Here are Michigan's top high school football programs of all time

If it feels like the same teams are winning or competing for the MHSAA’s football state championships year in and year out, you’re not wrong.

This year, there are 750 high schools across Michigan fielding a football program. Of those, 135 have won a football state championship among what is now 10 classes (eight 11-man and two 10-man). Of those 135 programs, 61 have multiple state titles and 38 have claimed three or more.

There are seven schools that have double-digit state titles and we’ll go through all of them below.

Without further ado, here are the 13 schools with the most football state championships, starting with the programs with the most blue rings.

1. Farmington Hills Harrison – 13

State titles: 1981, 1982, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2010

The school – home to future NFL players Drew Stanton and Devin Funchess – closed in 2019, but the Hawks more than left their mark in the MHSAA annals, and still hold the state record for most state championships with 13.

The legendary John Herrington coached all 13 championship teams, and the program also finished as the runners-up five times. The Hawks’ best run came between 1988-2001, which saw them win 11 titles in 14 seasons.

Future MSU player Mill Coleman was the QB for titles 3 and 4 in 1988 and 1989, and another Spartan, John Miller, was the star on the 1981 and 1982 teams. He’d eventually move on the play two years in the NFL with the Lions. Funchess, future Spartan/NFLer Aaron Burbridge and Mr. Football winner Tommy Vento were the key cogs for the final crown in 2010.

T2. Muskegon Catholic Central – 12

State titles: 1980, 1982, 1990, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2006, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

The small-school power increased their total over the past decade, winning four straight years from 2013-16 under Steve Czerwon. And that's on top of the Crusaders' other eight state titles won between 1980 and 2008. Catholic Central has also finished as the state runner-up three times. Pete Kutches coached the first two state titles in 1980 and 1982, and Mike Holmes was at the helm for the other six between 1990 and 2008.

T2. Detroit St. Martin dePorres – 12

State titles: 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2003

You know how people make a big deal that Michael Jordan never lost in the NBA finals? Well, that distinction also goes to Detroit St. Martin de Porres as well, as the Eagles went a perfect 12-0 in state title appearances in D7, D8, C, CC and D. Their best stretch happened from 1981-84, winning four straight championships. Their last state title came in 2003, and the school closed two years later.

Ron Thompson coached the first eight state titles and Greg Carter led the program to the last four after being Thompson’s assistant for 16 years.

East Grand Rapids players celebrate their Division 3 state title on Nov. 27, 2007 at Ford Field.
East Grand Rapids players celebrate their Division 3 state title on Nov. 27, 2007 at Ford Field.

T4. East Grand Rapids – 11

State titles: 1976, 1983, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

The first decade of the 21st century was very fruitful for East Grand Rapids, winning five consecutive state titles from 2006-10, while also grabbing blue ribbons in 2002 and 2003 under Peter Stuursma. Combine that with four state titles between 1976 and 1995 under George Barcheski, and the Pioneers are one of the state’s dynasties.

One of the standouts was Kevin Grady, who led the team to state titles in 2002 and 2003. He’s first all-time in MHSAA history in career rushing yards (8,431), touchdowns (151), points (924) and rushing attempts (1,154). He went on to play at Michigan.

T4. Jackson Lumen Christi – 11

State titles: 1977, 1979, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2016, 2017, 2018

Jim Crowley started things off with state titles in 1977 and 1979, and Herb Brogan took the Titans to a whole new stratosphere, winning nine crowns between 1996 and 2018, including three in a row between 2016 and 2018. Lumen Christie’s outstanding alumni include former Michigan State and Colts defensive back Khari Willis. They've made the playoffs every season since 1998.

T4. Mendon – 11

State titles: 1982, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2011

Mendon won its first state title in 1982 under Roger Smith, and then Hall of Famer John Schwartz took over and made the Hornets one of the small-school state powerhouses, winning 10 state titles between 1989 and 2011 in four divisions: D7, D8, D and DD.

Mendon never lost a state title game under Schwartz, going 10-0. He retired after the 2015 season with a career record of 274-48.

Mendon is now playing 8-man football, moving down before the 2021 season.

7. Novi Detroit Catholic Central – 10

State titles: 1979, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2009

The Shamrocks have been to an astounding 17 state championship games, going 10-7 in those contests. But Catholic Central’s 10 titles still rank it as the seventh-best in Michigan prep football history. It won all 10 crowns under Tom Mach, a 2014 inductee into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Mach retired after the 2016 season.

8. Birmingham Brother Rice – 9

State titles: 1977, 1980, 1983, 1990, 2000, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2013

Brother Rice has won nine state titles in 13 championship game appearances, all under legendary coach Al Fracassa. The Warriors most recently won three straight titles from 2011-13.

The first star in the championship era was Brian Brennan, who started on Brother Rice’s first state title team in 1979. He went to Boston College and then eventually went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, all but one season with the Browns. Alex Malzone, who won Mr. Football in 2014, led Brother Rice to the 2012 and 2013 state titles and was a freshman on the 2011 title team. Future Michigan running back Grant Perry was also a key cog on those teams.

9. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – 8

State titles: 1977, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016

Art Paddy was in charge for St. Mary’s first state title, but as we’ve seen with other schools, it’s a different coach that has come in and taken the program to another stratosphere. And for St. Mary’s, it was George Porritt, who led the Eaglets to seven state titles between 1994 and 2016, including three straight crowns from 2014 to 2016. They've done it in four different classes: C, CC, D3 and D4.

Current Denver Broncos wide receiver KJ Hamler was one of the standouts of the 2014 and 2015 state title teams, and the team won the 2016 title despite Hamler’s transfer to IMG Academy.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Frankenmuth at the MHSAA Division 5 final at Ford Field, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating Frankenmuth at the MHSAA Division 5 final at Ford Field, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021.

10. Grand Rapids Catholic Central – 7

State titles: 1987, 2010, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021

Grand Rapids Catholic Central was a bit of an outlier before the 2010s, winning one lone state championship back in 1987. But Todd Kolster built a powerhouse that has won six state titles since 2010, including a current stretch where the Cougars have won the crown five of the last six seasons.

T11. Muskegon – 6

State titles: 1986, 1989, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2017

Muskegon is no stranger to the state finals, having reached the title game 12 times and brought home the trophy on six of those occasions. Three coaches have led the Big Reds to titles: Dave Taylor (1986), Tony Annese (1989, 2004, 2006, 2008) and Shane Fairfield (2017).

Western Michigan running back La’Darius Jefferson, who initially played at Michigan State and is now at Western Michigan, was the Mr. Football winner in 2017 in leading Muskegon to its most recent state title.

T11. Grand Rapids West Catholic – 6

State titles: 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Like GRCC above, Grand Rapids West Catholic has had its state title success within the last 12 years, winning all six of its Division 5 state titles between 2010 and 2017, including five in a row between 2013 and 2017. Dan Rohn was in charge for the first four titles before Joe Hyland led them to titles in 2016 and 2017.

Travis Russell was the star QB for West Catholic in its 2013 and 2014 title seasons, as he was third in MHSAA history in passing touchdowns when he graduated.

T11. Traverse City St. Francis – 6

State titles: 1992, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009

The Gladiators kept it in the family for their first four state championships, with Larry Sellers coaching them to their first two state titles in 1992 and 1999. His son, Josh, led St. Francis to state titles in 2003 and 2005. And then, at the end of the decade, Greg Vaughan captained the ship to two more crowns. Their championships came in Class C and Division 7, and they've reached the playoffs 35 times since 1983.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan's best high school football programs of all time