MUSKEGON–The only thing keeping this aging Michigander from spiraling into a major depression at the end of the summer is the start of high school football season.
Thank goodness we have the fun, excitement, and pageantry of “Friday Night Lights” to distract us from the steadily dropping temperatures in the chest freezer in January and February.
Need a dose of positivity in your life?
Interview a high school football player in August.
I’ll never forget a particular interview with a senior football player at a school in Newaygo County during The Muskegon Chronicle’s heyday (I think it was the late 1990s).
Setting the scene: It was a hot August night and we were standing on the edge of what must have been the worst practice football field in state history – with more dirt than grass ( the grass there was crispy brown) and lots of ants and grasshoppers. Imagine the “Bad News Bears” of football, with around 13 players in total wearing old gear and trying to lead a makeshift scrum with six players on offense and seven on defense.
I remember thinking about how much I admired the dedication of these gamers to persevere in the 90 degree heat, when they could have been on the beach or playing video games.
“What are your prospects for the season? I asked, expecting the worst.
“I think we’ll make the playoffs for sure,” said the senior lineman, who appeared to be dressing at around 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds. “If we keep working hard like this, we could go all the way.”
I think I spat my water on my “Skin Skinner” T-shirt.
High expectations weren’t a thing at Mona Shores until recently. When Matt Koziak took over in 2011, staying within three touchdowns of Muskegon was considered a win. Four appearances in state championship games, two titles and a Brady Rose later, the new normal is that Sailors should win every game.
Muskegon Catholic’s Steve Czerwon came the closest I’ve ever seen to perfection during his first four years as head coach, from 2013 to 2016. After losing his first two games as a head coach (CRUCIFY HIM!!!), Czerwon went 52-2 in his next 54 games, including four straight Division 8 state championships.
But no school has more unrealistic expectations than Muskegon High, the winningest high school football program in state history with 868 wins (131 more than second-place Ann Arbor Pioneer).
Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield has put on a stunning streak, reaching the state championship game seven times in eight years from 2012 to 2019. Do that at any other high school in the country and they debate between renaming the streets, dedicate part of the school in your honor or erect a giant bronze statue. But in Muskegon, because the Big Reds have won just one of those league games (28-10 over Farmington Harrison in 2017), a faction of Muskegon fans would like to see him hanged, drawn and quartered on the stage. from downtown Olthoff Street.
Overall, Muskegon County football fans are the most spoiled in the state. Look back over the years and you’ll see that Muskegon County, which makes up about 1.75% of the state’s 10 million population, regularly hosts a plethora of teams in the semis and finals – like evidenced by 2008, when four of the eight champions hailed from our small lakeside county.
That’s why, while Kid Rock sings “Summer in Northern Michigan,” this type of tradition makes Adult Tom write “Football Time in Western Michigan.”
All of this made the end of last year’s football season a hard pill to swallow. Not only did none of the area football teams make it to Ford Field, none of them even made it to the semi-finals (causing many men to get out and rake the leaves or, even worse , to take their wives to the movies).
But, based on player interviews this month, we’re heading for a big rebound this season – with up to half of the area’s teams looking to be in Motown over Thanksgiving weekend.
Forget that it is mathematically impossible. This kind of unbridled hope and optimism is refreshing and good for the soul.