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Mariners continue to prove their tradition-rich program

Since 2019, the Marine City football team has won 39 games, one regional and two district championships, and finished as the Division 5 state runner-up once. Any of the four-year seniors on this year’s roster will graduate without knowing what it’s like to lose a league game, finishing 20-0 in the MAC-Silver with four titles.

And tonight, they'll look to add one more trophy to their collection by winning their 40th game and a district title against Flint Hamady.

Senior Jeff Heaslip runs the ball against Armada in week 1 of the 2022 season.

“My mindset has changed a lot knowing that there’s a finish line,” senior Jeff Heaslip said. “You don’t believe it at the beginning of the season because you still have nine-plus more games, but when you see the finish line and know this one could be your last, it just gives you that extra push.”

Heaslip and fellow senior Brock Osterland have been a part of the Mariner varsity football program for the last four years, and as successful as they’ve been, they’re determined to make this their best season yet.

“I hurt my knee last year so I had to sit out. Knowing this is my last season to put everything on the field, I just give everything my best shot,” Osterland said. “It was a game changer. I was more motivated to work out, get in the playbook, everything.”

The senior linebacker’s preparation is paying off as he leads the team in tackles at 93, with a game-high of 16 in week 9 against the then-undefeated Durand. He said he thinks as long as everyone continues to do their job on the field, he and his teammates should get to practice for another week.

“[Hamady has] a big O-line and a couple of fast kids, but I think if everyone gets to their spot and does their job, I think it’ll turn out just fine,” Osterland said.

And as physical as the game of football is, tonight will be about mental toughness, according to Heaslip and head coach Daryn Letson.

“Coach Letson said, 'Just keep chopping that tree and you’ll eventually knock it down,'” Heaslip said. “They’re going to be more athletic, but we have the better team mentally. They haven’t made a district final for no reason, so it’ll be a good game.”

“When you compile seasons like we’ve been fortunate enough to do as a program, you’re just constantly taking everyone’s best shot and it’s just as much about us getting ready mentally as anything,” Letson said. “I think we’re good physically with where we are as a team, it just took us a little longer to adjust mentally to what we were going to have to take on.

"I think we’ve come along and hopefully, we’re starting to play some of our best football right now.”

Seniors Anthony Ruffino and Zander Cole celebrate in the end zone after a touchdown in week 1 against Armada.

After dropping their season opener in double overtime against Armada, the Mariners went on to win seven straight games. They’ve overcome several injuries and personnel adjustments along the way as well, and now, they’re ready to make another postseason run.

“I feel like the people kind of changed their perspective after the first game,” Osterland said, “but we were able to turn things around and keep things rolling.”

Heaslip even called the proving process “fun.”

“Losing your first game, obviously that sucks and people start to doubt you, but once you start winning and winning they start to doubt you less...It’s been fun to prove ourselves after that first game,” he said.

Heaslip is in his third season as the Mariners’ starting quarterback, but after hurting his hamstring earlier this fall, freshman Lyncoln Osterland has stepped up as Heaslip transitioned to running back. In six games he’s thrown 34-for-48, totaling 422 yards and three touchdowns, while Heaslip has managed 331 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

“It’s pretty nice to see those freshmen and underclassmen take that big step,” Heaslip said. “It’s going to be fun to come back and watch them next year.”

The Mariners have a unique blend of age and talent. Senior Zach Tetler, who’s only played in five games, leads the team in rushing with 586 yards and 11 touchdowns, and the sophomore-senior duo of Paul Muscat and Anthony Ruffino adds 580 and 531 yards, respectively. Junior Cam Milewski chips in with 278.

Senior Parker Atkinson leads on the receiving end with 631 yards and seven touchdowns, while Ruffino adds 193 yards and sophomore Cooper Letson has 127 yards.

“I think we’ve done a good job of over the years to make sure we’re not so top heavy that there’s not a huge drop the following year,” Letson said. “We’ve been able to find a balance to really stabilize things and I think that's important.”

That balance and tradition is exactly why the Mariners are playing for their 20th district title tonight. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 o’clock at East China Stadium. Buy tickets.

“This is our last game at our stadium. Knowing that we’ve been playing together all our lives, there’s a bond that can’t be broken,” Heaslip said


For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli

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