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Back on the gridiron: Negaunee prepares for visit to Grayling for regional championship game

Negaunee's WIll Luke, left, knocks a pass away from Manistique receiver Austin Hinkson during their high school football game played at the Miners' field on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)
Negaunee's Lukas Nelson finds room to run in the first quarter against L'Anse in their high school football game played at the Miners' field in Negaunee on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

NEGAUNEE — After playing the waiting game for weeks, the Negaunee football team is finally hitting the field again.

Almost two months after the Miners defeated Calumet on the road in the MHSAA Division 6 playoffs, they’ll head downstate to take on Grayling Saturday afternoon trying to continue what has been a wild season for high school athletics in Michigan.

“If you think about it, it’s been a crazy ride since Aug. 10,” Negaunee head coach Paul Jacobson said Wednesday. “We were on for four days, we were off for three weeks, we were on for five weeks, off for two, off for seven, on for two days.

“It’s been a crazy roller coaster, but you know these guys have been positive through this. We’ve had some great leadership through this and we’re just excited to have the opportunity to play.”

Jacobson said the most difficult part about the lengthy layoff is trying to get the team back on its feet and ready to play at a high level.

“Honestly, the biggest thing is getting them back into football shape,” he said. “Seven weeks off, I don’t care what you’re in shape for, taking a break for seven weeks has a tendency to — you lose some of that. So we’ve had to really focus on getting their mindset and their bodies back into contact, getting it back into football shape so they can have success.”

After getting the Miners back in shape, Jacobson said that now the focus is preparing for games and what they’ll face this weekend.

“We’ve probably focused more on individual stuff, on getting them in shape last week, this week, early on and throwing in game-plan stuff in the process,” he said. “And as we’ve evolved this last couple weeks, we’ve started to switch more toward game plan, game day things that we’re gonna see and how we’re gonna adjust.”

Negaunee will have to make a few adjustments as Grayling offers a challenge different from what the Miners are used to in the Upper Peninsula.

Some coaches may wish that they were playing against an easier opponent, but Jacobson is just happy his team has a chance to compete at all.

“Grayling’s got some good skill kids,” Jacobson said. “They’re a little bit different offense than we’ve seen up here. They run a little bit of what Gladstone runs. They want to kind of spread you out throughout the field and run the ball.

“But they have some good athletes. They have a good tailback that was all-state, they have some good skill kids on the edge and a quarterback that can move pretty well. So obviously, with every game, especially this far into the playoffs, you’re gonna see good teams.

“You’re one of eight teams right now in the state of Michigan playing for a state championship. So it’s not gonna be easy.

“You have to beat good to be good and we’re fortunate to be one of those eight teams and we’re just trying to do the best we can right now to prepare ourselves to win a football game.”

Jacobson is also aware that his team is fortunate because it can continue its season whereas other Miners teams weren’t able to finish, or in some cases, even start their seasons.

“I look back and I reminded the guys today, you look at our basketball team last year and basketball teams around the state that didn’t get to finish,” he said. “There was no closure. You look at the spring sports that didn’t have an opportunity to play at all.

“So in that regard, we’re fortunate also and we have to make the most of this opportunity and however long it lasts, it lasts, and to be grateful for the opportunity that we have.”

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

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