Pete Barrows

Sports Journalist —

Archive for October 2014

Quarterback {GVS}U

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Being a quarterback is a long and time-honored tradition at GVSU where year to year, game to game, snap to snap, the name of the game is ‘pass it on.’ A tradition that started before QBs Heath Parling and Isiah Grimes became Lakers, and will last long after they’re gone.


Pete Barrows

ASK SIXTH-YEAR QUARTERBACKS Heath Parling and Isiah Grimes their favorite play, and they’d likely tell you. Parling digs W-Read, a boundary throw that’s become a staple of the Grand Valley State University offense and was the first pass Parling learned as a Laker, while Grimes prefers a deep-post cleared out on play-action.

Ask them to recite the GVSU quarterback clandestine creed, and you’d probably only get a bemused look shot right back to you between the numbers. Although if one had to guess, the unspoken doctrine passed down, like the W-Read, between Laker quarterbacks might sound something like this:

“…The GVSU Laker football team in convention assembled declares and affirms the following principles:

“…that a man may be a very good man, a very good man may be, but a better man he’s sure to become when he joins a football team (say what).

“….that in furtherance of these aims to win games and ‘ships, may there always be lobbed spirals thrown without fear through coverage made on proper reads so that we proclaim our truth with every pass; that what’s started might be finished as long as tradition never graduates. We pass the torch, as well as the pigskin, as we press forward with eyes down field and on the count of two, we pledge our allegiance to the Heta Iota Kappa Eta.

“L-A, K-E, R-U a Laker? HELL YEAH. BREAK.”

Greek organizations thrive at GVSU within the neighborhood of 10 different fraternities that are functionally active on campus – from Sigma Phi Epsilon to Sigma Pi to Delta Sigma PhI (no Delta Tau Chi, yet).

However there’s also another secret fraternity – a Skull and Bones organization of sorts. A secret so well kept that even its members don’t always realize when they’ve been initiated. So secret that appendages of the elite group don’t wear letters nor brands and aren’t always easy to spot – particularly when braced under helmet and pads.

Although rest assured, they’re there and are a very established part of GVSU lore.

TAKE BROTHER JEFF FOX, pledge class of ’95 and active until ’98, for instance, who was a three-year starter at quarterback for GVSU, went 26-8 and finished his career holding 16 Midwest Intercollegiate Football Conference offensive records to go along with two MIFC titles. He briefly suited up of the Detroit Lions.

Then there’s brother Curt Anes of Kentwood, class of ’99 and active until ’02, who during his tenure, rewrote Laker football history. A local boy with a golden arm, Anes threw for a school single-season record 3,692 yards and 47 touchdowns to lead GVSU to the program’s first national title and claim the Harlon Hill Award, the D-II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, in his senior season. He also briefly played for the Lions.

Perhaps the most beloved of them all, brother Cullen Finnerty, active between ’03 and ’06, is gone, never forgotten, and still resides in eternal bond within the circle of Laker greats. He directed GVSU to three more national championships while becoming the winningest quarterback in NCAA history with a 51-4 record as a starter in his four-year career, and also briefly saw time in the NFL.

Brother Brad Iciek of Grandville, class of ’07 and active to ’09, took up the mantle under center next, and led the Lakers back to the Division II title game as a senior after thrice being named a Harlon Hill finalist. He ranks third in GVSU history in career touchdown passes (98) and fourth in passing yards (8,461).

Senior transfer from Division I Eastern Michigan University, Kyle McMahon, had his moment, too – albeit for just a year – and in 2010 guided GVSU to an 11-2 record, while completing 181 of 320 passes for 2,616 yards and 24 touchdowns as well as rushing 130 times for 721 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“There’s been a tradition of great quarterbacks here at GVSU ever since I’ve been here, and with the offense we run, it’s integral that we line up a guy we can trust under center,” said GVSU coach Matt Mitchell. “That didn’t change when I took over as head coach.”

Between the 15 years separating Jeff Fox and Kyle McMahon, the founding fathers of what the GVSU program is today produced four NCAA Division II national championships, established a combined 171-34 record and created a tradition of re-upping records as they went.

Yet for all the greatness yielded during the span, perhaps no Laker quarterback has ever been more prolific than Heath Grimes. Or was it Isiah Parling?

Over the last four seasons, the pair has combined to go 32-13, splitting starts along the way.

“Isiah and Heath are both very capable, but very different players, and you have to adjust as a team to suit their unique styles of play,” Mitchell said. “Isiah’s great in play-action, there’s not a ball he can’t throw down field and he’ll rip throws into some tight windows that Heath won’t. Heath’s better at managing the game, getting us into the right runs, distributing the ball to a lot of different people and excels in the five-step sets where he’s asked to read things.

“It’s been frustrating for us as a program and for them at times cycling back and forth between them not only year to year, but within the year game to game, but I can’t say enough about how the two of them have handled that dynamic.”

There’s an old adage in football that suggests if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have one, and maybe it’s true. Just don’t tell that to Parling or Grimes.

Separate, each has had plenty of moments to hang their helmet on.

In his first year as a starter in 2011, Parling completed 154 of 249 passes (.618) for 2,415 yards and 34 touchdowns, led the nation in pass efficiency rating (180.3) and was named GVSU’s most improved offensive player.

