Peterson: Football changing rapidly in UP

If there was any doubt the landscape for Upper Peninsula high school football has drastically changed, look back 25 or 30 years ago.

Back in the late 1980s, the were several more 11-man teams than there are today. And no 8-man football teams.

Consider the situation in Gogebic County today as compared to 1990.

You had three teams playing back then, Class B Ironwood, Class C Bessemer and Class D Wakefield.

Today, those three schools have had to combine forces to make up the Gogebic Miners.

In the Copper Country area, there were several more schools playing 11-man ball three decades.

Baraga, which now co-ops with L’Anse, created a situation I never thought I would see. That of two bitter rivals joining together.

The Vikings put out powerhouse teams and were in the state Class DD finals back in 2005 under coach Jeff Markham.

Ditto for Ontonagon High, which under late coach Bob Carlson, produced winners for three decades. OAHS was in the Class C state finals in 1989.

Now, OAHS had to join Ewen-Trout Creek to form an 8-man team this past season.

Speaking of Ewen-TC, the Panthers were also respectable in Class D for a number of seasons.

Now, it’s entirely possible that perennial small school powerhouse Lake Linden-Hubbell, won’t have an 11-man team next season.

The Lakes were the smallest school in the state to sponsor 11-man football in 2019. And they had an impressive run this year before falling to Ishpeming last weekend in the regionals.

LL-Hubbell coach Andy Crouch had to go half the season with star quarterback Carter Crouch playing part-time because of a torn ACL. That in itself, was an incredible feat.

Most of this year’s LL team will graduate, including the skill position people.

Will the Lakes field a team, even an 8-man squad, next season? That remains to be seen, although I’ve been around long enough to know that you can never underestimate Lakes football.

As far as the rest of our local teams, Calumet, Hancock, Houghton and L’Anse, the picture appears to be solid.

Coach John Croze’s Copper Kings have shown they belong in the upper echelon of U.P. football and punctuated that last week with a convincing playoff victory over Menominee.

Calumet has reached the point where it can lose large numbers of players to graduation — and still dominate the next year.

Hancock, which uses a co-op program with three other local schools, appears to be capable of fielding competitive teams.

Houghton is in a less secure position. The Gremlins have struggled in recent years, largely because of the lack of a stable coaching situation.

L’Anse might be the second most stable program in the area. Coach Mark Leaf has benefitted from the co-op with Baraga to a degree.

But the Hornets had 26 players on the varsity roster this past season … and another 28 on the JV team. That’s stability.

I won’t even comment on the 8-man situation around the rest of the U.P.

Let’s just say more than a few teams have gone down to 8-man — even though they had enough kids to stay at the upper level.

But that’s fodder for an entirely different column.


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