Are You Ready for some Football? I was thrilled to speak with Saint Ignace’s Coach Chris “Iffer” Marshall, as the team headed north to their familiar training and post-season playing grounds at the Superior Dome on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. Fall is my favorite season UP North, and the local high school football teams never fail to provide excitement on the field. Coach Marshall sports a unique perspective as football fanatic, star athlete in school, long-time coach/community member, and mentor to young men involved in the local sports scene. Football camp is critical to the Saint’s success. Both Junior Varsity (JV) and Varsity players work together. They build strength and teamwork, learning and practicing new plays (and old) in anticipation of this year’s Straits Area Conference contests. Let’s take a look at the grueling schedule for these amazing athletes in early August and highlight some potentials for the upcoming season.
Camp Scheduling. I asked Coach Iffer about Sunday’s time-line. The young men started off at Head Coach/ Athletic Director Marty Spencer’s house for the send-off picnic at noon. The camp is an annual tradition, recently opened up to the JV players as well as Varsity. The entire week bonds the team combining strength training and mental hurdles as they test the limits; however, there’s also good times, food, and new friendships. The family style picnic ends around 2 pm, when bags are loaded onto the buses and team vehicles. Everyone makes the long journey even FURTHER North, halfway across the peninsula to the shores of Lake Superior and the Superior Dome at Marquette, Michigan … home of the illustrious Northern Michigan Wildcats. Parents deposit a nominal sum which is refunded if their student athlete makes it through the season.
Social Issues. When I spoke to Coach Marshall, he was on the road and we had to work around the occasional disruption with erratic cellular service. Iffer sounded (as always) upbeat, focused, and excited about the upcoming season. Upon arrival, “the kids are set to unload athletic equipment at the Superior Dome and then check in at their hotel. By 6:30 pm, they (the Saints) will be (engrossed) in a team meeting and the boys enjoy a sandwich buffet tonight at the Days Inn of Marquette.” Freshman and Seniors alike, they’re all thrown together in a town far away from the comforts of home, friends, and parents. For the younger players, it can be quite intimidating and even somewhat traumatic. I knew one player who ended up being whisked away by his dad in the middle of a night. This ended up to be quite a traumatic experience FOR ME, because at one point they had his name confused with my son and I only got a partial message from my elderly mother-in-law.
Physical Challenges. This football camp is a full week’s ordeal, with three LONG days of three-a-day practices, commencing with a 5:30 am wake-up and 6-8:30 am conditioning at the Superior Dome early Monday morning! There’s breakfast and a short rest period, then back again at noon for another 3 hours. I remember one item that particular challenged my son was the stair steppers up and down the stands for what seemed like hours on end. Just like in the movie, “Remember the Titans,” there’s times when players literally practice until they puke. The first day doesn’t ever seem to end and they’re hauled back yet again in the evening. That last practice, generally speaking, runs from 5-7:30 pm, although it can easily stretch out for another half hour if the athletes aren’t giving it enough or the coaches see something they want to emphasize.
Small School Demands. Last year, the Saints Varsity combined with the JV squad, due to a shortage in players. The number of athletes dropped, some due to academic eligibility issues, a few injuries, and a few that moved into different sports. I asked Iffer to list for me some names and numbers. In 2010, “four or five sophomores will be moved up into the Varsity (team,)” which stands with around 20 players at this point. The JV team has 24 young men on their roster. Iffer pointed to Austin St Louis as the player to watch, even going so far as to indicate he’d be a notable presence, league wide. Young Caleb Litzner and Cole Christiansen are two other notables.
On the Junior Varsity squad, Brennan Danielson, Tyler Snyder, Kyle Winkelman and Zach Harrington are four players being looked at for quarterback (QB) duties. There seemed to be a bit of a disagreement between Iffer and his assistant Rick Litzner about one of the four, but it’s hard to tell if they were joking or serious. It’s much too early to know about the JV team’s prospective standouts, what with it being so early in the season.
Community Pride. This hectic pace goes on for three full days. On Thursday, the boys shoot through a long Thursday morning finale, re-load their equipment and head back home. Thursday is the first day for practice with pads on. It’s also a community service day, and the boys find themselves sweeping sidewalks, washing windows and doing chores for a variety of community businesses known for their support of Saints Football. Thursday evening’s practice begins at 5:30 pm and Friday is yet another practice morning, starting at 8 in the morning.
Endurance. I can remember my young son returning from Football Camp in Marquette just beat up and totally worn out. There’s a good deal of old boy/new boy style harassment and all the usual antics found with groups of boys and young men of that age. Our son Vincent’s biggest complaint was the lack of sleep. Many of the kids took to roaming the halls and playing pranks on one another well into the early morning hours We didn’t understand it it at that time, with the challenging physical requirements and long hours. It might seem pretty silly and annoying, but it’s pretty much the same in any camp with hyperactive young teens. The change in Vince’s physique and leadership skills was amazing. I definitely give credit to Coach Iffer and Keith Massaway for at least a good part of the transformation.
Challenges. The Saint Ignace Saints football team has enjoyed impressive results in the last several years, consistently visible in post-season play and all-star rosters. Unfortunately, their multi-faceted star QB, Gerrit Mortensen, graduated and (coincidentally) also headed off to Northern Michigan University this week. Iffer commented on Cole Christiansen, the new QB, “Big shoes to fill, huge!” But Coach Marshall was quick to point out Cole’s critical role late in the season when Mortensen was hurt and the team had to adjust in a hurry. They were quite successful, and Iffer highlighted the fact that sometimes “the boys were so enamored with watching Gerrit play,” they’d forget what they were doing. Another (relatively) unsung hero, Dan St. Onge, also graduated and is heading toward military service in the US Air Force this fall. St. Onge is a quiet, hardworking, dedicated young athlete and a cornerstone of reliability and sportsmanship. Indeed, the Saints suffered some significant graduation losses this year. Rest assured, there’s a strong nucleus of experienced players returning to the field.
Come Join us for JV and Varsity Football! Some groups lose their focus when the star quarterback moves on; other teams might achieve new successes because players learn they all have to work harder and stress more teamwork. Every indicator points to the fact that the Saint Ignace Saints are poised to march into a strong season again this year. The team’s first scrimmage is open to the public, with the Varsity playing downtown at McCann Field and the JV team over at the school’s practice field next to the High School, beginning at 3 pm on August 20th. Be sure to join us on the gridiron at the Saint’s home field, and you’ll be guaranteed an exciting Friday Night, under the lights!
Conversations quoted with JV Coach, Chris “Iffer” Marshall on August 8, 2010.
Dave Latva’s weekly column provided background on 2009 highlights. See my last link for an outstanding article on our local news coverage of this dedicated football analyst.
More from Associated Content:
Gerrit Mortensen is Northern Bound
LaSalle High School’s Nick Montie set to Attend Adrian College in Michigan
Why You Should Head North to Saint Ignace for Labor Day Weekend 2010