Hart’s Dream Team

November 3, 2015
Hart JV FB

– Contributed photo

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

HART — The Pirate gridiron program has suffered tremendously throughout its history, never making a state play-off appearance and not boasting a winning record in nearly two decades.



But the 2015 season brought forth many changes. It was determined last year that there were not enough juniors and seniors interested in playing, so school officials made the difficult decision to not have a varsity team this season and instead only have a JV squad.

The 29-member squad, comprised of 13 sophomores, 12 freshmen and four juniors, with new coach Larry Witham at the helm, made history this season with an undefeated record.

“It’s been a season of renewal, with a new coach, new formations and new confidence,” said Pirate sophomore quarterback Cameron Tanner, who is a team captain.

There was only one senior interested in playing football this year, Brett Bonstel. Seniors are not allowed to play at the JV level due to Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) rules, so Bonstel could not participate. He ran cross country instead.



The last time Hart had a winning 5-4 record was in 1997, Witham said. This season’s team handed the Pirates their first homecoming win in 25 years.

The Pirates’ scores this season were: Belding 37-0; Ravenna 45-13; Oakridge 32-6; Traverse City Central 65-6; Shelby 42-0; Mesick 59-0; Montague 27-0; Beal City 28-7; and Evart 60-0.

Their defeat of Beal City ended a 25-game winning streak for a program that has made the state playoffs 33 times, Witham said.

Another highlight of the season was a police escort into town after their final win of the season. “There was whole line of cars behind the bus,” Witham said. “The community has really rallied around us.” When the Pirates returned to the school parking lot after their final win, about 200 cars filled with fans gathered to cheer for their outstanding team.



“I told the kids, ‘Look at what you’ve done for this community.’ This is an experience these kids will never forget.

“They finally brought success to the gridiron,” Witham said, “which was something this community was starving for.”

Many businesses around town showed their support by displaying signs congratulating the team.

The team was so powerful, they trailed only once the entire season when they were down 7-0 in the first quarter to Beal City.

Junior tailback Brady Tate, another team captain, played varsity football his freshman and sophomore years. He recalled the heartache he and his teammates endured over the years with the constant losses.

“We were tired of losing,” he said. Before this season, he experienced only two wins during his entire football career — one in sixth grade and one win on the varsity squad. “Last year, we lost to Whitehall 71-0 — that was terrible,” Tate said.



Witham, who has 30 years of coaching experience, said he plans to stay on as Hart’s coach for the long haul and continue building the program. He also credits the team’s success to his defensive/offensive line coach and defensive coordinator Pat Ferrier.

Witham, who is North Muskegon’s softball coach, has coached football at North Muskegon, Holland West Ottawa, Mona Shores and Kalamazoo College. He played football for the Norsemen when he was in high school.

“Our freshmen really stepped up,” said junior fullback and defensive end Jacob Hoebeke, who is also a team captain.

Due to the reconstruction of the track, the Pirates played only two home games. “We were the road warriors,” Tanner said. The team’s success created such a huge fan base that they often had more spectators in the stands at away games than the host team did.



The plan is to have both a varsity and a JV team again next season, Witham said. It appears that the team’s success this year has triggered more interest in Pirate football. Interested players will attend a meeting next week.

The key to success next year will be weight training and other off-season work, said sophomore offensive guard and team captain Jesse McGhan.

Tanner finished the season with 24 completions of 40 attempts for 535 passing yards and seven touchdowns and one interception. He rushed 488 yards for nine touchdowns. Defensively, he totaled 18 tackles, four interceptions for two touchdowns and a fumble recovery for a TD.

Tate finished with 84 carries, 1,047 yards with a loss of only seven yards out of 1,054 total yards; 14 touchdowns; three kick returns for TDs; and five catches for 236 yards and three TDs. He also made 26 tackles and two interceptions for TDs.

McGhan was the leading tackler with 48 tackles and a forced fumble. Hoebeke finished the season with 11 carries for 128 yards, two touchdowns, 25 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.

“We have a lot of hard work to do between now and next August,” Witham said. “Hopefully we can keep this nice run going. It would be nice for these kids to be the first kids to play a state play-off game for Hart High School.”

Hart belongs to the West Michigan Conference, known for being one of the most competitive leagues in the state.

“We are not a flash in the pan or a one-hit wonder,” Witham said. “But now the big test comes.”

“I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like next year,” McGhan said.

- Contributed photo

– Contributed photo

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