Gielczyk: Crocker Excited for Future at Benzie Central
It’s been a long time since Mesick had a successful football program. Not since 1998-99 have the Bulldogs put together back-to-back years when they’ve won at least four games, and they were 9-10 combined in the last two, including 5-5 and an eight-player playoff berth in 2017.
The Bulldogs are looking to keep trending upward as they begin their third year of eight-player football. But, they’ll be moving forward with a new coach at the helm as Josh Crocker stepped away from football altogether to become the Benzie Central boys basketball coach.
So, instead of preparing the Bulldogs for Thursday night’s season opener against Mio, Crocker is going over his notes and film from the Huskies’ summer scrimmages.
From the gridiron to the hardwood, it’s a totally new and unfamiliar transition for Crocker, who has never been a varsity head coach in basketball. He did coach the Traverse City West freshman team the last two years, so he does have a grasp of the game.
Crocker, who will teach social studies at Benzie, also was the varsity baseball coach at Mesick, and gave up that post as well when he was hired at Benzie Central.
“It’s a bigger school, it’s a bigger school district,” Crocker said of Benzie Central. “A little bit more opportunity for me professionally to do some of the things I want to do within education, beyond a classroom teacher at some point.
“So that was appealing and intriguing, and then the basketball thing was connected to it. So, I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring and see what happened. It ended up working out.”
Crocker sees it as an exciting challenge. One of the big things that was stressed to Crocker during the interview process was the idea of building a program.
That appealed to Crocker, for a lot of reasons.
“Just the idea of having that continuity throughout your program at all levels,” he said, “the organizational challenges along with that, presented themselves as something I was really interested in.
“It seemed like a great professional and personal challenge for me, and it, to me, felt like something I had done before having come on at Mesick and sort of stabilizing those programs with all the other great coaches that I’ve been lucky enough to work with and build a staff with.”
Crocker and his staff helped the Bulldogs make the playoffs for only the second time in school history in 2017. The only other time Mesick qualified for the post-season was 1995.
Having grown up in Suttons Bay and played against the Huskies as an athlete when the Norsemen were part of the Northwest Conference, so he’s familiar with them in that regard.
Mesick was still a member of the Northwest when he was first hired by the school, so he had the opportunity to coach against the Huskies in both football and baseball.
In his first year as the TC West freshman coach, the Titans made the short bus ride to Benzonia and played the Huskies’ freshman team. So, he’s had some interactions with Benzie Central’s athletic teams going back a number of years.
Benzie Central is the biggest school in the NWC in terms of enrollment, about double that of Mesick, which also intrigued Crocker.
“The idea that you have more athletes from which to choose, and perhaps some athletes that are a little bit more inclined to focus on one sport over certain others,” Crocker added.
“Instead of having to compete for the same kids, having kids that might have a little bit more of a two-sport mentality rather than a three-sport mentality where you can really develop players in the off-season.”
As far as what Husky fans might see on the court this season, Crocker says it’s going to more than likely be a combination of the things he’d like to run, and the things the players know how to run. At least, initially.
He doesn’t want to come in and completely tip over the apple cart, and ask the Huskies to do things that they might not have ever done before to where it puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
“It will be kind of a ‘wait and see’ with some of the things,” Crocker said. “Obviously, I do have a few things of my own that I want to put in and be able to run.
“First, I guess, we’re going to have to identify what our team strengths are, and really to try to rely on those and get to know each other, and while we start to put these other elements in.”
Crocker is just excited at the opportunity to coach in the Northwest Conference against the likes of Frankfort, which reached the state finals last year, and Buckley, which did it two years in a row just a couple years ago.
The talent level is deep. But if Crocker and his staff can just get everybody organized and on the same page, and moving in the same direction, he believes the Huskies can do fairly well.
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.