The very next year, Grimes was granted the same distinction and too led the nation in pass efficiency rating (178.07) in relief of an injured Parling. He also tossed three or more scores in a game four times, completed 119 of 203 passes for 2,213 yards and 22 touchdowns and did so in just seven starts.

Together, without the injuries or bad breaks, there might not be a quarterback that compares. Combined, the duo has racked up 11,113 career passing yards – the record is 10, 905 paced by Cullen Finnerty – 116 passing touchdowns – the record is 114 held by Curt Anes – and there’s still three games left in the 2014 season.

THE UNANTICIPATED QUARTERBACK UNION has roots dating back to 2009 when 6-foot-6, 240-pound Grimes – then a recruit out of South Haven ranked the No. 86 player in the state of Michigan by – redshirted a year with 6-foot-3, 220-pound Parling – a fresh face from Salem rated the No. 79 player in the state – behind Brad Iciek on a Division II national championship runner-up.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Parling and Grimes bunked up together with Michael Ratay, now a fellow sixth-year senior, as well as Charles Hill at 48 West for two years, making occasional visits to the H block of the Copper Beach complex.

“It took us time to acclimate to life at GVSU,” Parling said. “We were thrown into the fire, getting yelled at by coaches all the time, asked to learn a complex offense and it was tough. Now we’ve been here forever and know the school and the offense like the back of our hand, it’s different, but I think we helped each other get there.”

Grimes expanded.

“It’s easier being good friends,” Grimes said. “You want to see the other guy competing for your job succeed and do well, where it’d be easy otherwise to wish for him to mess up. It’s always been a friendly competition, and it makes us better every day.”

Both had been recruited in part by then assistant coach Mitchell, and in year two, the pair bided their time and backed up McMahon, absorbing all that they could as they had under Iciek.

Both understood it was only a matter of time before one of their numbers would be called.

“Brad was a genius when it came to knowing the playbook – he knew everything like the coaches did,” Parling said.

Grimes agreed and added, finishing the sentence in sync.

“And with Kyle, it was amazing that he did what he did after only spending six months here.”

“They were not only respectful of us, they went out of their way to help us out even when they didn’t have to,” Parling said.

“And that’s why we try to be like that with Bart and Ollie,” Grimes said.

Bart, as in redshirt freshman Bart Williams, and Ollie as in fellow redshirt freshman Ollie Ajami – the next two quarterbacks set to uphold the lineage – one of whose number will likely be called next spring.

Although as Parling and Grimes have also come to understand, playing time is never promised. After a scintillating 2011 campaign, an ACL tear limited Parling as redshirt junior – providing Grimes his opportunity – and subsequent ailments to Parling, as well to Grimes, have powered a quarterback carousel.

“When Parling finally got his opportunity, it was quickly stripped from him by injury, but he’s always persevered well,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a roller coaster for him, and he’s still here ready to start.

“Isiah’s in the same position, and has always been there when we needed him. He’s been a consummate team player. A guy that gets the job done when you need him to, and steps back and cheers when we don’t.”

GRIMES’ AND PARLING’S SWAN SONG – the 2014 season – began inauspiciously: 0-3. Back to 4-4, there are still three games left, starting with Ashland on Saturday, to leave a mark, but it’s unlikely either Parling or Grimes will ever be remembered the same way that their predecessors have been.

The Lakers have failed to make the playoffs under Parling and Grimes every year except one – last year in a semifinal finish in the Division II playoffs – and in a program that has been marked by its exceptional quarterback play, its quarterbacks have been marked by winning.

“We want to win, starting with Ashland this weekend, and Parling’s the guy that’ll be doing that,” Mitchell said of his starter who threw three touchdown passes last week. “I don’t think we’ve put it all together to play a complete game to our full potential yet as an offense, which we’re still striving for, but we’re also trying to establish a culture of what we want to do around here both on and off the field.

“Our seniors help dictate that, and both Paring and Grimes have had influence upon the direction of our program.”

What if Parling never would have gotten hurt? What if Grimes would have had full rights to the quarterback job? What if the almost unprecedented run of national championships would have continued? Perhaps more than any other cliché’, ‘what could have been’ might be the most appropriate motto to encapsulate the last five years of GVSU football – as well as Parling and Grimes’ careers as Lakers.

Although as telling as it may be, it does not seem to accurately define either Parling or Grimes or the legacy of a program tapestry that they’ve woven themselves into.

A more suitable motto might be ‘what could be.’

For Parling – an honors student in a higher education masters program – and for Grimes – who will take on an internship in the winter – both of whom have aspirations to pass along what they’ve learned as GVSU signal-callers as coaches like so many other GVSU quarterbacks before them.

For Williams and Ajami and whoever else might be up to carrying the torch next, all of whom who will have the advantages of being groomed by experienced players above them on the depth chart.

For the future of GVSU football, whatever that might be. The styles at quarterback may change with the personnel – and the changes will come – but the experiences passed along perpetuate beyond individual players. It’s the team, the fraternity, that stays on at GVSU – not the players. And the quarterback fraternity at GVSU was better for having initiated Parling and Grimes.

“When it comes down to it, we just want to see Grand Valley win games,” Parling said. “Whether I’m in there or if he’s in there, it doesn’t matter.”

