By Nate Thompson

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – Reeths-Puffer senior Nate McCrary hesitates a moment when he’s asked to describe himself as a high school athlete. LSJ Logo incert

Is he a football-first guy who also happens to run track?  Or is he a sprinter at heart who simply enjoys the Friday night lights in the fall?Sport Clips 2016 football ad

“I don’t know,” McCrary said after a long pause. “I mean, I love track. The feeling you get when you’re running or competing in a race, it’s a feeling that’s hard to explain. But track has helped me with football, too, and I really love that.”

Rocket football fans simply love the fact that McCrary is on their team, bringing his blazing speed to the backfield. And he’s definitely fast.

Last spring in track he set the school record in the 200-meter dash at 22.15 seconds, and also contributed on two record-setting relay teams – the 4×200 and 4×100.

His combination of speed and size has also made him a dangerous weapon for the 2-1 Rocket football squad. McCrary and Reeths-Puffer will look to make a big statement at home on Friday when they welcome rival Mona Shores (1-2) in an early-season O-K Black Conference clash.

Nate McCrary. Photo/Joe Lane

Nate McCrary. Photo/Joe Lane

McCrary said it’s a chance for the Rockets to prove they are for real.

“Coach (Kyle Jewett) talks to us all the time about striving to be great, and that’s where Mona Shores has been,” McCrary said. “They’ve been to Detroit (in the state finals), and if we could beat them, that would mean the world to us as a team.

“It would prove to people not to sleep on us,” he added. “We want people to respect us, and by (beating Mona Shores), that would help earn that respect.”

Jewett said the Rockets are led by a very strong senior class this fall, and many of those seniors – including McCrary – cut their teeth as sophomores on varsity two years ago.

That experience is paying off now, according to the coach.

“They were thrown in the fire as sophomores, so they’ve got a lot of game experience,” Jewett said. “I think that’s helping us this year. Nate played cornerback as a sophomore. He’s always had that track speed.

“He’s a very intelligent player, a great football player. As a running back, he knows how to set up his blockers for big runs, and as a linebacker, he knows how to play with aggression, shed blockers and get to the ball carrier. He just has those instincts that you can’t teach.”

As the Rockets’ top tailback and kick returner this season, McCrary has been a matchup nightmare. On the ground, he’s carried the ball 46 times for 274 yards and four scores. He also has two kickoff returns for touchdowns and one receiving TD.

College coaches have taken notice of McCrary’s talents. He said he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at a Saginaw Valley State University camp in July, and the Cardinals extended a scholarship offer. He’s also been offered a scholarship by Davenport University, and has received interest from Division 1 schools Ball State and Central Michigan University.

McCrary hasn’t chosen a college yet, but confirmed that his college sport of choice will be football.

But before he takes that next step, McCrary has zeroed in on making his senior season a lasting legacy at Reeths-Puffer. He’s off to a good start, teaming with fellow senior running back Theo Stevenson to form a “Thunder and Lightning” combination.

“Theo’s more of a power back,” McCrary said, “but he has the speed to break loose. He’ll definitely truck you, though.”

Jewett has also been pleased with the steady play of quarterback Blake Ross, while McCrary said the offense has become more complete with the emergence of 300-pound tackle Hunter Gouine and tight end/receiver Tylor Skinner.

If everything comes together, the Rockets’ back-to-back 3-6 records the last two years could become a distant memory, and this year’s team could be the squad that’s remembered for turning things around.

That would be a big accomplishment, because Reeths-Puffer has had only one winning season in the past eight years.

“We set our goals pretty high,” he said. “We want to win a state championship just like every other school. But we talk about it a lot. We want to leave a legacy behind us. When people bring up Reeths-Puffer football, we want them to talk about this team.”