By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half
HARBOR SPRINGS — This isn’t your brother’s Harbor Springs football team.
This year’s Rams are putting together a season on the gridiron that hasn’t been seen here in quite some time.
They are off to a 6-0 start, their best since 1999, and with that has come talk of ending some long, infamous streaks in the school’s football history.
“For me, as a player, honestly it’s been really cool because we’ve never been able to do this before,” said senior running back Jackson Wells. “Harbor Springs has been known for bad football in the past. Now, everyone is like, ‘Congratulations, how does it feel to be 6-0?’ We’re the first team to do this in decades, and it’s really cool.”
Even with three weeks to go in the regular season, Harbor Springs’ six wins have matched its most for a season since 2000. While their unblemished record has already earned the Rams a third trip to the postseason in the past four years, they aren’t satisfied by simply being a postseason participant.
There are bigger goals still to achieve, and longstanding barriers to break down.
Consider this: The last Harbor Springs team to capture a conference title was the 1987 squad that went 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the Ski Valley Conference to share the championship with Indian River Inland Lakes. Then there is the playoff drought, as the Rams are 0-5 all-time in the postseason.
“It’s a sticking point in everybody’s mind,” said senior tight end Brett Vandermus of trying to get a playoff win. “We clinched a spot, but now we’re worried about getting another win this week.”
On Friday, Harbor Springs faces Johannesburg-Lewiston in a matchup that could end the Rams’ 31-year conference title dry spell. The two teams square off in a battle of undefeated teams atop the Northern Michigan Football League Legacy division. The Cardinals come in having won five straight games, but must travel to Harbor Springs’ Ottawa Stadium. A Rams’ win would earn them a share of the championship.
“A conference title would be awesome,” said Vandermus. “I’ve had four older brothers play, and none of them (won a conference title). We just have a more solid roster than what’s been at Harbor’s disposal, and we have a lot of discipline.
“Hopefully it’s just packed, because normally we’re not used to coming out and having huge home crowds.”
Excitement definitely is building around school and across town for the Rams, who finished 4-5 a season ago as a young team.
“I wouldn’t say I expected this, but we had a really good summer and the guys worked really hard,” said head coach Rob Walker, who is in his eighth year.
The Rams have been motored by a quick, veteran backfield of Wells, Connor Williams and Jeep Damoose. That trio has been a three-headed monster in Harbor Springs’ wing-T offense, sharing the workload and limelight, while making it difficult for opponents to try and game plan to slow down all three. Jason Proctor, Matt Walker, Vandermus, and fellow tight end David Harrell are among the key cogs on the offensive line. Sophomore quarterback Grant Richardson has been a huge addition since the season began. The first-year signal caller has not only brought athleticism to the position, but he’s also injected an aerial aspect with seven touchdown passes to an offense that traditionally likes to establish the running game.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” Walker said of his quarterback. “There have been games where he’s the best athlete on the field.”
If there was a defining moment for Harbor Springs, it came in the second week of the season in a 14-7 victory over Frankfort — a team that has rightfully earned a reputation as a football powerhouse.
“I would say that was definitely an eye-opener for us to show we could beat a big-time team like that,” said Wells, who set the tone when he scored on a 75-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. “That was definitely a momentum booster right there. It showed we have the talent and that we can work as a team to beat some big-time teams in our area.”
This year it’s the Rams that are looking like one of those elite teams. It’s put them in a spot they’ve dreamed of but aren’t necessarily accustomed to — as the squad gunned for by every opponent.
“I feel like momentum is piling on, which is a motivator,” said Vandermus. “But at the same time, it puts a target on our backs for the other teams we have coming up.”
Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Harbor Springs players salute the crowd after a victory this fall. (Middle) Grant Richardson takes off running against Newberry in Week 3. (Below) Center Matt Walker is set to snap the ball during a Week 1 win over East Jordan. (Photos courtesy of the Harbor Springs football program.)