By Gary Kalahar, JTV Sports
Photo by Ryan Kerwin
Micah Cretsinger’s football career at Jackson High School has been relatively injury-free, except for one issue.
With size 16 shoes, he can’t always get his feet to go where he wants them, making him prone to turf toe.
That irritant is about the only thing that has slowed Cretsinger down this season, as opponents have certainly struggled to find a way to bottle him up. The Jackson senior has played a leading role on both sides of the ball as the Vikings have gotten off to their best start in more than 80 years. As a rugged outside linebacker and versatile offensive threat, Cretsinger has helped Jackson to a 6-0 record, a playoff berth, and a good shot at the Southeastern Conference White championship.
At the same time, the solid 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is hoping to grow into those shoes and earn a spot on a college roster next fall. But first things first.
“We want a state championship ring by the end of this,” Cretsinger said. “That playoff spot was the first of the goals. We also want this conference championship. I’ve seen Lumen Christi win those state championships, and I knew that having a vibe like that going on at Jackson High would be a sweet feeling. That’s what we’re striving for.”
With three games left in the regular season, Jackson is headed to one of the finest seasons in its long football history. The Vikings are 6-0 for the first time since 1936 – with a nine-game winning streak dating back to last year – and are one victory away from at least a tie for their first league title since 1942.
“On a scale of 1-10, it’s a 12,” Cretsinger said of the atmosphere in the Jackson camp and in the school this fall. “We have really good chemistry, we’ve been working hard ever since the end of last year, when we knew we weren’t where we were supposed to be. We came out and said we’re having a different mindset this year. Once you start winning too, everything is fun. Everyone wants to come to practice and work hard.”
A varsity starter since his sophomore year, Cretsinger has played on Jackson teams that went 5-4 and 4-5 while playing in the Lansing-based Capital Area Activities Conference.
“Going to this conference, we felt like it was a new, fresh start for us,” Cretsinger said of the SEC White, with schools to the east. “We felt like we had all the tools and weapons to do a little of everything. The 6-0 start is nice, and it shows how much work we put in. We have a mindset of playing all four quarters. Last year we had some games where we played three or three and a half quarters and didn’t finish out the fourth quarter. So we said we were going to have a killer mindset all four quarters, and it’s paid off so far.”
The biggest difference for the Vikings has probably been on defense. Jackson, which has given up at least 22 points a game – and often much more – over the last decade, is allowing just 15.5 points a night this season and has not surrendered more than 20 in any game.
In last week’s 39-14 throttling of Ypsilanti Lincoln – previously unbeaten in the conference – Jackson allowed 100 yards rushing for the first time this season.
“If you can stop people from running the ball and make them be one-dimensional, regardless of who they are, you have a good chance of beating them,” Jackson coach Scott Farley said.
Cretsinger is among the leaders on that defense from his outside linebacker spot, although his numbers aren’t eye-popping as the Vikings are balanced and they have controlled the ball on offense and kept the defense off the field. He is second on the team with 36 tackles, including a team-high seven tackles for loss, and has made two interceptions and forced a fumble.
“We’ve always run the same defense, I just think we’re doing it better,” Cretsinger said. “We have the mindset that we want to be the best defense that has been here in a long time.”
Farley calls Cretsinger a “dynamic defensive player” who has made several noteworthy plays, including an interception against Monroe in which he came across the field, undercut the play, leaped to tip the ball in the air and saw it come down in his hands while he was on his back in the end zone.
“That was maybe the most athletic play I have seen one of my players make, ever,” said Farley, in his sixth season at Jackson after 20 years as the coach at Leslie.
On a Jackson offensive unit that has scored at least four touchdowns every game, Cretsinger has lined up at running back, slot, receiver and H-back.
“Wherever I’m needed, I feel like I can be versatile,” he said. “I like that the coaches trust me enough to put me wherever I’m needed.”
Cretsinger, a sprinter on the Jackson track team and also a basketball player for the Vikings, is the team’s top receiver in a run-oriented attack. He has nine receptions for 105 yards. He has gained 252 yards on a 7.0 yards-per-carry average while scoring five touchdowns on the ground.
Farley recalls a play where Cretsinger got the ball in a bad spot on an option, and it didn’t matter.
“He literally carried four or five guys for 13 yards because he’s so strong, they couldn’t get him to the ground,” Farley said.
But Cretsinger prefers defense, where he earned first-team all-conference as a junior.
“I like the big hits,” he said, “and causing things to happen – fumbles, interceptions.”
It’s on defense where Cretsinger intends to take his talent to the next level. When coaches from Western Michigan talked to him as a sophomore, he began thinking that playing at the collegiate level was a possibility. He has a scholarship offer from Cornell of the Ivy League. And while it might be hard to beat that academically, he hopes his athletic and academic achievement – he carries a 3.78 grade-point average and plans to pursue physical therapy – will give him some options.
Farley sure thinks so.
“Not only is he a wonderful kid and a good student, he’s worked as hard and been as consistent in our weight program as anybody since I’ve been here,” Farley said.
“I just shake my head sometimes. I look at the Mid-American Conference schools, and I think, do you all have 85 guys that are better than this guy? It’s impossible. I know they can only bring in X number a year and they have to fill different positions. I watch them play, and they don’t have a lot of dudes that are as good as he is.”
Oh, and those size 16 shoes on someone who just turned 17 in July?
“I think he’s going to get that growth spurt and be 6-5 and 260 or 270 and be a defensive end or tight end,” Farley said.
“I’m just hoping,” Cretsinger said, “for that 6-5 growth spurt to come any time soon.”