Grimes concluded.

“I’ve met my best friends here, and the coaches and professors and people have been great to us,” Grimes said. “As much as it’s about the games, it’s more about the relationships and memories we’ve made. The moments, the little stuff that happened out in games, but also so many good times just hanging out together at Fresh, at home, wherever.

“It’s been good to be a Laker.”

To read the original post “Longtime Laker QBs prepare to pass torch”, click here at the Lanthorn online.


Written by peterdbarrows

October 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Catching in the rain: Johnson’s NFL journey

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Despite scattered obstacles and storms to brave, former Grand Valley State University wide receiver and current Minnesota Viking Charles Johnson still sees the sunny side as he catches on in the NFL.


Pete Barrows
  • 6:00 a.m.: Swing feet out of bed, brush teeth
  • 6:45 a.m.: Arrive at Minnesota Vikings’ practice facility
  • 7:00 a.m.: Flush out legs in cold tub, relax muscles in hot tub
  • 7:30 a.m.: Lift early, stay late
  • 9:00 a.m.: Talk Lions and Packers and Bears (oh my) in team meetings
  • 12:00 p.m.: Split for lunch
  • 1:00 p.m.: Practice, and practice hard
  • 3:00 p.m.: Critique practice film, and critique it thoroughly
  • 6:00 p.m.: Head for home in a red Camaro, a lone splurge on an NFL paycheck split toward supporting moving expenses and family

HOME, TO A THIRD RESIDENCE in an 18-month span where daughters Hayden, Hayleigh and Hazel – ages 4, 2 and 1 – run around rampant in eager anticipation of dad’s return. Instead of a 9 to 5, former Laker wide receiver Charles Johnson works a 6 to 6. As much as Johnson enjoys the game of football, he realizes it is a job – and that it has to be if he’s to keep playing.

After playing with his girls, it’s right back to work, glancing through the playbook, jotting down nuanced mental notes on next Sunday’s opponent, visualizing breaking the goal line for the first time in his young NFL career. If there’s time, maybe a little HGTV to unwind.

Rain or shine, it’s wash-rinse-repeat tomorrow. Especially if it’s rain.

“So many people love sunshine, but can you stand the rain?” Johnson said. “Everyone loves it when it’s good, when things are going well, when you’re making your money, when you’re making your plays, when you’re healthy, when you’re eating right, but how do you react when it’s bad?”


JOHNSON BEGAN HIS FOOTBALL CAREER at Lloyd Memorial high school in Elsmere, Ky., although his career hasn’t been characterized so much by where he’s played, but rather that he’s played. No matter what.  A stint at Eastern Kentucky University ended prematurely after Johnson’s freshman roommate pilfered a laptop. Johnson – who caught three passes for 63 yards in 11 games – refused to rat, and was suspended two years as a penance.

A fresh start at Antelope Valley Community College began auspiciously. Johnson made 24 receptions for 231 yards and three touchdowns – but ended with a muffled call from pops at midnight Pacific Standard Time, 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Charles’ father, Fred Johnson, was sick with a rare disease called scleroderma, and nearly died from complications that night. Doctors gave the elder Johnson six months to live, and so his son put football – and everything else – on ice for a year to return home.

Yet somehow through it all, both father and son kept going.

Due to the NCAA’s five-year clock rule, Johnson had only one year of Division I eligibility left – two years remaining if he chose to play at Division II. A Google search for “top Division II schools in the nation” made during the hiatus merited a hit for “GVSU,” and, with a click of a mouse, Johnson’s once-promising football career resurfaced.

“I really can’t replace the experience I had at Grand Valley State,” Johnson said. “I’m glad I made the decision to come to GVSU, and that they accepted me there. All the quarterbacks, the receivers, all the offensive and defensive guys – I love all those guys and they’re going to continue to be like brothers to me.

“GVSU, it’s a great institution, not only for football, but for education, and for me, the culture was just different than everywhere else I’ve been. I can’t really explain it. We love football there – the coaches, the players, the students, the faculty – but they also all understand that education is the key. It’s a family, and to see how many people support you on and off the field, it was overwhelming to me in a good way.”

Johnson re-enrolled as a Laker, and, after red-shirting a season, recorded 1,030 yards and 15 touchdowns on 56 receptions, five times exceeding the 100-yard receiving mark in a game as a junior. The season after, he caught 72 passes for 1,199 yards and 16 touchdowns, and, as most skilled performers do, he saved his best act for last.

Snubbed from the NFL combine, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Johnson hawked his NFL-caliber wares at the Kelly Family Sports Center, with current New Orleans Saints center Tim Lelito, and caught a few glances. Scouts from 23 different franchises in attendance at GVSU’s pro-day succinctly gaped open-mouthed at their stop watches after Johnson, who had guaranteed that he’d run his 40-yard dash in under 4.4-seconds, did just that.


Johnson’s best time of 4.35 seconds would have ranked fourth-best among all receivers at the 2013 NFL combine – and fifth-best overall amongst all positions – trailing only the top time of 4.27 paced by Marquise Goodwin, and the 4.34 second times clocked by Tavon Austin and Ryan Swope. His 39.5-inch vertical leap would have ranked first amongst his combine peers, while his 11-foot-1 broad jump would have been good for second.

