The picture instantly brought back memories to Dan Boggan.
The current Sexton football coach happened to one day come across a photo from his days as an eighth grader playing Pop Warner for the Steelers. What instantly stood out was all the players pictured that went on to play Division I football like Boggan did in the 1980s.
“I looked at it one day and was like ‘Wow, there were like nine guys who played DI on my Pop Warner team,’’ Boggan said. “That’s huge. You just don’t see that that often anymore.”
The Lansing area produced just three Division I recruits last season in Lansing Catholic quarterback Tony Poljan (Central Michigan), Portland lineman Mark Brooks (Western Michigan) and Ithaca quarterback Jake Smith (Harvard). And a pair of area players will make their commitments with Division I programs official during national signing day Wednesday when St. Johns linebacker Tanner Motz signs with Western Michigan and East Lansing receiver/defensive back Kentre Patterson with Illinois State.
Things were different during a simpler recruiting era when talented players, such as Boggan, had to race to the mailbox to learn of interest from colleges and the Lansing area was a hotbed for Division I football talent. Players like Boggan, Marcelle Carruthers, James Moore, Alan Haller, Randy Kinder, Muhsin Muhammad and Kirk Carruthers were among the highly regarded players from the Lansing area during the 1980s and 90s that went on to play Division I football at major schools.
“There was so many guys (that played Division I),” said Boggan, who signed with coach Bill Mallory and Indiana out of Eastern High School in 1986. “I think that our goal was to make it to that level and we really pursued it at the high level in the sense that we just didn’t talk about it, and we worked at that craft in the weight room. If our coaches told us to do this, this and this, we did it.
“Sometimes we see kids with talent now – and I’ve seen it over the last four and five years – they have all the gifts to do it and sometimes they don’t put all the effort that we did to make it.”
Haller, who was recruited by the likes of UCLA, Michigan and Indiana out of Sexton, said it was people like Boggan and Marcelle Carruthers that paved the way for several Lansing area products.
Carruthers, who is Everett’s football coach, was a decorated quarterback at Eastern in the early 1980s and was being recruited by Big Ten and Mid-American Conference programs. He was regarded as the state’s top quarterback his senior season and ended up signing with Central Michigan where he started a few seasons.
Boggan was one of four Lansing-area players from the 1986 class who were major Division I recruits and wound up eventually leaving Indiana to finish his college career at Western Michigan.
Haller remembers growing up hearing about guys around the area like Carruthers and Boggan. He also saw the talent at his high school with eventual MSU signees James Moore and Dane Kemp coming through the Sexton program led by Bob Meyers before him.
“Coming from Sexton, we always looked at the Eastern and East Lansing and their guys were (signing) Division I and Division II scholarships,” Haller said. “So were the guys coming from Sexton. I think the competition kind of spurred that era a little bit and the people that came before you. I always looked at people like Maurice Brandon and James Moore, who were Sexton running backs before me, and I wanted to be like them. That sense of history was there.”
There also was no time for relaxation for Haller, who often would hear about the guys at other schools around the area. With the competition in the city and even at his own school, Haller said he and others were forced to elevate their game in order to succeed.
“I was special to my family, but to the people I was training with and going to school with and competing against – I wasn’t really special,” Haller said. “These guys were at my level or above.”
Boggan believes part of the reason for the decline in Division I football talent being produced in the Lansing area is the result of athletes specializing instead of participating in multiple sports like in the past. Boggan said it was expected for premier athletes to play two, three or potentially even four sports in his era.
That has changed.
“Specialization has really limited certain young men’s opportunities because of the fact they think they’re a great baseball player and they focus on that instead of football,” Boggan said. “Or they think they are a great football player and they focus on that instead of basketball.
“I really encourage kids to throw your hats in all the rings when you have the ability to do that, unless you are a Denzel (Valentine) or Brandon Johns from East Lansing. If you’re bona fide in something, I understand why you specialize in it. If you’re not, there’s nothing wrong with throwing your hat in the ring with other sports and finding out.”
Boggan points to Jodie Clemons – one of his former Sexton players – as an example of someone becoming a Division I athlete because he decided to give a sport a shot. Clemons loved basketball but wouldn’t come to play football. Boggan eventually convinced Clemons to give the sport a shot and it resulted in him signing with Indiana. Clemons wound up being a three-year starter on the defensive line for the Hoosiers and was a captain.
“Who would have known?” Boggan said. “I teased him and said you only average eight points and six rebounds a game. I don’t think you’re going to go play basketball for anybody. He’s a great example.”
“I can think of several others that have gotten scholarships over the years who thought they were great in this or great in that. You have an opportunity and you have gifts that can allow you to enhance your education and get a degree free. Give yourself a shot and don’t just put it in one basket unless you are very special in that one sport.”
LANSING AREA STANDOUTS
Here is a look at some of the most highly regarded football recruits in the Lansing area over the last 35 years.
JIM ARNOUTS, EAST LANSING (1986): The defensive lineman was part of a strong class of recruits in the Lansing area and signed with Vanderbilt.
ANTOINE BAGWELL, EAST LANSING (2002): The running back/safety was a top recruit in the area that signed with Nebraska.
MATT BOHNET, GRAND LEDGE (2001): The quarterback was one of the state’s top prospects and helped the Comets to a state title before signing with Iowa.
DAN BOGGAN, EASTERN (1986): The running back had interest from major programs before signing with Indiana.
BLAKE BOTEK, GRAND LEDGE (2004): The lineman was pursued by Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin before signing with Oklahoma State.
DOMINICK BROWN, SEXTON (2000): The highly regarded linebacker was in a class that featured three Division I linebackers. He picked Michigan State over Indiana.
GARRET BUSHONG, IONIA (2003):The tight end was regarded as one of the best nationally. and signed with Purdue.
KEVIN BUTTS, EVERETT (1983): The lineman was pursued by Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue and MAC schools before signing with MSU.
KIRK CARRUTHERS, EAST LANSING (1988): Regarded as one of the area’s top linebackers over the last three decades, he signed with Florida State.
MARCELLE CARRUTHERS, EASTERN (1983): The Quaker quarterback was viewd as one of the best in the state and was pursued by Big Ten and MAC programs before signing with Central Michigan.
MATT EYDE, EAST LANSING (1989): The quarterback was regarded one of the state’s top players in his recruiting class before signing with MSU.
ALAN HALLER, SEXTON (1988): The running back part of a rich amount of talent produced by the Big Reds under coach Bob Meyers and considered Indiana, UCLA and Michigan before signing with MSU.
BOB FATA, LANSING CATHOLIC (1986): The linebacker/tight end was regarded as the top local prospect in his class and chose MSU over Michigan and Notre Dame.
SHAWN FOSTER, SEXTON (1998): The running back was touted as a top-five prospect in the state and signed with MSU.
JAMES JACKSON, GRAND LEDGE (2009):
BRAD JONES, EAST LANSING (2004): The speedy highly regarded linebacker was pursued by Big Ten programs, including MSU, before choosing to sign with Colorado.
PAUL JORGENSEN, DEWITT (2010): The lineman was considered one of the state’s best and was pursued by MSU and Florida before picking Northwestern.
DANE KEMP, SEXTON (1987): The defensive lineman was being pursued by UCLA, Arizona State, Indiana and Iowa before picking MSU.
RANDY KINDER, EAST LANSING (1993): The running back was considered one of the nation’s best prospects and was widely pursued before choosing Notre Dame.
OCTAVIS LONG, SEXTON (1993): The running back was regarded as one of the state’s top 10 prospects and signed with MSU over Nebraska, UCLA and Wisconsin.
ONAJE MILLER, SEXTON (2011): A three-star prospect, the Big Red running back was considered one of the state’s best. He signed with MSU.
JAMES MOORE, SEXTON (1985): The running back was being pursued by more than 25 schools before choosing MSU over Florida State and Arizona State.
TIM MOORE. ST. JOHNS (1983): The highly regarded linebacker signed with MSU.
MUHSIN MUHAMMAD, WAVERLY (1991): The standout linebacker/fullback attracted interest from top programs like University of Miami and Michigan before picking MSU.
CHRIS PATRICK, ITHACA (2003): The lineman was one of the state’s elite prospects and chased by Michigan, MSU, Purdue, Notre Dame and Oklahoma before picking Nebraska.
JOE PATRICK, FULTON/ITHACA (1999): The lineman was a prep All-American and regarded as one of the top 20 players in the Midwest as a senior before signing with MSU.
TONY POLJAN, LANSING CATHOLIC (2016): The mission to play quarterback led Poljan to Central Michigan, but received major interest and was originally committed to Minnesota.
MICAJAH REYNOLDS, SEXTON (2009): The lineman drew interest from Big Ten and MAC programs before signing with MSU.
MIKE SULLIVAN, EAST LANSING (1991): The lineman was recruited by several major schools before picking Michigan over MSU.
JEFF STUMP, WAVERLY (1983): The lineman was a Prep All-American that signed with MSU.
JOSH THORNHILL, EASTERN (1998): The linebacker was named to eight All-American teams and was a highly sought after recruit that signed with MSU.
KALEB THORNHILL, EASTERN (2003): The linebacker was pursued by many before signing with MSU.
BLAKE TREADWELL, EAST LANSING (2009): The lineman was regarded as one of the state’s top prospects. He wound up signing with MSU.
HOWARD TRIPLETT, SEXTON (1991): The running back, who also was a state hurdles champion for the Big Reds, signed with MSU.
DEMOND WINSTON, LANSING CATHOLIC (1986): The linebacker one of two major Division I prospects on Lansing Catholic’s roster and picked Vanderbilt over Michigan.
MARCUS WINSTON, SEXTON (2004): The standout linebacker had 11 offers before picking Cincinnati.
JOE WOHLSCHEID, GRAND LEDGE (2001): After playing a part in a state title for the Comets, the defensive lineman signed with Northwestern.