Trojans continued dominance in the ’80s; Flivvers emerged as powerhouse in the ’90s under Hofer
. . . 1993, Crosstown rivals reign at Pontiac
IRON MOUNTAIN — Each fall since 1949, after the high school football season in the Upper Peninsula is complete, the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters meets to select an All-UP football team. Though the format has changed over the years, the group also gives out various special awards each year.
This is the second in a series of articles highlighting area teams, players, coaches and natives recognized for their accomplishments.
The first segment covered from 1949-1979; for the majority of the era, there was no postseason. The MHSAA football playoffs started in 1975 with only 16 total teams making the playoffs, four teams per class — A, B, C and D.
This segment will highlight the years 1980-1999, with several area teams and players experiencing great success and earning much recognition. The state playoffs expanded in teams and the number of rounds on a couple of occasions during this time frame.
In 1980, Norway and head coach Bob Giannunzio picked up where they left off in ’79, winning their second consecutive Class D state championship at the Pontiac Silverdome. The Knights defeated Fowler 25-0, while being selected as the UPSSA Class D Team of the Year for the second consecutive year as well.
Staying in Class D, Brian Hilsabeck of the North Central Jets was named Back of the Year. The Jets completed the regular season 9-0 and made the playoffs for the first time in school history, traveling to Norway. The Knights prevailed 42-6 at Ronberg Field in a Round 1 matchup.
The Class ABC Lineman of the Year selection in 1980 was Todd Varda of Kingsford.
Future University of Wisconsin and Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Bob Landsee kept the Class ABC Lineman of the Year award in Dickinson County in 1981. The Mountaineers finished the regular season 9-0 and were the Class C Team of the Year.
In doing so, Iron Mountain qualified for the playoffs for the first time in school history, finishing the season at 10-1.
Forest Park’s Bill Ross was the Class D Lineman of the Year selection, on a 10-2 Trojans team that made it to the Silverdome once again. Detroit Deporres defeated the Trojans in the Class D state championship game that season.
In 1982, North Dickinson head coach Joe Reddinger earned his first U.P. Class D Coach of the Year award. Reddinger went on to have a long and decorated career as the Nordics head man, after taking the position in 1977, replacing Miles Ferguson.
Also in 1982, Iron Mountain repeated as Class C Team of the Year; while Norway native Ron Warner led his Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes to a 7-1 record, being named Class D Team of the Year in the process.
The U.P.’s final two Lineman of the Year award winners were named in 1983. The Class ABC selection was Dean Erickson from Kingsford, while the Class D selection was John Schultz of North Central.
The Class D Back of the Year selection in ’83 was Dean Arcand of Forest Park. Arcand and the Trojans finished the regular season 8-1 and were named Class D Team of the year.
Forest Park repeated as Class D Team of the Year in 1984, as part of a clean sweep of all the UPSSA Class D awards. The 9-0 Trojans made it to the Silverdome for the state championship game once again, falling to Gobles 31-22, to finish 11-1 on the season.
Trojans head coach Dick Mettlach was named UP Class D Coach of the Year, while the Trojans David Graff was named the Class D Offensive Player of the Year. Graff is the current head coach at his alma mater.
Other area award winners in 1984, were Jim Bilski of Norway, who was selected as the Class ABC Defensive Player of the Year, and Iron Mountain head coach Tom Wender, Class ABC Coach of the Year.
The area’s lone awardee in 1985 was the Class D Defensive Player of the Year — Dick Wheeler of Forest Park.
Forest Park completed another 9-0 regular season in 1986, earning the Trojans the Class D Team of the Year award. Mettlach was named Class D Coach of the Year, while two of his players snared both of the Class D Player of the Year accolades. Jeff LaChapelle was named Offensive Player of the Year, while Pete Paramski was the Defensive Player of the Year selection.
The Class ABC Defensive Player of the Year selection in ’86, also came from Iron County. West Iron County’s Jim Kralovec was the honoree.
Forest Park repeated as Class D Team of the Year in 1987, while a Trojan was the Class D Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight season. Ron Wheeler kept the award in eastern Iron County in ’87.
Also in 1987, Norway native Brian Adams was named Class D Coach of the Year, leading Engadine to an 8-1 record and a second-round playoff game. Adams was a starting tight end on Northern Michigan University’s 1975 Division II National Championship team.
Iron Mountain’s Craig Podgornik was the 1988 Class ABC Offensive Player of the Year. Also in 1988, Forest Park won their third straight Class D Team of the Year, finishing 8-1.
Warner led Lake Linden to the Silverdome for the Class D state championship game in 1989, losing to Mendon, to finish with an 11-2 record. Warner was the U.P. Class D Coach of the Year selection.
The turn to the ’90s saw Kingsford emerge as the dominant large school team in Dickinson County and in the UP. Chris Hofer was hired in the late 1980s to take over as head coach of the Maize and Blue.
Beginning in 1990, the Flivvers were named Class AB Team of the Year by the UPSSA for seven straight seasons. Hofer was named Class ABC Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1993, and AB Coach of the Year in 1995.
