan LaBean, WR, Mayville (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1)

Wyatt Waterbury, WR, Bellevue (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1)

Brendan Shelton, DL, Colon (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1)

Andrew Tucker, DL, Kingston (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1)

Dalton Sabo, LB, Mesick (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1)

Colton Stadler, LB, Kingston (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D1)

Brendan Shelton, DE, Colon (AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Caden Zeien, QB, Au Gres-Sims (AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Montell Glover, RB, Stephenson (AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Ryan Schwiderson, ATH, Au Gres-Sims (AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Hunter James, QB, Kingston (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Connor Lucas, FB/LB, Morrice (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Hunter Nowak, QB, Morrice  (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Gino Costello, QB, Bellevue (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Eric Halvorsen, TE/LB, Suttons Bay (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Hunter Perkins, LB, Fife Lake Forest Area (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

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DIVISION 2

Defending champ: Rapid River (10-3, 3rd in Great Lakes 8-man East Division)

Runner up: Onekama (10-3, 3rd in Midwest Central Michigan 8-man West Division)

Defending the title: Rapid River (10-3, 4-2 GL8C-East) — Rapid River graduated all-state wideout Nate Olson, linebacker Lenny Menary and two-way lineman Sam Orth, and returns just one starter from last year’s offense — running back Azariah Hernandez, who will pair with quarterback Bryce Lundquist — and two — Hernandez at linebacker and DB/RB Tyler Sundling — on defense. The Rockets lost their opener to Brimley last week. 

The challenger: Onekama (10-3, 3-2 MCM8C-West) — The Portagers return lineman Wade Sedlar, linebacker Aaron Powers and defensive back Taylor Bennett from a defense that gave up just 111 points in 13 games last season. Austin Harper, Dalron Gray and Ben Falk will open holes for quarterback Luke Mauntler, as well as Johnny Neph and Powers at running back. 

The dark horse: Portland St. Patrick (7-5, 1-4 Southern Michigan 8-man Football League) — St. Patrick returns a solid core from last year’s semifinalist squad, including all-state defensive lineman Ned Smith and all-state defensive back Riley Kissane, along with quarterback Connor Cross, running back John Schneider, linemen Jeff Davlin, Brian Kwiecinsk and Brett Weller and wideout Zach Spitzley. On defense, linebacker Derec Fedewa and Alex Kissane 

Other contenders: Climax-Scotts, Onekama, Crystal Falls Forest Park (6-5, 4-1 GL8C-West),

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Returning all-staters:

Tyler Sundling, RB, Rapid River (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2

Gage Kasubowski, DL, Posen (2021) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2

Ned Smith, DL, Portland St. Patrick (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2

Riley Kissane, DB, Portland St. Patrick (2020) — MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2

Noah Gorzinski, WR/DB, Powers North Central (2020) — AP 8-Player Football All-State

Gunner Mellingen, WR/DB, Hillman (2020) AP 8-Player Football All-State HM

Graduated all-staters:

Andrew Blanchard, QB/DB, Engadine (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Sam Brunet, RB, Posen (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2/AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Roubens Fink, RB/WR, Eben Junction Superior Central (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Nate Olson, WR, Rapid River (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2)

Zach Belinsky, OL, Bear Lake (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2)

Jacob Peterson, OL, Crystal Falls Forest Park (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2)

Dalton Hanchek, OL, Powers North Central (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2)

Jarron Masuga, DL, Cedarville (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2/AP 8-Player Football All-State)

Lenny Menary, LB, Rapid River (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2/AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Ben Acton, LB, Onekama (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2/AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Noah Mead, LB, Tekonsha (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2)

Brendan Zeien, DB, Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart (MHSFCA all-state 8-player D2)

Patrick Ervin, RB/DB, Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Jacob Fritz, OL/DL, Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Sam Orth, OL/DL, Rapid River (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

Ty Knoblock, QB/DB, Kinde North Huron (AP 8-Player Football All-State HM)

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New 8-player teams:

