Rebuilding for success

Hematites look to make playoffs after a rare miss in 2016

​The members of the 2017 Ishpeming Hematites varsity high school football team include, front row from left, players Drew Collister, Andrew Walsh, Wyatt Bodette, Cooper Harris, Aaron Corkin, Matthew Traver, Gavin Sundberg, Hunter Smith, Drake Sundberg, Braden Arsenault and Owen Morton. Top row from left, assistant coaches Kevin Ellis, Mike Walker and Tom LaFave; players Hunter Josephson, Bailey Cadeau, Donald Denofre, Zack Jandreau, Jeffrey Bess, Eric Heidelberger, Ty Kauppinen, Jake Kugler and Devon Nyman; head coach Jeff Olson; and assistant coach Tony Marietti. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

ISHPEMING — After making it to the MHSAA Division 7 state championship four years in a row and winning it three times, most recently in 2015, some people thought the playoffs were a lock once again for the Ishpeming Hematites in 2016.

Instead, Ishpeming was hammered with injuries all year and ended up missing the postseason for the first time in years, which was arguably the biggest surprise to come out of the Mid-Peninsula Conference last season.

However, even though the Hematites missed the playoffs, head coach Jeff Olson saw some positives in how the year went.

“A lot of things didn’t go our way last year, but I thought we were competitive,” he said. “We were clearly hit with the injury bug, but I love the effort out of our kids and their attitudes. When you look at that, the season was OK.”

During their championship runs to Detroit, Ishpeming knew what its quarterback situation was with players like Alex Briones, Ozzy Corp and the late Daniel Olson having the role locked up.

However, last season was a question mark and it looks like that will be the case again this fall.

“We may very well have a dual quarterback situation this year,” Jeff Olson said. “Donald Denofre played there last year and we have a JV quarterback coming up in Gavin Sundberg. They both have different skills sets, so right now, the plan is to play them both. Donald is a very good runner and Gavin is smaller, but he can throw well and ad lib some things well.”

Ishpeming has also been set in the backfield the last couple of years with Olson’s son Isaac Olson being the starting running back last year. Just like this year’s quarterback situation, though, this year is going to an interesting situation and will be running back by committee.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have a main guy this year,” Olson said. “We have a lot of kids that can play the position with Donald, Gavin, Matt Trawick, Hunter Smith, Drake Sundberg and Wyatt Bodette. We have a lot of kids that can carry the ball and do some good things for us.

“We also have a number of kids who are about the same size that can play wide receiver, too, like Aaron Corkin. All of those guys are very similar, so at the beginning we’re going to play a lot of them and see who rises to the top of the pack.”

While the offensive skill positions were in question last year, the biggest concern still had to be the offensive line. Things seemed to stabilize as the season went on, and even though Ishpeming graduated Upper Peninsula Lineman of the Year winner Ashok Ravindran, who is going to Michigan Tech, Olson thinks that the Hematites could be in a decent situation.

“I think we’ll be a little bigger on the line, but we don’t have a lot of them,” he said. “We only have six, so since we start five, it doesn’t leave a lot of room. The depth will be an issue, but I’m happy with what we’re putting out on the field.”

One thing is for sure this year and that is when it comes down to the extra point after a touchdown, Ishpeming will continue to go for the two-point conversion.

“I can guarantee that after we score that we won’t be going for one,” he said with a laugh.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.