MARQUETTE - Win or lose, memories from Friday's high school football game at Marquette Senior High School will probably last a lifetime for the visiting team.
They won't come because of any particular plays that will be made by either team during the game, and not because the Denby Tech High School team traveled 450 miles to get here.
No, it will be the experiences the team has had during the past week of staying in and traveling around the central Upper Peninsula, a place that must seem a million miles away from the hard-scrabble neighborhoods of Detroit.
Above, Detroit Denby assistant football coach Pete Karras talks to linebackers, from left, Mike Phillips, Shaun Murphy, Lenny Taylor and Eric Ellis during a practice at Marquette Senior High School on Wednesday. Below, Karras demonstrates a defensive technique to Ellis during practice. The Tars face the Redmen Friday evening to open the season. (Journal photos by Matt Keiser)
"We wanted to get our kids up here early," Denby head coach Tim Muir said.
He took over as coach of the Tars in the middle of last season, winning his first game though Denby finished just 1-8.
The school nickname has also been used as a nickname for sailors dating back to the 17th century and probably has something to do with the school's namesake, Edwin C. Denby, a former state legislator who later served as Secretary of the Navy under President Warren G. Harding in the 1920s.
"A lot of our kids have told me they've never been north of Eight Mile," Muir said in reference to the road that forms the northern city limit of Detroit and made famous in the Detroit rapper Eminem's 2002 movie of the same name.
Needless to say for anybody who's ever visited the U.P., this isn't Detroit or anything even remotely like it.
"I've come up here to deer hunt, and my brother Ron went to NMU," Muir said about Northern Michigan University.
"Denby is on the east side (of Detroit) in a very, very rough neighborhood. In fact, it's not even part of the Detroit schools anymore."
He explained that it's one of about a dozen city schools in Gov. Rick Snyder's Education Achievement System, a program starting in Detroit this fall that is meant to raise standards at the state's lowest-performing schools by reforming the way they are run.
He and some of his friends who are executives and managers in automotive industry-related companies have contributed funds to help get the football program off the ground again at Denby.
"We didn't even have a real weight room when I started," said Denby assistant coach Pete Karras, who added that equipment contributions from several better-off schools in their area have also helped Denby's program.
A Muir family friend since childhood, Karras adds star power to the Denby program as the son of Alex Karras, a Detroit Lions defensive legend in the 1960s who later went on to act in movies and television.
Denby players in the tough neighborhoods surrounding their school have some hard-luck stories. One 16-year-old player reportedly has been living on his own for the past year since his mother has gone out of the picture. He has a regular paying job just so he can keep a roof over his head.
The Tars visited Marquette Senior High School on Wednesday morning as Muir and his assistants conducted a practice of about 90 minutes on the school's practice field, later walking up to William R. Hart Stadium for a short walk-through in preparation for Friday's 7 p.m. game.
In addition to visiting several other U.P. high school football facilities, the team has practiced at the Timberdoodle Lodge, a bed and breakfast facility located on more than 1,000 acres just south of Trenary in northern Delta County.
The 19 or 20 Tars players along with their coaches have stayed there for the past week, learning about golf, fly fishing, and even that the bears aren't out to get you.
"We went out on a twilight walk the other night and the guys were afraid the bears were going to attack when it got dark," said Timberdoodle proprietor John Anderson.
"The guys looked up in the night sky the first night here and asked what that was," Muir said. "They had never seen the stars before in the city."
Along with the awe-inspiring - or for a few players terrifying - travel over the Mackinac Bridge, the team has made several day trips to places like Munising for a Pictured Rocks boat cruise and Manistique to visit the Kitchi-Ti-Ki-Pi/Big Spring.
The Marquette-Denby matchup began when Muir consulted the Michigan High School Athletic Association website in search for a Week 1 game.
He initially didn't even know about the Redmen's 2011 opening-week game hosting Mumford, another Detroit city school. Last year, Marquette won that contest 44-6 en route to a 7-3 season and its second consecutive playoff appearance and only third in the school's history.
"I was looking for the place that was the furthest from us to get away, and there was Marquette," Muir said.
It was also a good fit, with MSHS listed with 1,131 students and Denby with 1,063 last school year, according to MHSAA.
"We know they have a pretty good program with being in the playoffs the last couple of years," Muir said.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.