HANCOCK - During his athletic career, Richard Salani compiled an impressive list of accomplishments.
He was an All-State football player who went on to play at Michigan State; a top-notch basketball player who gained All-U.P. honors; a stellar track performer; and a U.P. Sports Hall of Fame selection.
And the Hancock native remains the only local athlete to have a son follow him to the same Division I school to play sports. That came about when Chris Salani played football at MSU.
In fact, another son, Eric, played football at Central Michigan University, and another, Jason, was a grid standout at Northern Michigan University.
"That was my biggest thrill in sports ... seeing the kids play college ball," Salani said recently. "It doesn't get much better than that."
The Salani name has long been associated with Hancock High sports, according to former football/track coach and athletic director Jerry Parker.
"There were members of the Salani family playing sports here as far back as the early 1930s," Parker commented recently. "And just about every one of them was very good."
Rich Salani, who graduated in 1969, was arguably the most talented of the clan.
His greatest season came in his senior year when he collected All-U.P. and all-state laurels on the gridiron. A lefthanded quarterback with speed and a good arm, he was among the U.P. leaders in points scored in the 1968 campaign.
But it was his strong punting that attracted the attention of college scouts after graduating from high school.
"Duffy Daugherty (MSU coach) personally recruited me and I was really impressed by him," Salani commented. "I've been a Spartan ever since."
Handling the punting for the Spartans for three seasons, he also saw spot action at tight end.
"I shared time with another guy - we actually served as the messenger bringing in plays," he recalled. "It wasn't a real glamorous job but I was just happy to be on the field."
He caught three passes during his senior season. One of those came against against Southern California when Trojans' All-American linebacker Richard Wood "hit me about as hard as I was ever hit."
After leaving East Lansing, he was hired as a teacher in downstate Tawas and put in a year as a JV football coach.
When a teaching position opened up in Hancock the following year, he jumped at the chance to come home. He was hired as head varsity football coach that year and held the position between 1974 and 1994.
His brother Bob, who was his football coach in high school, served as an assistant coach along with former teammates Jim Parker and the late Rick Miller.
A nephew, Steven, also played for him and went on to star at Northern Michigan University. An older brother Tony had played at Michigan Tech in the early 1970s.
The Bulldogs posted an 84-64 record in Salani's tenure and won a few conference titles. The 1983 and 1984 HCHS squads were unbeaten but never went to the playoffs.
"That was my biggest disappointment in sports," he said. "The kids on those teams worked their butts off and never were given the opportunity to be in the playoffs. I'm glad the state finally solved the problem (with who qualifies for the postseason) but it was too late for those teams."
Parker said that Salani possessed many skills.
"He was just a teriffic athlete who could do it all," Parker recalled. "When he was a senior, I took him out of the hurdles and placed him in the sprints so we could get more points. We also had Bill Tarbox, who was a very talented hurdler, and we didn't want them competing against each other in the same event."
Hancock became the first team to defeat perennial powerhouse Calumet in in the Copper Country Invitational in 1969. That ended a string of 17 straight titles by the Copper Kings in the event and came by less than two points.
Chris Salani, the current athletic director at Finlandia University, was the starting punter at MSU between 1992 and 1996.
"There was never much doubt about where I would be attending college," Chris said. "We pretty much bleed Green and White in our family."
Combining with Tarbox, Miller and former Hancock players Pete Wickley, Jim Parker and Butch Ojala, Salani was a key part of WMPL Radio teams that captured several independent U.P. titles in the 1970s.
Salani has always credited his wife, Maija, for providing support.
"She was always there when I was coaching, and I think she enjoyed going to the games when the boys were playing even more than I did," he noted. "A true football wife."