He personally rated his pro-day performance a nine out of 10, citing that nothing is perfect, although the moment he set up may have been.

GVL / Robert MathewsSenior Charles Johnson (4)

THE CALL CAME IN the seventh and final round of the NFL Draft, but as far as Johnson and his 50-member cheering section packed into a clubhouse in Kentucky were concerned, it might as well have been in the first.

“…with the 216th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select Charles Johnson, wide receiver Grand Valley State University.”

The proclamation echoed across the hall from a television monitor moments after the call to Johnson had concluded, only to be muffled by a roar more distinctly raucous than any the newly initiated pro had ever been privy to on a field. The dream and the actuality merged in one instant.

“I don’t care if I was the last pick or the first pick, the feeling of knowing somebody wanted you, that you are accomplishing something that so many people have tried to accomplish and couldn’t, that was my welcome to the NFL moment,” Johnson said. “A moment I’ll always remember.”

Of course in the NFL, nothing is promised after the welcome – even when a player stays true to his. Johnson assured his father, now 63, after that fateful midnight call years ago that he’d live to see his son get drafted to the NFL. That he’d see him play.

And he has.

Through four heart attacks, bouts with cancer and all other precipitants life has thrown his way, Fred Johnson has survived, nay thrived, to see the promise kept. To see his granddaughters grow up. To be able to leave upward of 20 voicemails a day on his son’s phone dictating what coaches should have done in the last game, how Charles can improve and expressing his continued excitement and pride toward his progeny.

The promises Johnson has left to keep, dictated by his immense physical talent and drive, are to himself.

After being selected, Johnson was placed on the practice squad by the Packers, and spent a season running routes and snagging passes under the tutelage of seasoned veterans Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers.

He never made the active roster.

“Just going out there and getting that experience and being able to work in the NFL is solid for you, and once you get there, you start to find little things as a player that can make your game better,” Johnson said. “The more you do, the more it clicks.”

Claimed by the Cleveland Browns midway through his rookie season, Johnson was granted a second fresh start early in his career, although it didn’t last long. The Browns went 5-11 – despite receiver Josh Gordon’s near record-breaking season – as Johnson spent a year on the non-football injury list rehabbing an ACL tear.

This preseason, a fully healed Johnson comprised a supporting role on a Browns’ preseason cast headlined by Johnny Manziel, but for the third time of his short professional career, he was again asked to relocate – this time to Minnesota.

“I’m confident that I can play in this league,” Johnson said. “That I can play on this team. That I have the ability, the tools. I know I can. It’s all about the opportunity, and five years from now, I hope I’m still playing in the NFL, and doing the best I can do.

“But as long as I do my part, I can live with whatever happens. I’m going to continue to work hard, and we’ll see how it all unfolds.”

So he did, substituting ad-lib darts from rookie Johnny Football for carefully coordinated spirals from rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Johnson assumed a spot on the 53-man roster vacated by dismissed All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson.

Sometimes when it rains for some – Gordon, Peterson or the entirety of the Vikings’ offense – it shines on others. Reunited with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and his pass-friendly playbook after a brief stint together in the Sixth City, the clouds above Johnson – who has so far avoided many of the pitfalls that have frequently plagued some of his NFL counterparts – finally appear to be aligned.

“Bouncing around, it’s kind of frustrating because you want that stability, but I’m a real strong individual, and I feel like I can handle anything that comes my way,” Johnson said. “Not too much can get me down, not too much can alter my approach to my situation and I’m very self-motivated.

“The hardest thing for me is having to meet new people, but every team I go to I learn something new as a player, as a person and as a professional. That all helps me to grow.”IMG_2248

Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014:

DOWN 42-7 WITH LESS THAN 4:30 REMAINING in  the fourth quarter, the Vikings take the field to mount one final offensive against the NFC North division rival Packers with nothing to play for but pride. It’s enough.

With the game clearly out of hand, No. 12 in purple checks back in with a hungry glaze in his eye, and takes his spot on the far reaches of the formation. He sprints a quick out route, and the receiver quickly squares himself. The pass goes for just 7 yards, the two-minute warning strikes and the drive goes on.

And on, and on – all the way into the Green Bay red zone. The clock running down, Minnesota adopts a no-huddle 8 yards from the end zone, 8 yards from checking another lofty accomplishment off the list.

On the snap, Johnson – donned in horns and a purple 12 – bursts off the line, beats his man to his spot and is rewarded with a quick arching lob hung delicately above him like a ripe fall apple ready to be plucked. And he plucks it, only with a toe out of line. The would-be touchdown is waved off.

The game ends with a whimper as a field goal produces a 42-10 final in Green Bay’s favor. Johnson finishes with just one reception for 7 yards, but it means so much more than that. It’s his first official reception in a regular season NFL game – hopefully of many to come – and for now it’s enough.

“It was just one reception, just 7 yards, but just to be able to go out there – especially against the team that drafted me – it was a very special moment,” Johnson said. “I kind of wish I would have gotten that touchdown – that’s the milestone I’ll keep the ball after – but it means so much to me to even be here in the NFL.

“It’s something I’ve worked so hard for, and through everything I’ve battled – from ACL injuries to playing football for multiple schools and franchises to everything I’ve gone through in life – I realize not many people get to make good on that opportunity. To have that catch means so much more to me than just the 7 yards.”


