Manistique Emeralds football team looking to get in the win column again in a new conference
(* West PAC “B” Division game)
Friday, Aug. 24 — * ISHPEMING, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 30 — * at Gwinn, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 7 — * WEST IRON COUNTY, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 14 — at Negaunee, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 21 — WESTWOOD, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 27 — * at Munising, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 5 — * BARK RIVER-HARRIS, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 12 — * at Norway, 7 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 19 — * LAKE LINDEN-HUBBELL, 7 p.m.
MANISTIQUE — After finishing 0-9 the past two seasons, the Manistique Emeralds football team hopes to start turning their fortunes around this year.
The Emeralds, with 18 players on their roster, open at home against Ishpeming at 7 o’clock tonight.
“We’re pretty young,” coach Todd Kangas said. “We had 15 players on varsity last year and played a game with 12 one time last year.
“We have four seniors and 14 underclassmen. We’re better off in terms of underclassmen. Our numbers should improve over the next few years.”
Gone through graduation is Kyle Seeley, an All-Upper Peninsula Dream Team selection at defensive tackle.
The opener will be the debut for both teams in the “B” Division of the West PAC. Each had played in the Mid-Peninsula Conference since 1976. Last fall, however, the M-PC merged with the West PAC to form a 16-team, two-division setup.
“It (M-PC) went fast and it was gone,” Kangas said. “I was very surprised to see how quickly it folded. I don’t know the politics behind it, but some of the members decided to go with it and others had to follow suit.”
The Emeralds enter the season with just four seniors. They include Matt Wood, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound center, Cameron Whiskin (5-10, 130 receiver) and offensive linemen Mason Santi (5-10, 240) and Levi Lakosky (6-foot, 230).
“Matt is a good football player,” Kangas said. “He’s a hard hitter and a good one to build around. Cameron has good hands and runs good routes.”
Vying for the starting quarterback spot are 5-10, 160-pound junior Jerry Jack and 6-foot, 150-pound sophomore Wyatt Gierke.
“Both have ability to run and I think they will give us more balance throwing the ball,” Kangas said.
“Our goal is to complete 50 percent or more of our passes and be able to run with the ball. Either kid can also play at split end. It’s always good to have a backup.”
The offensive backfield features three junior running backs, Schyler Andersen (6-2, 200), Christian Aldrich (5-8, 145) and Tony Williams (5-10, 155).
“I think we have a little bit of depth,” the coach said. “We just have to find a way to get things done up front. We have some size. Only, we have to work on being a little quicker.”
Kangas believes the Emeralds have a solid linebacking corps, led inside by 6-foot, 175-pound junior Caleb Hubble, Andersen and Wood; and 6-foot, 150-pound sophomore Lucas Gould on the outside.
“I think our linebacking corps is our most solid group,” he said. “We have a pretty solid inside linebacking group, but we’re not as big or experienced on the edge.”
In the secondary, the Emeralds are represented by Williams, Aldrich, Whiskin, Gierke and Jack.
“We should have a pretty solid rotation in our secondary, but our overall depth is a concern,” Kangas said. “We’ve already had a couple injuries.”
Kangas is also well aware of the challenges in store for the Emeralds.
“We have a little different schedule with the transition into the West PAC,” he said. “The first half of our schedule is pretty brutal.
“We’re going to improve in the skilled positions, but it’s going to be a learning process. The kids have to keep understanding if we work hard, the schedule will become a little more favorable.
“I think Westwood is the favorite coming out of the M-PC. Calumet is always strong and Hancock is much improved. I heard Bark River-Harris has good numbers. Norway is always pretty good and West Iron County has a strong program.”
Gone from Manistique’s schedule are longtime rivals Newberry and Gladstone.
“It’s kind of a double-edge sword with us being on the east end of the conference,” Kangas said. “The other option was to go downstate (into the Northern Michigan Football League) which also would have created some challenges with travel distance.”
West PAC teams play seven games that count in the conference standings from within their division, along with two crossover games between “A” and “B” division teams to fill in the nine-game schedule.
Manistique’s crossovers come at midseason, at Negaunee on Sept. 14 and at home vs. Westwood on Sept. 21.
“Being in a closed conference is good because you’re assured nine games, but we lost Newberry, which is a big loss for us and our community. Newberry is pretty isolated, too. That was always a big game through the years.
“I don’t know what happened with Gladstone. I don’t know why they didn’t let them in.”
One change in the schedule was announced Thursday by Emeralds athletic director Rob Ryan — their game at Munising has been moved to Thursday, Sept. 27, with an approximate start time of 7 p.m. as it will follow the JV game at 4:30 p.m.