Marquette’s Pete Closner voted All-Upper Peninsula Defensive Player of the Year in 11-player football

Negaunee's Easton Palomaki, right, sacks Calumet quarterback Paul Sturos for a loss late in the fourth quarter of their high school game played in Negaunee on Sept. 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — Negaunee might’ve done better in All-Upper Peninsula player of the year voting if the Miners didn’t have so darned many good players.

That seemed to be the murmur going around a meeting room at Northern Michigan University on Wednesday when voting was conducted for high school football awards by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

Twenty members of the media, both from places as close as Marquette and areas ranging wide from Ironwood to Sault Ste. Marie, gathered for the yearly hashing-out process.

A pair of Miners were up for top player of the year awards in 11-player, but each ultimately finished second in the voting.

Instead, it was a Marquette Senior High School player who won the area’s single POTY award for Defensive Player of the Year — Pete Closner.

Negaunee's Easton Palomaki makes a one-handed catch for his second interception in a game against Westwood that was played in Marquette on Oct. 20. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior outside linebacker — he also played tight end on offense — made 105 tackles and registered nine quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries.

That statistic that wowed people the most, though, was his three blocked punts, even though those are probably considered special teams plays.

Closner also won Defensive Player of the Year in the Great Northern Conference.

“Pete is an exceptional leader, and he is long and gifted athletically,” his head coach, Eric Mason, said in the nomination for All-U.P. status.

“He works hard both on and off the field. He just began a serious weight training program last year, so he hasn’t yet scratched his potential.

“I’m confident he’ll be a player at the next level.”

The pair of Miners’ runners-up were seniors Easton Palomaki for Defensive Player of the Year and Drake Spickerman as Lineman of the Year.

Some people were heard to say the various Miners probably took statistics from each other as they were all so good.

Of course, it didn’t help their chances that there were some wildly talented and successful players who won those awards — Closner and Sault Ste. Marie’s John Burke.

Palomaki, a 6-foot, 175-pound outside linebacker, also shouldered a good share of the Miners’ running game on offense until he broke his wrist in the fifth week of the season.

Yet he carried on as an elite defender as Negaunee still has one more game to go — the Division 6 state championship game on Friday afternoon at Ford Field in Detroit.

“He’s been in a cast ever since,” NHS head coach Paul Jacobson said of the Week 5 injury in Palomaki’s nomination.

The veteran head coach of more than 20 years at Negaunee noted that Palomaki was this year’s Defensive Player of the Year in the West PAC Copper Division, the larger schools’ division of that league.

He made 11 QB sacks and accounted for six turnovers himself — two fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

Palomaki was also a unanimous choice at outside linebacker in the Copper Division after he was honorable mention at the position in ’21.

And he was All-U.P. First Team in ’21 at running back, getting the West PAC First Team honor at the offensive position both this year and last.

Spickerman, a 5-10, 215-pound defensive end and offensive guard, is not surprisingly called an “outstanding two-way lineman” by his coach and was also named Lineman of the Year in the West PAC Copper Division.

Defensively, where the stats are kept for linemen, he had nine QB sacks and 12 tackles for loss this fall while amassing 72 tackles in all.

“He’s the best all-around lineman that I have coached in years,” Jacobson said of Spickerman, who was a two-way starter on the lines for the second straight year.

“He has a tremendous work ethic and he was voted team captain by his peers (teammates).

“And he was the highest-graded lineman on both sides of the ball this season.”

While Closner earned the majority of votes in a three-way race for top defensive player — Austin Solis of Gladstone was also nominated — Burke won a two-way vote, 13-7, against Spickerman.

Burke was cited as an all-conference selection in the Legends Division of the Northern Michigan Football Conference that included Traverse City St. Francis, Kingsley, Cheboygan, Grayling, Benzie Central and West Branch Ogemaw Heights.

The top vote-getter in All-U.P. Dream Team voting at offensive tackle, Burke has started for the past three years and has signed a letter of intent to play football at Central Michigan University.

He was cited a “tough run blocker” and “just a man-child” at 6-3 and 295 pounds by his nominators.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today