GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gabe Nelson doesn’t want to relive the disappointment he felt last season.
The Middleville Thornapple Kellogg senior quarterback missed five games a year ago during one of the greatest turnarounds in program history. Nelson suffered an injury to his arm in a Week 4 win over Wayland and sat out the remainder of the regular season.
“It was really, really hard,” Nelson said. “It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do to watch my teammates go out and play without me. The fact that we still made the playoffs was awesome and I still played in one more game, but it was rough.”
Nelson returned for the Trojans’ first playoff game since 2010, but it wasn’t enough as their season ended with a narrow 25-24 loss to Battle Creek Central.
“It was a close game and the fact that we came out and dominated until the last 15 minutes and then kind of let it go was really hard,” Nelson said. “We have a ton of motivation this season because of that and we’re trying to get better. We have bigger goals.”
TK coach Jeff Dock is thrilled to have his signal-caller back and healthy again to help engineer the offense.
“I think with him back there’s the confidence that when they see him behind center everybody can kind of take a deep breath, and say, ’OK, let’s go’,” Dock said. “Whoever is in front of us, we have a chance now, and he’s got this competitiveness that is deep down inside of him.
“He’s got two and a half years of experience, he’s been around the offense and he wants to learn the offense. He’s just a student of the game.”
The Trojans finished 7-3 last season after going 2-7 in 2017. In fact, TK won a combined five games in a three-year span before last year’s resurgence.
“We have to give a lot of credit to coach Dock,” Nelson said. “He’s changed the mentality of TK (football) because everybody used to not have a lot of confidence in themselves. They thought we sucked, but now, coach gave us the confidence to know that we can go out and beat these guys if we do what we can do.”
The Trojans defeated Hastings 41-34 in last week’s season opener. It was the first step in what Nelson hopes is a continuation of last year, though he understands that they will now be looked at differently.
“We’re definitely planning for that, and we have a lot of new stuff we’re implementing that we didn’t do last year,” Nelson said. “And we have more experience at winning. We know how to come in and what to expect. We’ve played all the teams in our conference that are really good so we know what’s coming at us.”
TK will face Byron Center on Friday at home in a nonconference tilt. The Trojans defeated the Bulldogs 28-14 last season after losing three straight to them.
Byron Center also comes in unbeaten at 1-0 after a convincing victory over Forest Hills Northern.
“Byron Center has a fantastic program, they are well-coached and they fly around on defense, so we look forward to the challenge,” Dock said. “It will be a good litmus test as to where we are. If we want to compete at the highest level we have to go and show it. They are going to come in with a lot of confidence with the great win they had and I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”
MUSKEGON (1-0) at DETROIT MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. (0-1)
The Muskegon Big Reds hope to exact revenge in Week 2 as they hit the road again for a rematch of last year’s Division 3 state championship game.
Muskegon suffered a 41-25 loss to Detroit Martin Luther King last fall at Ford Field, spoiling its bid for a second straight unbeaten season.
The Big Reds and Ohio State-bound quarterback Cameron Martinez opened the season last week with an impressive 41-7 win over defending Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle in the Xenith Prep Football Classic at Wayne State University.
MLK lost to Detroit Catholic Central 24-22 to kick off the season. It was only their seventh loss in the last five years. The Crusaders have won three state crowns in the last four years.
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FOREST HILLS NORTHERN (0-1) at EAST GRAND RAPIDS (0-1)
Both Forest Hills Northern and East Grand Rapids are searching for their first win of the season after each dropped their season openers at home against O-K Green conference opponents.
The Pioneers lost to Zeeland West after allowing a late touchdown in a game that was delayed until the following day due to adverse conditions.
Forest Northern’s game also was delayed and it didn’t fare much better in a 42-14 setback against Byron Center.
EGR, which has won the O-K Gold in back-to-back seasons, has won the past three meetings between the two teams.