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Copper Country Legends

Game was enough for Csmarich

October 27, 2011
By PAUL PETERSON - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

L'ANSE - During his football career at Ontonagon High School and Michigan Tech, Tom Csmarich seldom took a break.

A two-way player at Ontonagon in the early 1960s, he took on even more duties at Michigan Tech.

He played as a running back on offense, corner back on defense and on most of the special teams for the Huskies.

"I probably averaged about 58 minutes a game," Csmarich said a few years ago. "But that was OK ... I just wanted to play the game."

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Csmarich played well enough to lead MTU in rushing for three straight seasons. In 1966, he was named the Most Valuable Player in the Northern Intercollegiate Conference.

Bill Lucier was the coach at Tech during that period and he remembers Csmarich as a "great all-around athlete."

"He (Csmarich) was very versatile," Lucier recalled in an interview in 1997. "He could do everything well .... and we used him in just about every phase of the game."

Growing up in Ontonagon in the late 1950s, Csmarich said he played every sport going on.

"In the spring and summer, it was baseball. In the fall, it was football and in the winter, it was basketball," he said. "There was never an off-season."

By the time he reached high school, Csmarich was competing for the Polar Bears' (the school nickname back then) football, basketball and track teams.

Then-Ontonagon High basketball skipper Dave Tucker remembered Csmarich as a smart player.

"Having Tom at guard was like having a coach on the floor," Tucker said. "He knew where everyone was supposed to be, he directed things."

The Ontonagon basketball team won the Copper Country Conference in the 1961-62 and 1962-63 seasons.

Playing with such standouts as Larry Makimaa and John Olson, Csmarich managed to lead his team past powerful Houghton, Hancock and Baraga teams in the CCC.

But Houghton proved to be a stumbling block in the regional tournament held in Marquette both of those seasons.

"I remember (HHS coach) Fritz Wilson using a 1-3-1 zone in Marquette that we couldn't solve," he said. "It was kind of frustrating."

In his senior season, he helped the OAHS track team win the Upper Peninsula championship.

"We took just eight guys down there (Marquette), so that made it kind of special," he recalled.

After graduating from high school, he had no definite plans for the future until Lucier and assistant coach Verdie Cox paid him a visit.

The MTU coaches persuaded him to come to Houghton even though no scholarships were available.

"I had thought about going to Tech, but I never thought I would be playing football there. It was a big break for me," he said.

Csmarich broke into the starting lineup as a freshman, impressing the coaching staff with his hustling attitude.

"He played full-bore 100 percent of the time," Lucier noted. "He led us in rushing for three seasons, but he was as good a defensive player as I can remember coaching."

For the record, he would score 17 touchdowns, gain 1,457 yards rushing and catch 48 passes for 600 yards in his final three seasons.

He said he thought briefly about playing basketball at Tech for Cox, then the head coach.

"Verdie (Cox) told me there was a spot on the roster waiting for me," he recalled. "But I needed the time to concentrate on my studies."

He was active in slow-pitch softball and independent basketball for many years and also did some elementary school basketball coaching. He had the chance to coach his daughters in that capacity.

He was inducted into the MTU Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 - honors he said totally surprised him.

"I never thought that would happen," he said. "It was a great honor for me."



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