Dowagiac, Cass grads shine in Ferris State championship

Published 1:14 pm Thursday, December 23, 2021

BIG RAPIDS — National Champions — the Ferris State University football team earned that distinction after a convincing 58-17 win over Valdosta State last Saturday in the NCAA Division II Championship Game in McKinney, Texas.

As the clock hit zero and confetti began to rain from the sky, athletes Caleb Murphy and Tyrese Hunt-Thompson were overcome with emotions. Murphy, a Dowagiac native, and Hunt-Thompson, of Cassopolis — two standout athletes from this neck of the woods — showcased their talents under the bright lights on the biggest stage.

“It was surreal,” Hunt-Thompson said. “I still can’t put it into words what it felt like. One of the best parts about winning was looking at my teammates’ faces as the clock wound down and looking at their smiles and how happy they were. That’s probably one of the best
feelings.”

“It was like a ‘wow’ moment,” Murphy said. “Everything was ‘wow, we really did it’.”

When the Bulldogs needed big plays, Murphy and Hunt-Thompson delivered.

Murphy, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Defensive Lineman of The Year and second-team Associated Press Division II All-America at defensive end, tallied seven tackles including one for loss and played a key role in shutting down one of the most prolific offenses in the county.

As for Hunt-Thompson, the speedy wide receiver caught just one pass in the game but made the most of it by hauling in a 47-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Mylik Mitchell to put the Bulldogs up 41-17 at halftime.

Murphy and Hunt-Thompson were nots the only southwest Michigan natives to show out in the title game. Benton Harbor native Jeremy Burrell rushed for 103 yards and one touchdown. While at Ferris, the trio developed a bond that helped them stay grounded and focused three hours from home.

“We call ourselves the 269 boys,” Hunt-Thompson said. “I leaned on them to keep me going this season, especially Caleb. It’s a connection that I love that I have with those boys, and it meant a lot for us to be there in that same moment.”

“It has meant a lot to be able to show them small-town guys like us can definitely succeed,” Murphy said. “You just have to keep pushing and find your own way. Showcasing southwest Michigan with my talents has been pretty cool, and hopefully it shines a light on the talent there in southwest Michigan.”

In high school, Hunt-Thompson helped the Rangers advance to two Division 8 state semifinal appearances but was not able to make it to the championship game. So, being able to do so in the collegiate ranks means a lot.

“I remember we made it to semi-state two times in high school, but we lost,” he said. “When I got here, I remembered all of the hard times I went through in high school to try to get to that moment. To finally do it in college means a lot.”

As a standout football player for Dowagiac, Murphy achieved several individual accolades but a state championship eluded him.

To shine a light on the talent in southwest Michigan and be a role model for his Dowagiac community are things Murphy takes great pride in.

“It has meant a lot to be able to show them small-town guys like us can definitely succeed,” Murphy said. “You just have to keep pushing and find your own way. Showcasing southwest Michigan with my talents has been pretty cool, and hopefully it shines a light on the talent there.”

While proud to deliver Ferris State its first ever national championship in football, both Murphy and Hunt-Thompson believe it will be the first of many.

“We knew that when we finally clicked as a team that no one could compete with us,” Hunt-Thompson said. “I think we proved that Michigan has a lot of talent this way. This is just the beginning for Ferris State.”