THREE WEEKS AFTER Johnson’s inaugural catch, his NFL future remains as difficult to forecast as ever. He added two more receptions for 22 yards the next week in a loss to Detroit, but none last week against Buffalo. The size, the speed, the hands, the versatility to play any wide receiver position – X, Y and Z – on the field are all present, but more importantly, it’s Johnson’s humility, perhaps his best quality as a professional athlete, to know that talent alone is not enough.

That his drive alone is not enough, nor is one reception enough to satiate it. That it’ll take not only the continued support from family and friends that he has, but time, commitment and opportunity to make his dream last. Stability, for a change, couldn’t hurt either.

He knows it won’t be easy. Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If I could have people take away one message about life, football, family, anything from my story, it’d be to live free and have no regrets,” Johnson said. “I say that because life is short, tomorrow’s never promised and you don’t want to look back and say, ‘boy, I wish I would have done that.’

“I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life – from being suspended in school to being in trouble with the law – and still regret none of the negative decisions, nothing I do, because all of it – the good and bad – has helped to mold me into the person I am today.

“So far, my life hasn’t been easy. My road in the NFL hasn’t been easy. So what? I know there are people depending on me, and if it is raining right now, it isn’t going to be raining for long. I know that the sun is going to come back out one of these times, and I’ll keep pushing forward in the rain until it does.”


To read the original post “Catching in the rain: Johnson’s NFL journey”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

October 23, 2014 at 3:24 am

A {Chris Robinson} Runs Through It

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After compiling one of the most prolific careers in Michigan prep football history, running back Chris Robinson has run through every obstacle in his path in pursuit of the one accomplishment that has continually eluded him like he has defenders: A championship.

GVL/Michael Dykstra

Pete Barrows

With pads set low beneath his No. 28, and cleats dug deep into the Midland Community Stadium turf in a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) state semifinal game in 2008, then Ovid-Elsie junior Chris Robinson purveyed the field. Perched behind his offensive line, Robinson glanced across the scoreboard that announced his Maruaders led 21-13 early in the third quarter with a hint of a smile knowing a secret unbeknownst to others,

With the stage set and the stakes high, Robinson broke his gaze at the sound of the snap, and broke free for a 24-yard gain from midfield, only to have the play brought back on a holding penalty. It was a momentary setback, but in a way it still serves to represent Robinson’s football career in a microcosm — perhaps even more than the successes.

On the very next play, Robinson ran the ball across the goal line from 52 yards out. There wasn’t a flag in sight. Over the next seven minutes of football, Robinson performed his best impression of pixelated Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson , and ripped off touchdowns of 35, 43 and 42 yards for 204 total yards on 11 carries. There wasn’t a single secret left regarding how good Robinson could be.

Robinson finished the 55-20 victory over previously undefeated Standish-Sterling with a line of 370 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries – a season worth of stats for some prep players – and helped secure 11-1 Ovid-Elsie’s first ever state championship game appearance – a spot in the Division 5 state finals at Ford Field the following weekend against Muskegon Oakridge.

Entering the championship game, Robinson needed just over 200 yards to break the state single-season rushing total of 2,890 yards, set by Chippewa Valley’s Chris Lomasny, and and was eight rushing touchdowns from tying the single-season record of 48, paced by Livonia Clarencville’s Tim Shaw. Neither felt out of reach, but Robinson remained locked on to the task at hand.

Kind of like here (at GVSU), I was focusing on the games on week at a time and we always had one goal as a team, as we still do – and that’s to win,” Robinson said. “All the other statistics get pushed to the side, as long as we’re winning.”

Fast forward six years and Robinson, a fifth-year senior, is the leading rusher – with 414 yards and five touchdowns on 76 carries for an average of 5.4 yards per carry and 67.8 yards per game – for a 3-3 Grand Valley State University football team clinging to abbreviated playoff hopes, just as senior teammate Jaime Potts is the team’s leading receiver with 479 yards and five touchdowns on 27 receptions, good for an average of 17.7 yards per catch and 79.8 yards per game.

Yet as close as the two are off the field, and as integral as they are to GVSU’s offense on it, their first experience playing for a championship with each other was notably distinct from their final push for one together this season. Then a sophomore, Potts quarterbacked the Muskegon Oakridge team that defeated Robinon and Ovid-Elsie 26-14 in the state finals.

That (championship game) was one of the biggest moments of my life, and we worked so hard to get there, but even though we had the talent, Potts got the better of us,” Robinson said. “I had hoped we might get a rematch the next year, but we both ended up losing in the playoffs.

“I held a little bit of a grudge, but when I found out Potts was coming here – at the time I thought as a quarterback – I was really excited about it, and we’ve been boys since he started playing here.”

Potts still contests that Ovid-Elsie might have been dealt a different hand in the championship game had Robinson not sprained his ankle on a horse-collar tackle just before half, but the history stands. Just as it does with Robinson, who like Potts, ranks amongst the top 20 in a plethora of season and career MHSAA record categories including fourth on the list for on the list for most career rushing yards (7,123), fourth on the list for most career touchdowns (99) and first on the list for most consecutive games with 100 yards or more (27).

