West Catholic looks to rebound after breaking state playoff streak

High School Preps

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s safe to say that last season was anything but ordinary for the West Catholic football program. 

After 16 consecutive seasons of qualifying for the state playoffs, the Falcons finished just 1-8 in 2019. The only win came against Comstock Park in week 3; every other loss was by double figures.

It was a season to forget about, and that’s just what Justin Michalowski’s group has been doing with its sights set on 2020.

“After our last game last season, this team has put a dedication in from the very next Tuesday to now,” Michalowski said. “They realize last year was just a blip and they are ready for the opportunity this year.”

While the Falcons may not have been a state title favorite a season ago, it wasn’t expected for them to fall off the way they did. 

In the past decade, the Falcons were a team you could almost pencil into the state finals most years. From 2013-2017, West Catholic made state title runs in Division 5, plus a title in 2010 and a runner-up in 2012. Michalowski was on those coaching staffs. 

Michalowski replaced Joe Hyland who led his teams to state titles in 2016 and 2017. It was in March of 2019 that Michalowski was handed the keys to the head coaching job.

Some of the dedication Michalowski referred to really kicked in when coronavirus shut the MHSAA down back in March. He said he would receive 50 to 75 videos a week of players working out, competing against each other in the weight room.

This gives the former Falcon running back and defensive back in the 1990s himself reason to believe this group of kids will grow from a season ago. 

“It’s a special group of kids and a special community,” Michalowski said. “At the end of the day, it’s their hard work that separates them from the person next to them. We have to work harder to be better than the competition and that’s the beauty of competition. Competition makes us work harder.”

Football practice at West Catholic High School on Sept. 16, 2020)

Michalowski said the team has 16 seniors back for the 2020 campaign. He feels good knowing he has players returning in a year he could’ve never imagined coaching in.

“It’s been challenging, but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Michalowski said. “Really as an adult when I have a bad mental health day, all I have to do is look at the kids hard work to bring me back up and that’s what it’s all about.”

Michalowski believes that football being back is good even with COVID-19 happening because of the mental health side for the athletes. The smiles he sees daily leads him to believe they need this, and they are doing everything they can to spread the importance of social distancing. 

With all the aside, it is time for week 1. The Falcons will take on Coopersville in what is technically week 4 on Friday at 7 p.m. It will be an O-K Blue conference matchup. 

While all teams will qualify for the state playoffs, Michalowski and the team want to start the season off right with a win.

“You take for granted having scrimmages and 7 on 7’s and we haven’t been able to have those,” Michalowski said. “It gives a lot of players a lot of opportunities to show what they can do week 1.”

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