• Gaylord St. Mary (2-6 in NMFL-Legacy) — Independent in 2019

• Newberry (3-6 in NMFL-Legacy) — Independent in 2019

• Vermontville Maple Valley (5-5 in GLAC) — Independent in 2019

• Vestaburg (0-9 in MSAC) — Independent in 2019

• Mio AuSable (0-8 in North Star) — Joined Midwest Central MI 8-man East Division for 2019

• Burton Atherton (0-9 in GAC Blue) — Joined NCTL 8-man Blue Division for 2019

• Climax-Scotts (4-5 in S-Central) — Joined Southern Michigan 8-man A-Division for 2019

• Bridgman (1-8 in BCS Blue) — Joined Southwestern Michigan 8-man for 2019

• Martin (6-4 in SAC Lakeshore) — Joined Southwestern Michigan 8-man for 2019

• New Buffalo (no team in 2018, 4-5 in BCS Blue in 2017) — Joined Southwestern Michigan 8-man for 2019

• St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (1-6 in BCS Blue) — Joined Southwestern Michigan 8-man for 2019

With 11 new 8-player teams for 2019, that lifts the total number of 8-player squads to 74. There were as few as 49 teams playing 8-player football in 2016, and just 31 in 2014.

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GREAT LAKES 8-MAN CONFERENCE

East Division

Defending champ: Pickford (12-1, 6-0 GL8C-East)

Division members: Brimley, Cedarville, Eben Junction Superior Central, Engadine, Pickford, Rapid River, Rudyard)

West Division

Defending champ: Powers North Central (8-2, 5-0 GL8C-West)

Division members: Carney-Nadeau, Crystal Falls Forest Park, Felch North Dickinson, Ontonagon, Powers North Central, Stephenson

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MIDWEST CENTRAL MICHIGAN 8-MAN CONFERENCE

East Division

Defending champ: Au Gres-Sims (11-1, 7-0 MCM8C-East)

Division members: Atlanta, Au Gres-Sims, Hale, Hillman, Mio AuSable, Onaway, Pellston, Posen, St. Helen Charleton Heston, Wolverine

West Division

Defending champ: Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (10-1, 5-0 MCM8C-West)

Division members: Bellaire, Central Lake, Fife Lake Forest Area, Onekama, Suttons Bay, Traverse City Grand Traverse Academy

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NORTH CENTRAL THUMB 8-MAN LEAGUE

Blue Division

Defending champ: Deckerville (8-3, 5-0 NCTL8ML-Blue)

Division members: Burton Atherton, Deckerville, Kinde North Huron, Kingston, Mayville, Peck

Red Division

Defending champ: Morrice (13-0, 5-0 NCTL8ML-Red)

Division members: Ashley, Burton Madison, Flint International, Genesee, Morrice, Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart

White Division

Defending champ: New Haven Merritt (6-4, 5-0 NCTL8ML-White)

Division members: Akron-Fairgrove, Bay City All Saints, Carsonville-Port Sanilac, Caseville, New Haven Merritt, Owendale-Gagetown

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SOUTHERN MICHIGAN 8-MAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

A Division

Defending champ: Colon (10-2, 5-0 SM8FL-A)

Division members: Battle Creek St. Philip, Bellevue, Camden-Frontier, Climax-Scotts

B Division

Defending champ: Tekonsha (6-5, 5-0 SM8FL-B)

Division members: Burr Oak, Litchfield, North Adams-Jerome, Tekonsha, Waldron

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SOUTHWESTERN MICHIGAN 8-MAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Defending champ: none

League members: Bridgman, Lawrence, Martin, New Buffalo, St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran, Wyoming Tri-unity Christian

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WEST MICHIGAN 8-MAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Defending champ: Brethren (7-4, 6-0 WM8FL)

League members: Baldwin, Bear Lake, Big Rapids Crossroads, Brethren, Manistee Catholic Central, Marion, Mesick

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INDEPENDENTS

Detroit Academy of the Americas

Flint Michigan School for the Deaf

Gaylord St. Mary

Newberry

Portland St. Patrick

Vermontville Maple Valley

Vestaburg

Webberville