Despite the look and resume’ of a Division I talent, Robinson inexplicably slipped through the cracks during the recruiting process in a way that ironically resembled the way the ball carrier patiently and purposefully meanders through seams in the defense.

The visits to elite programs – including trips to the Big House and Spartan Stadium – came early, but the official offers, limited by ACT scores, did not. And what started as Robinson’s loss became GVSU’s gain when coach Matt Mitchell traveled to a town directly across from Grand Rapids centrally located between Mt. Pleasant and East Lansing to pitch the promising prospect.

He was a late commit – mainly MSU and I think MAC schools like CMU and Cincinnati were still talking to him – but we kept grinding away,” Mitchell said. “We had him up on an official visit and then when I went back after some of the bigger schools didn’t come with what he had thought or had hoped they’d come with, I think he saw that this was a great place to extend his education and playing career.”

Mitchell was right.

“I had dreamed of going to a big-named school as a kid, but after all the flash of the process, I remember coach Mitchell coming down to the school and saying to me ‘hey, we’re a Division II program’ – which I really didn’t know much about at the time – ‘but we have a winning tradition and national championships’ and that got my ear real quick,” Robinson said.

Robinson was a redshirt freshman in 2010, but came on strong towards the end of 2011 as a sophomore. Then, as a starter in 2012, he picked up right where he had left off until an ACL injury sidelined his season – a season that due to the timing of the injury four games in was prohibited by the NCAA from being salvaged.

Instead of throwing in the towel, as he could have years prior after the penalty against Standish-Sterling or following a mildly disappointing recruitment, Robinson reset instead of relenting. He rehabbed hard, grew out his distinctive beard and dreads and transformed his body from a speedy 205-pounds to a powerful 220-pounds in preparation to contribute as a part of a three-headed monster in a backfield with Michael Ratay and Kirk Spencer. The backfield was coined by Robinson as “Pop, Smash and Dash”.

“When I came in at around 200-pounds, I’d look at some of the older guys taking a beating, and thought maybe I need to build myself to be able withstand hits,” Robinson said. “So I developed this mentality that if I’m going to be this big and sacrifice some speed to get the size, I mine as well be the hammer. The Smash. We talk about that role all the time in meetings, and I guess I really embraced that job.”

The trio paced GVSU’s offense last season with
2,342 combined rushing yards and a 5.9 per-carry average all the way to an NCAA Division II semifinal game. Through six games in 2014, Pop Smash and Dash are just slightly off last year’s per-game average of 156 yards per game (150). 

That trio has since been depleted.

Ratay (Dash) suffered a season-ending knee injury for the second year in a row after leading the Lakers with 1,002 rushing yards through nine games in 2013, while Spencer (Pop) left the 17-3 home coming victory over Wayne State University with an injured foot, leaving Robinson (Smash) – who rushed for 56 yards on 20 carries against WSU, and for 157 yards on 22 carries in a victory the week before against Hillsdale — to carry the load.

“With so many different types of backs in the running back room – and there have been since I’ve been at GVSU – your job then becomes easy knowing you just have to go in, and work to be one-eleventh of the offense,” Robinson said. “With Ratay and Kirk – backs that can do everything, including lining up in the slot and blocking – I’ll have to step up to fill those roles to become a bigger part of the offense like I did in high school, but it’s just another thing on my plate that I can and am going to have to be able to control.”

Mitchell expanded on the expanded role.

“Spencer is touch and go, so Chris is going to be counted on to be our workhorse and he has stepped up as our main guy,” Mitchell said. “He’s a really big, physical runner, and is the kind of guy that gets better as the game progresses. I don’t think a lot of people realize it, but he’s also really good in protection – like an Emmitt Smith — and we don’t really have to sub him out for anything.”

An unanticipated and inauspicious 0-3 start has placed GVSU’s — and Robinson’s — dreams of championship glory to the brink, but the back – who Potts says makes his job as a receiver easier with play-action sells and blitz pickups – and Potts – who Robinson estimates catches around 98-percent of the passes thrown to him – remains undeterred.

Even with these obstacles, events beyond his control, Robinson thumps on.

The bad breaks – like the tragic loss of a best friend, Nic Greenhoe, to leukemia following the 2008 season or a loss in an impromptu best of seven rock-paper-scissors showdown to a teammate that prevented Robinson from continuing to wear No. 2 in tribute to Greenhoe, as he did after making the switch from No. 28 to No. 2 as a senior at Ovid-Elsie – with the good. Robinson, who now wears No. 3, takes it all in stride, grateful for what’s there instead of lamenting upon what’s not.

Grateful for the offensive line that he still credits largely for his high school accolades and promises to return home to some day to buy personal pizzas for as a thank you, to freshman roommate and defensive lineman, Isiah Dunning, who jokes that he taught Robinson everything he knows about playing running back, for Potts’ friendship and play, for his running back teammates for making him better and for the opportunity he’s been provided at GVSU.

For more than any physical trait or style or record, what perhaps separates Robinson most – even more so than his patented spin move, breakaway speed or his charismatic approach that endears him teammates and peers alike – is his ability to make the best of situations. Endowed with the drive to run through his problems north-to-south, never away from them east-to-west, GVSU slim playoff hopes – starting again with a game at No. 20 Michigan Tech on Saturday and continuing from there one practice at a time – will sustain as long as Robinson is around to carry them.