In 1990, the Flivvers lost in the Class B state championship at the Silverdome, 21-7 to Dearborn Heights Robichaud. Former University of Michigan, Oakland Raiders and N.Y. Giants running back Tyrone Wheatley scored all 21 points for Robichaud, even kicking all three extra points. Wheatley is currently the head coach at Morgan State University.
Current North Central head coach Leo Gorzinski was named Class D Offensive Player of the Year in 1990 as a player for the Jets.
North Dickinson junior Chris Mattson was named Class D Defensive Player of the Year in 1991. Also in ’91, Warner was named Class D Coach of the Year, while his Lakes completed a 9-0 regular season.
Lake Linden lost to Mendon at the Silverdome in the Class D state championship game to finish the regular season 12-1.
In 1992, Reddinger won his second Class D Coach of the Year award, while Mattson earned his second consecutive Class D Defensive Player of the Year award for the Nordics.
Also in ’92, Kingsford advanced to the Class B state championship game for the second time in three seasons. Marysville defeated the Flivvers 21-12; Kingsford finished 11-2.
Lake Linden captured the Class DD state championship in ’92, defeating Sand Creek 16-3 at the Silverdome. The Lakes were named UP Class D Team of the Year.
1993 was a banner year for the Twin Cities of Iron Mountain and Kingsford. The Flivvers captured their first state championship, defeating Imlay City 35-14 at the Silverdome in the Class B game, finishing 13-0.
The Mountaineers also captured their first state championship, defeating Manchester 28-8 in the Class C game at the Pontiac facility. Iron Mountain’s lone loss on the season was a 24-14 defeat in Week 7 of the regular season to their crosstown rivals.
Kingsford’s Mike Olson was named Class ABC Offensive Player of the Year, while the Mountaineers’ Jeff Angeli was the Defensive Player of the Year in Class ABC. Iron Mountain was named Class C Team of the year in ’93.
The Mountaineers repeated as Class C Team of the Year in 1994, while quarterback Gabe Leonard was named Class ABC Offensive Player of the Year. Leonard went on to play at the University of Colorado.
The Warner-led Lakes finished the regular season 9-0 and were named Class D Team of the Year.
The year 1995 marked another undefeated regular season for Kingsford, and Craig Jensen of the Flivvers was named Class ABC Defensive Player of the Year. North Dickinson’s Phil Oman was named Class D Offensive Player of the Year; finishing his career as one of the most prolific running backs in Nordics history.
Also in 1995, Norway native Jeff Byczek was named Class C Coach of the Year, leading Stephenson to an 8-1 record, the school’s best since 1982. Lake Linden-Hubbell finished the regular season 9-0 and was named UP Class D Team of the Year.
Warner and the Lakes made another trip to Pontiac, losing to Mendon 19-8 in the Class DD state championship game.
The next year was also an eventful one for area grid teams. Both the Mountaineers and Flivvers made it to state championship games in 1996 in their respective classes. Iron Mountain, who finished the regular season 9-0, lost in the Class CC game in Pontiac 30-14 to Detroit St. Martin Deporres.
Kingsford was defeated by Marshall 14-13 in the Class BB game at the Silverdome. The Flivvers’ Gary Rose was named Class ABC Defensive Player of the Year. Rose went on to play at the University of Michigan.
Kingsford’s only regular-season loss was to their crosstown rival Iron Mountain, 14-13, Week 7 at Mountaineer Stadium.
Norway’s Tony Ebeling was named Class ABC Offensive Player of the Year, as the Knights finished 8-1, making the playoffs for the first time since 1980. Lake Linden after another 9-0 regular season, advanced to the Class D state championship game, falling to Fowler 10-0.
Head coach Tom Wender and the Mountaineers were named UP Class C Team of the Year, while Warner and the Lakes were named UP Class D Team of the Year.
In 1997, North Dickinson’s Steve Grunlund was Named Class D Defensive Player of the Year. After an 8-0 regular season, LL-H captured the Class D state championship at the Silverdome, defeating Portland St. Patrick 30-8. Warner was named UP Class D Coach of the Year.
The Class D team of the year voting by the UPSSA ended up in a tie in 1998, between Lake Linden-Hubbell and North Dickinson. Both teams finished the regular season at 8-1, but it was the Nordics blasting the Lakes 44-12 in a Round 2 playoff game in Felch.
Reddinger led the Nordics to the 1998 Class D state championship game at the Silverdome, falling to Fowler 26-8. Iron Mountain’s Matt Vicenzi was selected as the Class ABC Defensive Player of the Year.
Also in ’98, the Class ABC Coach of the Year selection was Crystal Falls native Dick Mettlach Jr. He led the Gwinn Modeltowners to a 9-0 record and to a second-round playoff game.
The final year of this segment, 1999, saw the Nordics complete a 9-0 regular season, earning a Class D Team of the Year selection. The Nordics fell in the semifinals, while defeating Forest Park in both matchups on the season.
The Class ABC Defensive Player of the Year award stayed on the Black and Yellow side of Woodward Avenue in ’99. Mike Pickett was the awardee.
The final segment of this series will cover from 2000 to 2019.