Gielczyk: Young Manistee Squad Looks to Repeat 2018 Success
Just about the entire starting lineup returned last year for the Manistee High School football team, but the Chippewas were coming off a 2-7 season that left everyone with a sour taste in their mouths after seeing a string of five straight winning seasons broken.
The Chippewas brought back 21 of 22 from the 2017 squad, but there was no guarantee that a year’s experience and an off-season of weight training would translate into winning football games on the field.
One thing it did was allow the coaching staff to start diving deeper into the playbook a lot sooner than it had the year before, and that in turn reaped huge dividends when the season started.
A bigger and stronger offensive line opened huge holes for running backs like Bryson Jensen and quarterback Trevor Johns to produce some big time numbers.
While the year before the Chippewas struggled to hold leads late in games, last year they got off to a quick start and never looked back in posting a historic 9-0 season.
Only once before had a Chippewas football team gone undefeated, but no team had ever won nine games in a season. It landed Manistee a home playoff game, which ended in a loss to Clare.
Although the Chippewas don’t return nearly the experience they did last year, there are a few starters coming back, like Blake Mikula who had a special season as well with about 10 touchdowns and a little over 600 yards total.
Fletcher Carpenter also started for the Chippewas at wide receiver, while Brady Mikula started both ways a year ago and head coach Troy Bytwork believes he has the potential to have a great junior year.
“We return some important starters on the line as well, and a couple guys at receiver,” Bytwork said.
Johns leaves in about a month for Michigan Tech and Jensen is turning in his football cleats for a wrestling singlet to wrestle for Midland University after ending his prep career with 152 wins.
The Chippewas need to find a new quarterback to run the offense. Right now, Bytwork says the leading candidate appears to be Keelan Eskridge who he says has had a pretty meaningful off-season as far as putting on weight.
“He’s going to be much bigger than Trevor,” Bytwork added. “He’s almost 200 pounds. Keelan moves well. He’s going to open up the passing game probably a little more than the last couple years.
“We’ll be breaking in a new running back. Logan Buren is going to be a tough kid to replace on both sides of the ball. But, we have a senior in Keegan Bonzheim who’ll work to take that spot at slot.
“So, there are a lot of parts to replace. But, we’ve had a pretty fruitful off-season with regard to the work the guys have put in.”
Bytwork will learn more in the next few weeks before practice officially starts Aug. 12, with 7-on-7 scrimmages at Cadillac and at home with Benzie Central.
One thing the Chippewas like to do is push tempo, especially in the fourth quarter of games, so the conditioning they do now is critical and lifting and conditioning continues.
The Chippewas want to make themselves a perennial power, but the players know they have a long way to go to accomplish that.
“But, that’s the type of pressure you want,” Bytwork said. “If you don’t have teams gunning for you, you’re probably not winning a whole lot of games. I’m sure teams want to get at us, and that’s a good thing.”
Manistee knocked off traditional rival Ludington, and recorded its first win over Muskegon Catholic Central en route to winning the Lakes 8 Activities Conference title.
Repeating this year will be difficult since this Manistee football team doesn’t have a whole lot of varsity starts under its belt compared to last year.
A strong start will help the Chippewas gain some confidence.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.