“Obviously, we didn’t start the season off the way that we wanted to – we didn’t expect to be 0-3, even with three tough games to start the schedule, and I don’t think anyone else really did either – so we’re just taking it one game at a time,” Robinson said. “But hey, in football things don’t always work out the way you want them to, and what went wrong can’t be the focus. We have some momentum built up now, and we know the kind of football team we’re capable of being.

“Hopefully we can keep winning the next game, but we’ll control what we can and trust the rest to take care of itself.”

To read the original post “GVSU to lean on C-Rob amid injuries at RB”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

October 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Shipley, GVSU cruise to victory in Mass.

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Shipley, Hartigan finish 1,2 yet again as No. 6 Lakers claim convincing victory at Merrimack Invitational on MondayGVL / Emily Frye Senior Gabrielle Shipley

Pete Barrows

Conceit is bragging about one’s self – the kind of thing Rickie Fowler might do – and is often more about show than substance. Confidence is another quality entirely.

It’s a belief you can get the job done and even in doses, a little of it – the sort that enabled pre-scandal Tiger to become the only golfer in history to win four straight majors, Rory McIlroy to play the entire back-nine with nothing but a 7-iron, John Daly to brazenly play the Old Course at St. Andrews in tiger striped Zubaz slacks, Arnold Palmer to boldly blend ice tea and lemonade and Anika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie to take on the boys – can go a long away; particularly on a golf course.

For Grand Valley State University junior Gabrielle Shipley, who had just the right amount of moxie to get the job done on Monday, that length was 13 strokes ahead of the pack, good for first overall at the Merrimack Invitational on the sloping greens of the Indian Pond Country Club in Kingston, Mass.

It was the first official outright first of Shipley’s collegiate career.

After carding a career-low round of 2-under 70 in round one, Shipley returned to the course Monday seven strokes ahead of second-place leader, senior teammate and two-time GLIAC Women’s Golfer of the Year Kelly Hartigan, and finished the outing with a 1-under round of 71 to give herself the lowest 36-hole score of her three-year career to date. Shipley, a two-time All-GLIAC First Team honoree, led the field with nine birdies – only one other player made more than five – and played both the par 4s and par 5s at 2-under, pacing all 52 competitors in those categories.

“It was a difficult course in that you had to be strategic with your targets and place the ball in certain areas to give yourself birdie or even par opportunities, but I was happy with my approach and how I played it,” Shipley said. “I could hit 3-wood or driver off the tee and I would still get myself 120 yards into the green, my approaches were accurate and I was putting really well with a new putting style I trusted the entire weekend, both of which helped put my mind at ease and allow me to take advantage of the chances I created.

“I won first place by 13 strokes – there are not many better ways to get your first win – and I did it with a lot of confidence in my game. I was never expecting that – to win a tournament by shooting three under par, but it felt good to reassure to myself that I can be that kind of golfer.”

After shooting a 29-over 317, four strokes ahead of second-place Missouri-Saint Louis and at least 12 shots in front of the other seven teams in the field on day one, No. 6 GVSU, like Shipley, returned triumphantly on Monday to finish what it started. GVSU was the only team to break 320 on either day, firing a 13-over 301 on day two, and with a cumulative score of 42-over 618, the Lakers defeated second-place Missouri-Saint Louis by a margin of 26 strokes.

Hartigan parred 24 of her 36 holes, and placed second with a total round score of 10-over 154, while sophomore Alex Taylor tied for sixth place, the highest finish of her career, after shooting a career-low 2-over 74 on the closing 18 holes and tallying a score of 14-over 158 for the event. Freshman Samantha Moss finished tied for 13th with a 22-over 166, the first top-15 finish of her career, and sophomore Julie Guckian cracked the top 20 for a second straight week with a 24-over 168.

All six of GVSU’s competitors placed within the top-20 at the event, and club selection by club selection, swing by swing, lie by lie, putt by putt, stroke by stroke and hole by hole, the team’s confidence, as it has all season, continued to grow.

“Gabrielle came off a confidence booster of summer qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and she’s just built off of that this entire season – 3-under par is great golf,” said coach Rebecca Mailloux. “I know getting that first collegiate victory was on her list of goals, especially when you play so well against the field, but it’s really no surprise; Gabrielle is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached and never settles for good enough.

“She’s calm, super focused, in the zone – really the whole team is – and we’re getting results. And that confidence that they each bring to the table in their own way builds, and they feed of it and each other. That makes the individuals better. That makes the team better.”

With only a few weeks remaining in the fall season, GVSU will look to take first place for a third consecutive time later this month at the inaugural Malone Invitational. The two-day event will be held at The Legends at Massillon in Ohio from Oct. 18 through Oct. 19.

And against a very deep conference field, confidence will again be in high demand.

“We shot our highest team score of the season this past weekend, and several of our girls shot significantly better in round two than they did in round one,” Shipley said. “That’s progress, but we can’t rest on our laurels.

“We’ve never played the course down in Massillon before, but we do know we’re going to see a lot of tough conference competition. We also know that we need to just go out and do our thing confidently, and can’t allow the competition or the course throw you off our game if we’re going to finish the season strong.”

