Double trouble: Ojala brothers stay close to home as both pick Michigan Tech
CALUMET — For parents who have children that play high school sports, getting to see those youngsters have the opportunity to continue to play the sport they love while also getting a good education is one of the most special experiences they can ask for.
Calumet Copper Kings boys basketball coach Mike Ojala has a set of twin boys, Matthew and Travis, who are both going to have that opportunity.
Oh, and they will be doing it at the same school.
“It is certainly unique,” said Mike. “I don’t think they are the first brothers to have those opportunities, I am sure. The fact that they are twins, and really fulfilling both of their goals to have a chance to compete at the Division II level, that’s great. I am proud of them.”
Both of the twins played varsity football in the Fall, basketball in the Winter, and ran track in the Spring. Mike made sure that they were both fully committed to playing sports throughout the school year, along with keeping their grades up in the classroom.
“I stressed to them a long time ago, when they started their high school careers, and prior to that, just how important it was to be athletes, and compete as three-sport athletes in high school,” Mike said.
Matt, who was recently named to All-U.P. Dream Team for basketball, signed with the Huskies basketball team, a group that finished 11-16 this season, with wins over Gannon, Ferris State, and GLIAC Tournament champion Grand Valley State.
The 6-foot-1 guard finished his senior season as a four-year starter for the Copper Kings. Along the way, he set a new school record for career points with 1,378. He averaged 19.3 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 2.2 steals.
As impressive as those numbers were, his father felt the key scoring numbers could have been higher if Matt had been more selfish with the ball. However, that is not the way that Matt plays the game.
“I think the No. 1 thing for him is that a long time ago, he set goals for himself and he set them high,” said Mike. “I think that the work ethic and the self-motivation that he has shown over the years has been unique.
“He went through some ups and downs and some frustrations, but he stayed focused and showed that tremendous work ethic and it really paid off for him.”
The other thing the numbers bear out is that Matt grew, over the course of his four years on the varsity team, to be the focal point of the offense. Nearly everything the Copper Kings did offensively flowed through the talented backcourt player.
“Being a point guard and having the responsibility of running the team’s offense, and getting the ball to the right people, there is a lot that goes along with that,” Mike said. “We basically, the last two years, just turned it over to him and gave him time and space on the floor to make decisions. Each time down (the floor), we ran very few set plays and just allowed Matt to create and use his ability.
“I think he understood the importance of not only scoring…with his ability, but making sure the other kids on the team stayed engaged. When kids got hot, he continued to feed them.”
Along with Travis, Matt and the Copper Kings ran into a buzzsaw in the playoffs in the form of the then-undefeated Iron Mountain Mountaineers.
Matt was also solid during the football season, making 26 catches for 429 years and seven touchdowns. He made six of those catches in the playoffs against Westwood.
Football is where Travis shone through in a big way. As a senior and a captain, Travis was, as coach John Croze put it, “(the) best two-way player in the U.P.”
He racked up 994 yards on 145 rushes. He also had 17 touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, he had five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Travis was also solid, picking up 75 tackles, including seven for loss. He also had five interceptions, one recovered fumble and 10 tackles and the game-clinching interception against Westwood in the playoffs.
“He has certainly done a lot for our football program over the years,” said Mike. “He’s earned that opportunity now to go play at Tech.
“Last year, both sides of the ball, he was a heck of a player. A lot of that was just his effort and toughness and the way he competes.”
Neither of the twins were particularly big when they were first brought up to the varsity programs, and their father feels that that motivated both of them to earn their playing time by putting the effort in, both on the field and in the weight room. He is especially proud of how hard Travis has worked.
“Looking back at Matt as a freshman, and the size he was, when I brought him up to the varsity, and Travis wasn’t a whole lot bigger, we were able to bring him up, as a sophomore, on our football team about halfway through the season,” Mike said. “He (Travis) had a pretty nice roll for us on a team that went to the state quarterfinals.
“He was an undersized kid then. He played with heart. Once he physically started catching up, and really, really committed to that weight room, his football career took off as a junior.”
Mike feels that both of his sons have worked very hard to get to where they want to go and feels that it was that consistent effort that earned them their opportunities.
“They understand the importance of being athletes, and getting out and competing in all three seasons,” said Mike. “I really think that helped those guys when it came down to their main, or featured, sports.”