The goals remain the same

Hillman expects to continue winning tradition in 8-player football

News File Photo Members of Hillman's defense including Kyler Moir (4), Matt Hunt (83), Caine Hunt (33), Caleb Sanders (30) and Nash Steinke swarm Whittemore-Prescott's Ridge Schutte during a 2017 football game at Hillman High School. After years of success in 11-man football, the Tigers beginning a new chapter in the program history and will play their first season of eight-man football this fall.

HILLMAN — The Hillman High School football program has been a consistent winner and enjoyed a winning tradition.

For the last 12 years, the Tigers begin each season with a goal in mind to continue “the streak” as Hillman has made the playoffs the last 12 seasons.

A lot of things have changed in a year for the Tigers. Longtime coach Bill Koenig retired at the end of last season and former defensive coordinator Cody Allen has taken over the reigns as head coach. Along with the coaching change, Hillman is also making the transition from 11-player football to eight-player as the program embarks on a new era of football.

Despite the big changes, one thing will remain the same. The goal to continue a winning tradition and keeping the playoff streak alive will be on the Tigers’ minds as they begin their first season of eight-player football in 2018.

“I think the timing was right. A new league was starting to form with several former North Star League teams and it just seemed like a good fit for us,” Allen said. “If we would have waited a few more years to make the transition, who knows what would have happened or where we would be.”

For the first time since 1955, Hillman will be playing a conference not called the North Star League.

This year the Tigers will be apart of the Midwest Central Michigan 8-Man Conference. Hillman will be on the east side of the league along with Onaway, Au Gres, Hale, Pellston, Charleton Heston and former NSL rivals, Posen and Atlanta.

The west side of the conference will consist of Onekama, Suttons Bay, Bellaire, Tri-Unity, Forest Area and the defending state champions, Central Lake.

Hillman will be one of just two teams in the conference that is new to the eight-player game, with Au Gres also making the transition this season.

The Tigers will certainly be tested early in the season as three of their first four games of the season are against teams who reached the playoffs a year ago.

Hillman opens its new era of eight-player football in front of a home crowd in exactly two weeks against Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A week later, the Tigers will host former NSL rival Atlanta who has turned its program around since switching to the eight-player game and in Week 4, Hillman will host eight-player newcomer and a familiar foe in Au Gres.

Despite having to play three playoff teams from a year ago in its first four games, Hillman will have the luxury of playing them all at home. The Tigers will also rekindle an old NSL rivalry by welcoming Posen in Week 6 for homecoming.

“We have a pretty tough schedule to start, with Sacred Heart to start and right into a rivalry game with Atlanta and we have Au Gres early on. It’s a pretty tough start, but I think we’ll be ready for the challenges that we may face early on in the season,” Allen said. “When I was in school, Posen and Atlanta were always our two biggest rivals and it’s nice to be able to have those rivalries back. The kids are looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be fun.”

Hillman hasn’t had a losing season in over a decade. The last time the Tigers suffered a losing season was Koenig’s first year at the helm, so Hillman will hope that history doesn’t repeat itself with a new head coach this time around.

Nothing will be given to the Tigers in their first year of eight-player and the team will have some learning to do, but Allen is confident that he will be able to keep the winning tradition alive at Hillman.

“We want to keep the streak going and we want to build it. We’ve only won two playoff games during that streak and our goal is to build off of what we did at the the end of last year,” Allen said. “The playoff structure is a little different in eight-player, but our goals and expectations are high and we want to continue a winning tradition here in Hillman no matter what we’re playing.”

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at jzawacki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690.