By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Even with the national attention Benton Harbor’s football program has earned over the last few weeks for its incredible turnaround this season, the sources of support the Tigers have received remains astounding.
First-year varsity football coach Elliot Uzelac and his players – who this fall won their first game since 2012, posted their first winning season since 1989, earned their first MHSAA football postseason berth and last week won that first playoff game, all despite going a combined 4-68 from 2007-14 – have received kind words from faraway fans living in states on both coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the Midwest.
“I do think the young men on our football team deserve it, and I wish all the attention went to them because they’re the ones that did all the work. They had to make changes around their lives; they had to make cultural changes and they’ve done that. I’m very proud of them,” Uzelac said. “All over the country we’re getting people that have no connection whatsoever to Benton Harbor but are touched by the story of the young men. It just goes to show there are a lot of wonderful people in this country with great hearts.”
Adding to those salutes, the Tigers are October’s Applebee’s MHSAA Team of the Month. Click to read today's report on the team's season and turnaround under Uzelac, a former coach at the college and professional levels.
Benton Harbor (6-4) on Friday will face undefeated Zeeland West in a Division 4 District Final. West has won MHSAA championships two of the last four seasons and is considered a favorite to claim another later this month.
But regardless of the result this round, the Tigers and the community supporting them have created the framework – and just as important, enthusiasm – to keep them building for seasons to come.
“There are some young men that have really become leaders. Percy Brown is an example of that. Shawn Hopkins is an example of that. I think Adrien Alexander has made a turn for the best. There are several others like Jeremy Burrell,” Uzelac said. “Sharief Alexander and George Kirkland and Daryl Gill — three seniors. Sharief has not missed a single practice. These guys have given us great leadership. Some of them are known and some of them aren’t known, but they’re really good young people and they’re trying really hard to make a change in their lives."
Each month during the 2015-16 school year, Applebee’s will recognize a Michigan high school team or teams not only for performances on the field of play, but also in the classroom and community.
PHOTO: A Benton Harbor ball-carrier charges past two defenders during last week’s playoff win over Dowagiac. (Photos courtesy of Randy Willis/Harbor Photography.)