Defensive mainstays: Majority of Upper Peninsula football’s top prizes among region’s players go to defenders | News, Sports, Jobs


In the opening game of scrimmage, Negaunee’s Drake Spickerman over Ishpeming quarterback Hunter Smith sacks as Miners’ Easton Palomaki rushes the play during their high school football game performed at Ishpeming Playgrounds on September 2. (Photo courtesy of Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE – You can tell defense isn’t a football concept that’s going out of style among high school football teams around the area.

Not after the way Dream Team and First Team honors were doled out in the All-Upper Peninsula by voting for 11-man football at the UP Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association annual meeting held Wednesday at the Northern Michigan University.

Of the 14 winners of the first two tiers of the awards, six Dream Team awards and three First Team awards went to players from Marquette, Schoolcraft and Baraga counties.

Two more came in special teams – both for return specialists – leaving just three more in attack.

Admittedly, many of these defensive players are actually two-way starters and might as well have earned rewards on offense instead.

Marquette’s Pete Closner, No. 1 right, rushes Escanaba quarterback Casey Bray, center back and partially hidden, as the QB throws a pass late in the first half of a game of high school football at William R. Hart Stadium in Marquette on Sept. 29. 30. (Photo courtesy of Daryl T. Jarvinen)

It seemed like some other UP players were showing some really showy stats, not only as stars, but pretty much the only offensive players generating those stats on their teams.

The defending Dream Team is led by three players from the only UP team left to play this season – Negaunee, who will contest the 11-man Division 6 championship at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Ford Field in Detroit against Grand Rapids West Catholic.

All six winners on defense are seniors, including Philip Nelson of the Miners at fullback, Jed Anderson at tackle and Easton Palomaki at linebacker.

Nelson, who also plays wide receiver on offense, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds and was an All-West PAC defensive back for the past two seasons, unanimous in 2021, and was also an All-West defensive back. -UP Dream Team in ’21 too.

Anderson, 5-11, 225, was a unanimous pick as a first-team All-West PAC defensive lineman this fall as a two-year starter on defense.

“He’s a solid indoor player for us” Miners head coach Paul Jacobson said in his nomination.

Palomaki, who plays outside of LB, is 6-foot, 175 pounds and finished second in All-UP Defensive Player of the Year voting to fellow Marquette linebacker Pete Closner.

Palomaki was cited by Jacobson as Defensive Player of the Year in the West PAC Copper Division with 11 quarterback sacks, two fumble recoveries and four interceptions in two NHS playoff games.

He actually broke his wrist in the fifth week of the season and has been in a cast ever since, his coach said, limiting his ability to be a running back but not his defensive prowess.

Closner, who garnered the most votes for Dream Team linebacker in All-UP voting before winning the vote for Defensive Player of the Year, is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound outside linebacker and on offense , a tight end.

He also won Defensive Player of the Year in Great Northern Conference voting this fall.

“Pete is an outstanding leader, and he’s long and athletically gifted,” his head coach, Eric Mason, said.

“He works hard on and off the pitch. He just started a serious bodybuilding program last year, so he hasn’t tapped into his potential yet.

“I am convinced that he will be a player at the next level.”

Westwood senior Max Wiljanen was also named as the Dream Team defense on the line.

The 5-foot-8, 205-pound senior was named to the PAC West First Team Copper Division on defensive and offensive lines.

“He’s our best blocker and he’s been asked to move around and do a lot of different things on our team,” Patriots first-year head coach Jacob Wolf said, alluding to injuries the team suffered during the season.

The sixth area player named to the Dream Team defense was Manistique senior Ross Pugh at the end.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Pugh also earned first-team status in the West PAC iron division.

Negaunee’s Nelson was actually a two-time Dream Teamer after also earning that special teams return specialist status.

He was also nominated as a kicker for the Dream Team, but was considered by far the best especially as a return man.

Nelson was cited for his three punt returns for touchdowns as well as two kickoff returns brought back “at home,” which includes a punt he lined up on a rebound for a TD in the Miners’ first playoff game against Houghton.

He also had 23 touchbacks as a kickoff man and was named West PAC Copper Division Special Teams Player of the Year this season and last, while earning similar All-UP honors. as second and junior.

On offense, Negaunee added two more and Marquette one more feather to each of their Dream Team caps.

The eldest of the minors, Nico Lukkarinen, won the running back award with screaming numbers. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound player was also named West PAC Copper Division Offensive Player of the Year.

He’s averaging about 100 yards per game, although in nine of Negaunee’s first 11 games the second half was played entirely or mostly with the clock ticking and Lukkarinen was kept on the bench during those fourths. quarters.

He averaged 9.2 yards per carry while racking up more than 1,000 yards as a fullback, scoring 18 touchdowns and six 2-point conversions.

Another Negaunee senior, 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Drake Spickerman not only made the Dream Team as a guard, but was also a finalist in the voting for All-UP Lineman of the Year.

Spickerman was also West PAC’s Copper Division Lineman of the Year and was cited by Jacobson as an outstanding two-way lineman as he started on both sides of the ball in both recent seasons.

“He’s the best all-around lineman I’ve coached in years” his trainer said.

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

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

Finally, the only non-senior on the Dream Team among players in the region was Marquette’s Dasan Smith at tackle. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound junior has not only literally, but figuratively, anchored the Redmen’s offensive line.

“He has the potential to be one of the best linemen we’ve had at Marquette in quite some time,” said Mason. “He combines size, strength and tenacity. Dasan plays whistle and has a great engine.

“As good a football player as he is, he is an even better young man.

“I expect great things from Dasan next year.”

Ishpeming secured two seniors to first-team status.

Preston Gauthier won this award as a special teams return specialist.

Gauthier, who weighs 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, has also played on offense and defense.

In special teams, he only had two “real returns”, according to IHS coach Cody Kugler, but had 153 yards on them with a TD.

“He leads in practice by example and he does what is asked with 100% effort”, Kugler said.

He also carried the ball over 1,000 yards as a running back and had 65 tackles as a linebacker.

“He got the explosive runs when we needed them, but he also got us the tough yards when we needed them,” Kugler spoke about Gauthier’s offense.

The other Ishpeming player honored in the first team was senior AJ Prosser, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, at defensive tackle.

Due to injuries, he played in seven of the Hematites’ 10 games and had 21 tackles and two QB sacks in the regular season.

“He is very athletic as a defensive lineman” Kugler said. “He kept our containment and was a vital part of our defensive line.”

Negaunee’s Eli VanBuren made the first team as a defensive linebacker. The 6-foot, 225-pound senior had 128 tackles and two QB sacks this fall, totaling 278 tackles in 22 games over the past two seasons.

He was the West PAC Copper Division first team inside LB for the past two seasons, also won a first team All-UP award at that position last year.

And Javon Shelifoe of L’Anse was honored on the first team as a defensive tackle.

The 5-foot-11, 235-pound senior also won the West PAC Copper Division first team on the defensive line.

Information compiled by Journal Sports editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is [email protected]

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