By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
Muskegon’s Shane Fairfield created some special memories in his third season as head coach of the Big Reds.
Muskegon advanced to the Division 2 state championship game for the first time since 2008. And despite a down-to-the-wire 35-28 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice, the Big Reds proved they were one of the state’s top teams in any class.
For his guidance, Fairfield was chosen the Local Sports Journal’s inaugural Division 1-4 Coach of the Year.
The season started with a brutal first four games. But the Big Reds passed the test with impressive victories against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Sylvania Southview (Ohio), Rockford and Lowell.
The only team preventing Muskegon from an unbeaten regular season was Zeeland East, which pulled out a 40-39 victory in Week 9.
Muskegon regrouped from that OK Black Conference championship game loss and rolled to four straight playoff victories.
The Big Reds defeated Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, Lowell, top-ranked Midland and Caledonia to earn a spot in the state championship game.
Fairfield, who’s compiled a nifty 28-9 record at Muskegon, is 54-32 in eight years as a head coach. The 1988 Muskegon Catholic Central graduate previously coached Holton to a 26-23 record in five years at the helm.
Meet this year’s honor squad:
Jalen Smith, Muskegon – Smith, the catalyst on offense, rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 600 yards. He showed solid leadership and was at his best in many big games.
John King, Muskegon – King was the heart and soul of the team on both sides of the ball. He rushed for nearly 1,300 yards, led the Big Reds in scoring at fullback and delivered many jarring hits at linebacker.
Johndrieus Betts-Render, Reeths-Puffer – The Rockets’ senior workhorse back carried 142 times for 1,163 yards and 16 TDs. Betts-Render compiled nearly 1,400 yards in total offense using his power and quickness.
Cody Berkobien, Spring Lake – Berkobien was slowed by a shoulder injury in his senior season, but he still rushed for 1,057 yards in seven games. A team captain, Berkobien led the Lakers with his positive attitude and work ethic.
Marcus Smith, Muskegon – The explosive Smith was a key playmaker for the Big Reds. He rushed for nearly 600 yards and led Muskegon in receiving with 20 catches for nearly 600 yards.
Asantay Brown, Mona Shores – The all-state receiver stretched the field for the Sailors. He caught 45 passes for 839 yards and 11 TDs. He also set school records for receptions in a game and longest reception for a TD.
Aaron Veihl, Fruitport – Veihl made a successful transition to receiver this season. He was the Trojans’ key receiver, recording 33 catches for 504 yards and six TDs.
Antwan Billings, Muskegon – A first-team all-stater, Billings (6-3, 275) was a standout at tackle. His size, strength and quickness proved to be a challenge for many opponents.
Quincy Crosby, Muskegon – Crosby (6-2, 275) has been a leader up front for three years at center. He relied on good size, strength and technique to open up key holes in the middle.
Chandar Ricks, Muskegon – Ricks (6-4, 275) was the other big bookend tackle on Muskegon’s powerful offensive line.
Chris Hendricks, Fruitport – A transfer from Mona Shores, Hendricks (6-5, 265) stepped in and had an immediate impact on both sides of the ball for the Trojans. He was a dominant blocker and recorded 60 tackles on defense.
Alek Jend, Mona Shores – The two-way standout cleared plenty of running room with his quality play. The offensive line played a key role as Shores compiled a school record 3,528 yards in offense, including 1,643 on the ground.
Chad Large, Ludington – The athletic Large spearheaded the Orioles’ attack at quarterback. The dual-threat signal-caller passed and rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
Ryan Maguire, Grand Haven – Maguire enjoyed a solid junior season, making 5-of-7 field goals and 15-of-16 extra points.
Ronald Jenkins, Muskegon – A Muskegon Heights transfer, Jenkins (6-1, 265) excelled his senior season en route to all-state first-team honors. Jenkins combined good quickness and strength at defensive end, where he totaled 97 tackles, with a team-high eight sacks, a blocked punt and two fumble recoveries.
Ken Finley, Muskegon – Finley (6-3, 255) proved to be a solid run stopper in the middle of the defensive line. He ranked third in tackling with more than 40 solos and recovered three fumbles. Finley, a junior, will be a key player returning next season.
Landon Kresnak, Mona Shores – Kresnak shored up the defensive front with his physical play at end. He finished with 42 tackles, including 29 solos and three sacks.
Amilio Flores, Fruitport – Flores (6-4, 255) excelled at inside rush defense and could put good pressure on quarterbacks. He recorded 50 tackles.
Dakota Gordon, Fruitport – Gordon, considered the heart and soul of the Trojans, recorded 94 tackles including 20 for loss. He added three sacks and rushed for 938 yards and 13 TDs as a running back.
Demetrius Brown, Muskegon – An all-conference player, Brown (5-10, 185) could run sideline to sideline making plays. He recorded 50 tackles and three sacks.
William Hunt, Muskegon – Hunt (6-0, 225) brought toughness to the middle of the defense at linebacker. The talented junior finished with 94 tackles, including 51 solos, and seven sacks.
Chris Bradford, Mona Shores – Bradford made big plays on offense, but he was a key defender in the secondary. He totaled 34 tackles, including 29 solos, three interceptions and two deflections.
Cody Schneider, Mona Shores – Schneider, just a junior, was all over the field creating havoc. He recorded 78 tackles, including 54 solos, with one interception, five deflections and one fumble recovery.
Sherman Hodges, Muskegon – The versatile Hodges (6-2, 175) also played wide receiver, was a return man and served as punter. He was most valuable on defense with more than 30 tackles, two interceptions and seven breakups en route to all-conference honors.
John Hall, Muskegon – Another valuable piece of the Big Reds’ secondary, Hall excelled on run support. He had 69 tackles, including 43 solos, and one interception.
A.J. Lisman, Spring Lake – Lisman placed eight punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and four inside the 10. He averaged 38.5 yards per punt.
Quarterback – Tyler Fehler, Fruitport
Running backs –Antwan Burks, Whitehall; Abe Westerman, Grand Haven; Julian Munday, Reeths-Puffer.
Wide receivers – Keondre Craig, Muskegon; Mike Siegal, Fremont
Offensive line – Stephen Hansen, Reeths-Puffer; Brandon Gue, Mona Shores; Billy Belcher, Spring Lake; Matt Hoover, Reeths-Puffer; Noah Tozer, Muskegon
At Large – Joe Sika, Whitehall
Kicker –Adrian Briseno, Muskegon
Defensive line – Jared Meeuwenberg, Fremont; Dalvin Walton, Muskegon; Tyler Stenberg, Reeths-Puffer; Tyler Tippens, Grand Haven
Linebackers – David Bloom, Mona Shores; Josh Buie, Reeths-Puffer; Riley Bradley, Fremont
Defensive backs –Corey Pierce, Orchard View; D’Vonte Dockery, Muskegon; Marquon Sargent, Mona Shores; Mitchell Reyes, Fruitport.
At Large – Jake Fredrick, Spring Lake
Punter –Collin Cribley, Fruitport.