Portagers move on without Taylor

Onekama head coach Jim Hunter gives instructions to his players during the first day of practice on Monday. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

For the 49th time, Onekama commenced the first practice of a new football season Monday evening, but something felt off for coach Jim Hunter.

His predecessor turned longtime assistant, Jim Taylor, who now resides in Florida, was not around to provide his endless expertise to the Portagers, leaving Hunter with one last item to check off the itinerary as his players headed home.

“I’m going to give him a call tonight,” Hunter said, “because it’s just too strange.”

Taylor started the football program in 1964, and was Onekama’s head coach the first 25 years. Hunter took the helm in 1988 and added Taylor to his staff in 1997. Ever since, Taylor has helped coach in a wide range of capacities before deciding to step down at the end of last season.

“He was here for so long, and I’m going to miss him tremendously,” Hunter said. “He was a grandfather figure to the kids, but he was very much a mentor to me. I wish the guy would have been around the first five years of my career, but I’m certainly glad to have shared time on the field with him.”

Players come and go in waves at the high school level, so Hunter has embraced the coaching shift much like the departure of a senior class.

Along with Taylor, Jeff Prokes left a void to fill on the sidelines that has been replaced by receivers coach and Onekama elementary teacher Ben Mauntler. John Neph, Onekama’s varsity baseball coach and middle school teacher, returns after a year hiatus and will head the junior varsity team, which has six scheduled dates.

“It’s always nice to keep as many teachers on your coaching staff as you can, because it’s so hard for community members to make the time commitment it takes to coach,” Hunter said. “It’s not the preacher showing up on Sundays; we don’t just show up on Friday night. There’s an awful lot of work that goes into it.”

Hunter is again joined by defensive coordinator Jeff Wisniski, and is pleased to enlist the help of former players Jim Kosiboski and JJ Randall as well.

“We’re very lucky right now, especially with the couple young guys stepping up too,” he said of the 2008 graduates from Onekama and Bear Lake, respectively. “It’s nice they want to come back and help.

“They’ll give me what time they can, and I know both of them pretty well. They’ll probably be here every day.”

Having many minds at work will make Hunter’s job that much easier.

“Everyone notices a little something different,” he said. “There’s lots of eyes watching a lot of things, and we can make twice as many corrections that way with these guys here.”

He also appreciates the sudden evolution of his staff.

“It’s nice to have that mix of age. Coach Taylor used to do the grandfather thing here, I used to be the older mentor, and Prokes was the raving lunatic on the sidelines,” he said with a laugh. “I guess now I’m the grandfather, which is OK. I’m at that point in my life where I actually am one.

“It’s nice to have the young guys who can take these guys aside and reinforce what the older coaches are telling them,” he added. “There comes those times where a kid will look at you and say ‘coach, this is too hard,’ but it’s nice to have those younger coaches there remind them, ‘hey, it is tough, but coach is right. We were able to do it.’”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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