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Cool Crusader

Duncan MacLean • Aug 22, 2018 at 5:49 AM

After rattling off four straight Division 8 state titles, Muskegon Catholic Central football's historic run of success came to a screeching halt in the 2017 playoffs. A disheartening loss to their rivals from Mendon in the district finals left a sour taste in the mouths of the Crusader faithful.

The hits didn't stop there, however. Shortly after the end of their dominant title reign, the Crusaders not-so-secret weapon Cam Martinez transferred to the Muskegon Big Reds program to chase a well-deserved Division I scholarship.

Without their star quarterback to help the Crusaders bounce back from the end of their title streak, MCC was dealt yet another curveball — a jump into the ranks of Division 6. Due to a declining enrollment and a need for a deeper roster, the Crusaders entered a co-op venture with traditional Lakes Eight Conference rival Western Michigan Christian.

When the smoke cleared, the only appropriate reaction was to get back to business, and that started with winter drills for MCC's rising starter and quarterback of the future — sophomore Max Price.

"When I heard the news Cam left, Coach (Steve Czerwon) told me I was the next man up," Price said. "I immediately got with him and started doing quarterback drills over the winter and got to work right away getting ready to take over.

"I knew I had a big role to fill this year, but I was up for it."

That quiet, unquestioned confidence was just what head coach Steve Czerwon ordered, making the promotion an easy decision. Price’s skill set didn't hurt, either.

"Max was the backup last year, and he was going to play some quarterback this year regardless of who was on the roster," Czerwon said. "He throws the ball really well and has great athletic rhythm. He just throws the ball on time well. He has great leadership skills and keeps progressing every single practice.

"He doesn't lack for confidence, either. That is the main thing. If he makes a bad play, he is the kind of guy who forgets about it and moves on."

That kind of mental fortitude can be hard to find for a senior in high school, let alone a sophomore still yet to begin classes, a fact not lost on Czerwon.

"He is hopefully going to be playing quarterback for us for the next three years," he said. "So, any mistakes he makes as a sophomore will only pay off in lessons in the years to come and that is exactly what we are looking for out of him."

MCC thrived last year on the quick thinking and quicker feet of Martinez at quarterback, who could produce a touchdown out of thin air. According to Czerwon, Price has a few tricks up his sleeve, as well.

"He throws extremely well, with great timing, and has a fairly strong arm," he said. "What impressed me about him was his timing and his quick release. He has above average running skills, as well.

"So, we are going to be able to do the same kind of things we were doing with a mobile quarterback, while utilizing his passing skills a little more. He can definitely escape if he needs to, but we also have some designed runs and read options that we won't shy away from with Max, because he is capable of running them."

Skill and intangibles aside, leading a pack of fellow adolescents onto the gridiron is no easy task, especially for a sophomore looking to command respect from multiple-time state-champions teammates.

Price has a plan.

"I do have to earn the team's trust a little it,” he said. “I know all the guys, and we don't have that many kids in our school. I'm just going to play my game and not try to do too much. Just make sure I fill my role and always give effort.

"Last year as a freshman, I didn't get much playing time. I learned the playbook, but it was shaky. I've got all the plays and reads down now, so this year is going to be fun.

"As far as leading the guys, I like to try and know what everyone is doing on a play, so I'm not just helping my backup understand our role. I can help other positions out with what routes they are running and who they are blocking and get everyone together."

At the end of the day, MCC is a team like few others, with an especially rich history to fall back on for inspiration. If the pressure to win over his teammates somehow wasn't enough, the will of the MCC football community is a great motivator for a young quarterback.

"It is awesome waking up every day and knowing my team is as dominant as it is," Price said. "My motivation every practice is knowing there are people in the stands putting pressure on me to do well and win games.

"I think about that playoff loss every time I see a football."

As for the added heat of Division 6, Price says bring it on.

"I'm up for whatever," he said casually. "Doesn't scare me."

As usual, the Crusaders aren't short on playmakers to support their quarterback, with a stellar committee of running backs to pound the ground game when Price isn't airing it out. With history at their backs and a loss to avenge, look for MCC to rise to the top of their new division from the jump.

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