by RANDY GREGORY
After last year, one could have been deemed reasonable to think that maybe, just maybe Muskegon may have been headed for a minor rebuilding project in 2012 following heavy graduation losses at the skill positions. But nothing could be further from the truth for this year’s version of Big Red football. Some odd circumstances instead delivered a whole new talent pool to a program laden with accomplishment after accomplishment over the last 100-plus years. The school with the most wins in the history of high school football in the state of Michigan will instead bring to the table what they have always brought: a team with great speed, size and power that is off to a 2-0 start after facing a pair of highly rated squads from Michigan and Ohio.
Normally when a player transfers from one high school to another without moving, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) dictates that athlete must sit out the following semester at his new school. But with the decision of the Muskegon Heights district to go to a charter school system, that allowed a talented pool of athletes to go to another district with no restrictions. The talent influx has been noticeable and the Big Reds haven’t skipped a beat.
Muskegon kicked off the year by downing last year’s MHSAA Division III state champs from Orchard Lake St. Mary’s by a score of 21-14. They followed that up by journeying to the Toledo, Ohio area to square off with a Sylvania Southview crew that features five Division I players. This time it was a slugfest, but the Big Reds scored late and held on for a 40-37 triumph.
“I got to see their first game and all I can say is wow,” said Rockford coach Ralph Munger. “They are an incredibly athletic team that does everything at a fast pace. They are going to be an incredible challenge to prepare for because we just can’t duplicate that type of speed in practice.”
Rockford and Muskegon met for the first time in 1996 and have met eight times total over the last 16 years. Rockford holds a 5-3 edge in a series of games that have featured one thriller after another. NFL films even did a series of documentaries in 2007 that featured some of the top rivalries in the country. And despite the relative infancy of the match-up, this rivalry made the grade and saw the underdog Rams upset a nationally ranked Muskegon team that year.
“With the amount of talent they have this year at Muskegon, we have our backs up against the wall,” said Munger. “But we will give them everything we have got and hopefully we will get a few of our injured players back. They are a formidable opponent and we will have to minimize mistakes to come out on top.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7 at Ted Carlson Memorial Stadium in Rockford. A huge turnout is always a given when these two bitter rivals square off, so get there early and be prepared for yet another nail-biter in a short series that delivers year after year for high school football fans in Michigan.