To read the original post “Shipley, GVSU cruise to victory in Mass.”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

October 9, 2014 at 9:59 pm

From overlooked to overachiever

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Kelly Hartigan earns GVSU school-record 12th career victory, and does it her way

GVL / Emily Frye Senior Kelly Hartigan

Pete Barrows
FeaturistAs Grand Valley State University senior Kelly Hartigan traversed the back nine of The Meadows golf course during the NCAA Division II National Preview on Saturday afternoon, she carried her own bag; if her mind wandered across any subject other than the next hole on her way to 20 pars – tied for the 11th-most of anyone in the 132-player field, and five birdies, which was good for second – she didn’t show it.

With a six-over score of 150 through 36 holes, Hartigan earned medalist honors to collect the 12th individual victory of her career at the event, passing Laker legends Sarah Hoffman and Melissa Sneller to move into first on the GVSU school-record board. Although even after three full seasons of varsity golf as a Laker, Hartigan rarely pulls the blinders off. In a serendipitous fashion, it’s how she found her way up to GVSU in the first place.

“With the scores I shot, I didn’t really realize that was going to be enough for a win, but as tough as the pins were, the conditions were great and I just focused in on what I needed to do,” Hartigan said. “It was something I didn’t expect to do and as much as I knew I wanted to work hard and win some tournaments when I first came to GVSU, I’ve already achieved more than I ever thought I could.

“It was something I couldn’t have predicted, but getting the 12th win was a proud moment.”



When GVSU women’s golf coach Rebecca Mailloux made the trip down to the Michigan Girls Junior Amateur tournament in the summer of 2010, it wasn’t to watch Hartigan, then a junior in high school, play. In fact, she wasn’t even a blip on the radar.

Instead, current GVSU junior and then high school sophomore Gabrielle Shipley was the apple of coach Mailloux’s recruiting affections, who as chance would have it, was paired with Hartigan for the afternoon.

“While I was watching Gabrielle – who for the record played very well – I said ‘who the heck is this Hartigan kid?’,” Mailloux said. “Typically, if a parent or coach is watching, I can just talk to them, but they weren’t – she played on the boys team in high school and her dad was her caddy – and I wasn’t allowed to talk to her directly until the tournament ended; there was no other way for me to find out her plans after high school.

“It’s match-play format tournament, and she just keeps winning so I follow her around for three days, and the whole time I’m thinking this kid has to be committed to a Division I team – there’s no way nobody has found her at this point.

“She finally lost in the finals, I finally get a chance to talk with her and her dad and the conversation went something like this: ‘You’re the first coach to be interested in her. We haven’t had much involvement from anyone else.’ I say you have got to be kidding me. Instantly, I thought to myself this is a home run for us. I saw the talent right away, and I knew if I could get this kid, it’d be huge for us.”

Coach Mailloux was right, but even then, she couldn’t have understood the full impact her timely, on-the-spot and somewhat prophetic signing would have on the GVSU program.


Neither did Hartigan, not at first; or if she did, it was to be her game and not her mouth that would proclaim it. A quality of stoic confidence and a competitive focus that are still trademarks of Hartigan’s game years later, both strictly trained and harnessed through prep play.

Chippewa Valley High School, Hartigan’s Alma matter, didn’t have a girls golf team, so Hartigan made due with the next best thing. It wasn’t always easy playing with the boys – especially playing routinely as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed – but what Hartigan didn’t always enjoy made her – as well as her burgeoning golf prowess – even more formidable.

“I took a lot of heat in high school for playing with the boys, and we didn’t exactly have a strong team dynamic,” Hartigan said. “It was hard and I wasn’t really accepted as a girl on a boys team, it made the recruiting process more challenging, but you take the good with the bad and grow.

“I only made one visit – it was to GVSU – and I loved it; I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. It was tricky at the time, but I played from longer distances in high school which helped the transition to the next level. I’ve always been very competitive – which usually helps more than it hurts – but the experience, as well as my experiences since being in college, have helped me mature both as a golfer and person.”

From overlooked to can’t possibly overstate, Hartigan has made her mark on GVSU golf in more way than one. From her 75.72 scoring average last season, which ranked as the second-best mark in program history and ranked 16th nationally, to her GVSU single-season record of seven victories, the three-time All-GLIAC First Team plaudit and two-time GLIAC Women’s Golf Athlete of the Year (the only repeat recipient) has made collecting accolades look as easy as Ty Webb knocking in putts.

She’s not done yet, either, especially with the Division II National Championship – a rare feat that has not been added to her resume’ – to be hosted at The Meadows before her Laker career concludes. It’s a drive she shares with course counterpart Shipley as they power the team forward in their own ways, one drive, one chip, one putt, one hole at a time.

“Looking back, I’m very grateful that we got paired together back in that tournament in high school and I’m very grateful that we have gotten the opportunity to play on the same team together,” Shipley said. “There’s always that person you’re striving to compete against, we’re both very competitive people and we both push each other.

“Even though we’re different people and have different styles – she’s more of a field player and I’m more technical – I know I wouldn’t be the player I am without her. We’re excited to see what we can accomplish the rest of the way.”

To read the original post “From overlooked to overachiever”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

October 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm