Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 29, 2013

Swan Valley RB Grace is Player of Year


Associated Press

---- — EAST LANSING (AP) — Individual records don’t mean much to Saginaw Swan Valley junior running back Alex Grace, but rushing for a Michigan High School Athletic Association single-season record 2,952 yards in 2013 was important to him.

That’s because he doesn’t view it as an individual record.

In the eyes of Grace, the state rushing record was a team accomplishment.

“Nothing happens if we don’t all work together,” Grace said. “I just kept focusing on winning, and if the record came along with it, it came along with it.”

Grace was voted the Associated Press Division 3-4 Player of the Year by the 10-member panel that selects the AP All-State team, and plenty of winning did come along with his individual accolades.

Saginaw Swan Valley went undefeated in the regular season and won a Division 4 district championship.

Grace broke the rushing record on an 80-yard touchdown to give his team a fourth-quarter lead over Lansing Sexton in the regional championship round of the playoffs — the first time Sexton had trailed in the second half of a game all season.

Sexton came back to win the game, making Grace’s record-breaking performance bittersweet.

“After that touchdown, I didn’t know. I was told after the game,” Grace said. “I was excited, but I was disappointed that we didn’t win.”

The fact that the 6-foot-1, 205-pound back eclipsed the state rushing record on a fourth-quarter touchdown run was fitting, according to Swan Valley coach Ken Bourbina.

“The wear and tear of having to tackle him wears on teams,” Bourbina said. “If we could give him the room, he could do some special things.”

Running backs joining Grace on the Division 3-4 All-State first team are Sexton junior Avonte Bell, St. Joseph senior Jack Turak and Sault Area senior Ray’nell Anderson, who rushed for 1,352 yards and 17 touchdowns.

This year’s All-State quarterbacks are both juniors who are playing in state championship games — Jon Wassink of Grand Rapids South Christian and Jacob Johnson of DeWitt. Johnson threw 23 touchdowns with no interceptions during the regular season.

The All-State receivers are Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior Austin Gordon, Clawson senior Marquian Johnson and Holland Christian senior Kyle Steigenga, who caught 13, 14 and 17 touchdowns on the season, respectively.

The linemen are Grand Rapids Christian senior Tommy Doles, Forest Hills Northern senior Jacob Howe, Zeeland West senior Jordan VanDort, Lake Fenton senior Alex Schwartz, West Branch Ogemaw Heights senior Alec Stevens, Essexville-Garber senior Alex Neering and Redford Thurston senior Damon Fuller.

Leading the defense is Tecumseh senior linebacker Preston Pelham, a unanimous selection who registered 129 tackles for a team that gave up 12.4 points a game. The other Division 3-4 first-team All-State linebackers are Wayland Union senior Quentin Sweeney, Richmond senior Jake McKiernan, Lapeer East senior Kyle Rachwal and Saginaw Swan Valley junior Taylor Reaume.

Spring Lake senior Chase Slagboom had nine interceptions to lead the defensive backs. The other All-State first-team defensive backs are Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior Jalen Watts-Jackson, Riverview senior Josh Smith and DeWitt senior Chris Ruby.

Melvindale senior Malik Boynton was prolific on offense, defense and special teams with eight receiving touchdowns, four interceptions and a number of long returns on kicks. He is an All-State specialist, as is Jake Bush.

The Comstock Park senior ran for 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns, had 25 receptions for 326 yards and two TDs and returned two kickoffs for scores.

The All-State punter is St. Joseph junior Cullen Hoffman, and the kicker is Mason senior Josh Flamme, who also is a star soccer player.

The AP Division 3-4 Coach of the Year is Milan’s Jesse Hoskins, who led the Big Reds to an undefeated regular season for the second year in a row.

Cadillac quarterback Jalen Brooks was named honorable mention, as were three Cheboygan players in Colt Hudak, Jameson Knolton and Ben Pearson. Cadillac head coach Jim Webb also was honorable mention.