Grayling QB finishes career with new records for school, MHSAA
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Grayling High School’s football program, over the course of the last several seasons, has had a history of quarterbacks earning accolades like all-conference, all-region, and all-state, adding numbers to the record books of GHS and the Michigan High School Athletic Association. This past season, Justin Nicholas, senior QB for the Vikings, was the latest Grayling quarterback to set several records, but his story is a little bit different than many of his predecessors.
Nicholas wasn’t a three-year starter at QB like Cam Summers. Summers, a 2017 GHS graduate, set new school records for career passing yards (5,597), passing touchdowns (52), and total touchdowns (74). He wasn’t even a two-year starter; Nicholas played running back, defensive end, and back-up QB during his junior season when Summers was a senior.
Nicholas first played football on a 3rd/4th grade Grayling Redskins youth league squad; he played quarterback and defensive end, same as his senior year with the Grayling Vikings, he said.
Nicholas said he played middle linebacker and running back for the 5th/6th grade Redskins and then left guard (on the offensive line) and defensive end during his 7th grade season. He did not play in 8th grade. Nicholas played quarterback for the GHS junior varsity squad during his freshman season. As a sophomore, he played linebacker and back-up QB on varsity.
During his senior year, the record-setting got an early start, as the Vikings established a new team mark for most points in a game (66) during a week one contest vs. the Roscommon Bucks. The previous record was 64 points.
Nicholas said the first play of the game – a 71-yard touchdown pass to Nick Hunter – “kind of set the tone. From then on we were clicking.”
The Vikings won 66-20 vs. Roscommon, and they followed that effort with wins vs. Gladwin, Kingsley, and Cheboygan. Grayling then lost to Boyne City, Traverse City St. Francis, and Elk Rapids – three playoff teams this year – and the Vikings had to win their last two games of the year in order to earn an automatic playoff berth.
To win their last two, they had to defeat the Benzie Central Huskies and the Kalkaska Blazers. First, the Huskies, at Benzie Central. The Vikings won the contest 58-46, and Nicholas finished the game with 623 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns, completing 39 of 72 passing attempts.
Nicholas said the team was behind 46-30 in the second half, but the squad knew it needed a win and kept battling.
“It was just one of those things, just go out and execute. We were 4-3 at this point. Just go out and do your thing,” Nicholas said.
The 623 passing yards for Nicholas is now second all-time on the Michigan High School Athletic Association record list.
“The 600-plus passing yardage game with eight touchdowns vs. Benzie Central will go down as not just one of the most historic games in Grayling history, but it will go down as one of the most historic in Michigan high school history. Only one other player has thrown for more yards and touchdowns,” said Tim Sanchez, coach of the GHS varsity football program. “As we said to the kids, ‘History is a long time.’ The fact that two of his top receivers were down, and he had an injured ankle, makes it all the more special.”
During the game, Nicholas said he had no idea that the number was so high. He just wanted a victory for the team.
“I was thinking on the sideline maybe 300,” Nicholas said. “The win was more meaningful than any of the stats.”
The 72 passing attempts for Nicholas is now second all-time on the MHSAA list behind Grayling’s Jimmy Osga’s 74 in 2008 vs. Boyne City. Nicholas passed Osga’s second place all-time mark of 70 (vs. Traverse City St. Francis in 2008).
Nicholas, with 39 completions vs. Benzie Central, also came close to Osga’s all-time MHSAA record of 41 completions in a single game (vs. Traverse City St. Francis, 2008, tied with two other players). Nicholas’ mark of 39 completions is tied for the third most all-time on the MHSAA list.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Nicholas said. “Still has not really sunken in. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every year. It’s pretty cool.”
He said he was proud to help the Grayling football program and the community to be “on the map,” and that it was “really cool” to be able to surpass records by another Viking quarterback.
“That’s been my goal since I was a freshman, leave a legacy. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of this program that allows a lot of people to succeed,” Nicholas said.
“It’s just an honor,” Nicholas said. “Goes to show we’re no joke up here. Our motto was we’re gonna pass on you until you stop it.”
Nicholas broke several Grayling High School football records during the 2017 season. He had 3,188 passing yards, topping Osga’s all-time mark of 3,146 in 2008. Nicholas had 40 total touchdowns this year (28 passing and 12 rushing), breaking Osga’s 2008 record of 35 TDs. Nicholas’ eight TD passes vs. Benzie Central also set a new school record, breaking Summers’ mark of seven in 2015, and his 623 passing yards vs. the Huskies broke the team record of 507 (Osga, 2008).
“The record setting season that Justin and his teammates had this year was incredible. The records that were set by Jimmy Osga and his teammates were believed to be in the ‘untouchable’ realm. To break the season passing yard record and total touchdown records is still a little unreal,” Coach Sanchez said.
Nicholas said this year’s football team “was a really tight-knit group of people.” He said the group wanted to exceed outside expectations, feeling like people were saying “this year Grayling is going to be down” after losing several seniors to graduation.
“We were definitely doubted before the year,” Nicholas said. “That just put a chip on our shoulders. We just said let’s do this thing.”
Nicholas has one college scholarship offer for football, and he’s considering an attempt at playing at the next level. Not at the quarterback position, though.
“I would love to walk on to a smaller D2 or a D3 and walk on as a fullback. That’s my goal,” Nicholas said.
In college, he plans to study business management and sports management.
Michigan High School Athletic Association – Football Record Book
Passing Yards – Game
674 - Omar Salih, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Mayville (28 of 45) (10-11-2013)
623 - Justin Nicholas, Grayling vs. Benzie Central (39 of 72) (10-13-17) **
615 - Omar Salih, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (22 of 30) (9-19-2015)
603 - Brendon Fitch, Swartz Creek vs. Flint Kearsley (26 of 41) (9-13-2013)
557 - Andrew Copp, Ann Arbor Skyline vs. Ann Arbor Pioneer (31 of 49) (9-23-2011)
544 - Omar Salih, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Bay City All Saints (31 of 45) (9-10-2015)
541 - Marcus Lester, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Dearborn Heights Star International (33 of 65) (9-26-2014)
541 - Cooper Rush, Lansing Catholic vs. Dowagiac (25 of 28) (11-11-11)
525 - George Royce, Chelsea vs. Farmington Hills Harrison (19 of 26) (11-1-2003)
511 - Sean Koski, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North vs. Grosse Pointe South (28 of 49) (9-6-2013)
510 - Robert Hunt, Detroit Central vs. Detroit Western (41 of 51) (10-19-1984)
508 - Mitch Robinson, Auburn Hills Avondale vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's (36 of 65) (11-6-2010)
507 - Jimmy Osga, Grayling vs. Boyne City (40 of 74) (10-24-2008)
505 - Omar Salih, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Mayville (31 of 57) (10-15-2015)
501 - Sean Koski, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North vs. Port Huron Northern (15 of 24) (10-11-2013)
Passing Attempts – Game
74 - Jimmy Osga, Grayling vs. Boyne City (40 of 74) (10-24-2008)
72 - Justin Nicholas, Grayling vs. Benzie Central (39 of 72) (10-13-17) **
70 - Jimmy Osga, Grayling vs. Traverse City St. Francis (41 of 70) (10-17-2008)
68 - Torry Taylor, Covert vs. Beal City (27 of 68) (9-2-2004)
65 - Marcus Lester, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Dearborn Heights Star International (33 of 65) (9-26-2014)
65 - Mitch Robinson, Auburn Hills Avondale vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's (36 of 65) (11-6-2010)
62 - Tyler VanTubbergen, Holland West Ottawa vs. Chesterton, Ind. (38 of 62) (8-25-2007)
60 - Omar Salih, Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy vs. Dearborn Heights Annapolis (9-9-2013)
60 - Chance Garner, Flint Central vs. Bay City Western (33 of 60) (8-25-2006)
Passing Completions – Game
41 - Jimmy Osga, Grayling vs. Traverse City St. Francis (70 attempts) (10-17-2008)
41 - Steve Brander, Jenison vs. Holland West Ottawa (56 attempts) (9-13-2002)
41 - Robert Hunt, Detroit Central vs. Detroit Western (51 attempts) (10-19-1984)
40 - Jimmy Osga, Grayling vs. Boyne City (74 attempts) (10-24-2008)
39 - Sean Koski, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North vs. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (59 attempts) (11-1-2013)
39 - Justin Nicholas, Grayling vs. Benzie Central (72 attempts) (10-13-17) **
38 - Tyler VanTubbergen, Holland West Ottawa vs. Chesterton, Ind. (62 attempts) (8-25-2007)
38 - Steve Brander, Jenison vs. East Kentwood (54 attempts) (10-11-2002)
38 - Luke Denver, Lake Orion vs. Grand Blanc (11-5-1999)
Records courtesy of www.mhsaa.com/sports/football/record-book/individual-records
** denotes record not yet placed in MHSAA online record book