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Michaelson a dynamic threat

Copper Country Legends

October 23, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

L'ANSE - He carried the colorful nickname of "Dynamo Don," and L'Anse High running back Don Michaelson certainly lived up to the name.

Playing for the Purple Hornets between 1967 and 1970, Michaelson set what was then an Upper Peninsula rushing record with 4,945 yards.

But on an October night in his senior season, he accomplished something few other U.P. gridders have ever approached.

Touching the football just seven times in a lopsided win over Baraga, the speedy Michaelson scored six touchdowns.

"It was something I had never seen before - or since - former LHS football coach and athletic director Jim Mattson said. "It was just one of those things you know you were seeing for the first time."

Michaelson tallied his scores in the game on two runs, a pass reception, an interception, a punt return and kickoff return.

Single-game heroics aside, Michaelson played a key role in the Hornets posting a 7-0-1 record in 1970 and winning the coveted Barber Trophy, symbolic of large school (Class A-B) supremacy in the U.P.

It marked the only time a Class C school has ever won the trophy, which was initiated in 1949.

Michaelson was outstanding his entire senior season, rushing for more than 1,500 yards and scoring a Copper Country record 139 points. He totaled 22 TDs and kicked four PATs and a field goal. That was more than enough to gain him All-U.P. and All-State laurels.

"He (Michaelson) had one of the finest seasons I have ever seen," then-LHS coach Jerry Bugni said. "He was a strong kid, but what set him apart was his great speed. Once he got into the open field, it was all over but the shouting."

As a sophomore, Michaelson and his teammates had to play their home games on a field near Pequaming. The playing surface at Meadowbrook Field was completely washed out by a mid-July rainstorm that caused a large amount of damage in the Village of L'Anse.

Michaelson said the Pequaming site was on the rough side but not really too bad.

"They didn't have much time to work on it and there were plenty of rocks," he commented. "It was just an empty field to begin with. We put up wooden goalposts and there was kind of a historic feel there."

During his era, the Copper Country Conference had plenty of other standout players. Hancock's Richard Salani was gaining All-State honors at quarterback and Calumet's Mike Usitalo was a stellar running back and All-U.P. linebacker.

"It was a very tough conference." Bugni recalled. "Hancock and Calumet had very good teams. And Ontonagon was no slouch, either. But we had some good athletes and we were right there with them."

His exploits on the football field would likely been enough to earn him lasting fame. But Michaelson was also an outstanding track performer and a starter on the Hornets' basketball team for three years.

In track, he set several school records in the dashes and hurdles but probably could have excelled in any event.

Mattson recalled placing him in the 800-yard run at one meet in Marquette.

"Before the race, he asked me how he should run the 800," Mattson recalled. "I told him to just run it like a dash to try to slow him down. He went out and did just that and was so tired he was lucky to finish. But he won the race."

On the basketball floor, he used his quickness to become a defensive stopper and a finisher on the fast break.

After high school, he attended Mesabi (Minn.) Junior College and enjoyed two fine seasons there.

Becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher in the school's history, Michaelson led Mesabi to great success.

"Don Michaelson ... was by far ... the finest back we ever had here," MJC skipper Pepper Lysaker said. "He had that kind of explosive kind of speed that made him tough to catch."

Michaelson finished his collegiate career at Division I Eastern Michigan University. While he was an occasional starter in the backfield, his biggest contributions came returning kickoffs and punts for the Hurons.

"We had some really good talent at Eastern," he recalled. "John Banaszak went on to play behind Joe Greene at Pittsburgh and a couple of others had NFL tryouts."

Brady Schaefer of Houghton later broke Michaelson's rushing record by a few yards. And Ontonagon's Jim Gilmer eclipsed Schaefer's mark in the early 1990s.

Living in Baraga, Michaelson is following his 7-year-old daughter's early athletic career.

"It's been a lot fun doing that, and I think she's going to be a pretty good athlete," he said.



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