2013 High school football previews: Ishpeming Hematites

ISHPEMING – What do you do for an encore?

That’s the question fans of the Ishpeming High School football team might be asking nine months after their team won the MHSAA Division 7 state championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.

And the answer – forget about it, at least when it comes to this year’s edition of the Hematites.

“This is a totally different team,” said Jeff Olson, who is starting his 22nd season as IHS head coach.

“We’ve told our seniors that we’ve got to get a totally different identity this season.”

He knows, though, that may be easier said than done in a community that has long loved the success of its blue-and-white clad teams on the gridiron.

“You can’t listen to that,” Olson said about the fans’ sky-high expectations for a team that returns a number of players at key positions, such as quarterback, running back and linebacker.

“Remember, we had a lot of close games last year. That’s because (the Mid-Peninsula Conference) prepares us well for the playoffs.

“Having had the maximum number of playoff games at home, and the semifinals 20 miles away at the (Superior) Dome … well, things fell into place for us.”

Olson has compiled a 145-78 record and led 11 straight teams and 13 of the past 14 to the playoffs. That includes a Div. 7 state runner-up finish in 2010.

One blessing in disguise for the Hematites may be last year’s only blemish, a 20-8 setback at Negaunee in Week 7, even though the Miners are probably the last team any Ishpeming fan would enjoy losing to.

“I said at the time that may have been a good thing to happen to us,” Olson said, explaining that it dashed any overconfidence his squad was feeling.

With last year’s long shadow serving as a backdrop, Olson has high hopes for the ’13 Hematites.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to throw it a little bit more,” he said. “But we’re always going to be a smash-mouth team.

“It’s defense that wins championships and we’re not going to change the way we’ve been playing for the last 20 years.

“That’s what we know, so that’s what we’re going to coach.”

No underclassmen were needed to fill out a 28-man preseason roster.

Certainly not at quarterback, where senior Alex Briones (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) has led the team since the 2011 playoffs, though he missed several games in the middle of last season with a broken bone in his foot.

“He’s a very versatile player,” Olson said.

He’ll be backed up by senior Tyrus Millimaki (5-7, 150), who filled in when Briones was out last year, and junior Ozzie Hakkarinen (6-0, 195), the JV signal caller last year. Filling out a starting backfield that averages nearly 200 pounds are senior fullback Adam Prisk (5-11, 180), senior tailback Bobby Zhulkie (5-10, 195) and senior wingback Dan Brown (5-10, 200).

“Adam is a tough kid, but athletic,” Olson said. “And he doesn’t mind blocking.”

Receivers include tight ends Mitch Laurin (6-0, 208), Marcus Antilla (5-10, 165) and Nate Meyer (5-9, 162); and wideouts Millimaki, Derek DeCaire (6-0, 185) and Noah Olgren (5-8, 165). All are seniors except Antilla and Meyer.

“We’ve got a lot of guys back, and they’ll be just a little bigger and a little faster,” Olson said.

Most likely to start as blockers for them will be senior center David Simula (5-11, 175), senior guard Jake Quayle (5-11, 200), junior guard Dan Thornton (5-9, 165), senior tackle Andrew Bennett (5-11, 195) and junior tackle Alec VanHorn (6-0, 260).

Defensively, the line is anchored by VanHorn, Thornton, Bennett, junior Joseph Nault (6-3, 250) and senior Jordan Tousignant (5-7, 148), while Laurin and Prisk man end positions.

Briones and Brown should start at inside linebacker, Zhulkie and Suardini at outside LB and Olgen, Millimaki and DeCaire as backs.

Meyer, Nault, Quayle, Antilla and junior Dylan Giuchin (5-8, 155) are listed as top reserves at the latter positions. Briones will handle all punting and kicking duties, with Millimaki and Olgren the top returners.