Going out on a high note

Hillman looking to continue playoff streak before 8-man switch

News File Photo Hillman quarterback Kyler Moir attempts to avoid a tackle from an Indland Lakes defender during an October 2016 game at Hillman High School. Moir and the Tigers will compete in their final season of 11-man football this year before switching to 8-man football in 2018.

The Hillman football program has been a model of consistency for over a decade. The Tigers have not had a losing season in 11 years and have made the playoffs in all but one year since Bill Koenig was named head coach.

Koenig took over in 2005 and got off to a rough start as Hillman was winless, finishing that season with a 0-9 record. The Tigers had eight consecutive losing seasons before Koenig turned the program around in a huge way.

After going winless in his first year, Koenig and the Tigers did for the next 11 years was win and secure playoff spots every season. With the 2017 season right around the corner, Hillman’s goal is the same as its been for several years, keep the streak alive.

This season will be an important and memorable one for the Tigers. With the 8-man football game growing across the state, a decision was made in the spring by the Hillman athletic department to have the Tigers make the transition to 8-man football in starting in 2018.

“(We’ve) seen it coming, but we always thought we had a couple more years before making the switch. It came down to an administrative decision that they had to look out for the best interest of the school and of the players in order to keep them safe,” Koenig said. “It is also becoming hard to start finding teams. It’s not just the North Star League doing it, but also Ski-Valley teams and even some class C schools are making the change so it’s made it tough for us to find teams to scrimmage and play out of conference games against.”

In March, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) approved splitting 8-man football into two state tournaments because of the growing numbers.

Hillman has been well under the enrollment limit to qualify for 8-man play for quite some time and could have easily made the switch earlier, but a sense of pride and tradition has always been there.

“I’m on board with the the athletic department that I don’t want to go 8-man just to keep our lights on Friday nights or to save face. I do think it’s a good time to go, we have a lot of good talent coming through yet and we’re capable of being successful in 8-man,” Koenig said. “It was still kind of a surprise because we kept denying it because we still had 25 kids this year and we’re still good, but a majority of our roster is underclassmen so you have to look out for the best interest of the kids and I think that is what our AD Scott Cordes is doing.”

Talented rosters have allowed Hillman to maintain its streak of success and have been helped out by coaches and former players Cody and Shane Allen.

“I think the program would fair well under 8-man. I’m not sure what my status would be going forward, but Cody and Shane have been with me and I coached both of them and they came through the ranks. They watch a lot of game film, discovering new ideas and aspects, while still being able to get the stuff done that I want done,” Koenig said. “I think if we went 8-man today I think those two would do a wonderful job with it just because of the talent we have here. I trust those two would do a great job.”

The North Star League has since moved to one league consisting of seven teams as several teams have switched to 8-man football. Atlanta will play 8-man football this year and Mio and Au Gres will join Hillman in moving to 8-man in 2018.

The Tigers are hoping to make their final year playing 11-man football a special one and go out on top and continue their playoff streak.

“It’s in the back of all of our minds to keep the streak alive because this is the last group that’s playing 11-man football in Hillman and they want to go out on a good note,” Koenig said. “I’m not saying we need to win the league or win a playoff game, but we want to go out in good fashion and play the same respectable football that we’ve been playing for the last 12 years and go out successful, still being kind of on top and maybe while we’re doing that throw one more trophy in the trophy case.”