It’s that time of year again.
We’ve examined the nominees of potential Athlete of the Year candidates and whittled down the list to our top five. Of course, that was an extremely arduous task, as there was no shortage of deserving student-athletes in Livingston County.
But there will be some glaring omissions.
Some of the county’s most dominant athletes (i.e. Brighton wrestler Luke Ready last season) haven’t appeared as a finalist on the list, as we tend to give the edge to those who exhibit excellence across multiple sports.
If you don’t like that, and have any issues with our choices, let us hear about it by voting in the poll below, where you can write-in whichever athlete you felt was most deserving for the 2016-17 school year.
That said, here are this year’s top five male athletes in Livingston County.
Andrew Spisz, Hartland
While lacrosse is Spisz’s main sport — which he will play at Lawrence Tech in the fall — one couldn’t easily pinpoint that, given how great he was in wrestling and football. Spisz began the school year at running back for the Hartland football team, averaging7.3 yards per carry (53 carries, 385 yards) and scoring seven touchdowns. Those were very good numbers and he was a second team all-county selection. But that was his “worst” season. In the winter, he dominated at 189 pounds for the Eagles wrestling team, putting forth a 54-6 record and taking third at the Division 1 individual state meet, Livingston County’s highest finisher. The two-time all-stater, one-time team state champion and No. 3-ranked 189-pounder came a controversial penalty point from reaching the championship match. Finally, in his favorite sport during the spring, Spisz helped lead Hartland’s best-ever boys lacrosse team, which was 21-1, going undefeated until the D1 state semifinals where it fell to Detroit Catholic Central in overtime. Spisz was a second team all-state pick.
Caleb Balgaard, Howell
A Division I baseball talent who is currently preparing for his freshman season at Indiana University, Balgaard exhibited incredible abilities throughout his high school career — especially in his senior season — to hit for average and power while showing impressive speed on the basepaths and boasting a fantastic glove at shortstop. Balgaard posted a .445 batting average in his final season with five home runs, 38 RBIs and stole 13 bases en route to earning first team all-state honors in Division 1. His team won four consecutive district championships during his tenure as well. But Balgaard wasn’t solely a one-sport wonder — his versatility in swimming and diving was equally as astonishing. Balgaard was a two-time all-state diver as a junior and senior, taking eighth at the latest Division 1 state meet. But he was also an excellent 50-yard freestyler, coming in 17th at state as well as being part of the first team all-county, state-qualifying 200 freestyle relay team that included Henry Bauer, Braden Gregory and Stephen Meagher. It could be a while before Howell sees someone with that much baseball-swimming versatility and talent again.
David Mitter, Howell
Andrew Spisz, Caleb Balgaard and David Mitter. That’s it. That’s the short list of two-sport all-state athletes this season from Livingston County. Mitter earned his distinctions by running and running and running some more, as the Howell cross country runner in the fall also ran the longest distances during the track season in the spring. Mitter secured his first all-state honor by recording the best finish by a Howell runner in the state meet in 15 years, clocking in at 16 minutes, 1.2 seconds to place 19th. He would go on to be named Livingston Daily’s Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. He wasn’t done, though, as he went on to have a phenomenal track season in which he broke the school’s 3,200-meter record with a time of 9:09.96 in the state finals, where he took fourth. It was very nearly a new county record, missing Hartland’s Ian McGinn’s record of 9:09.52 by hundredths of a second. Additionally, Mitter’s 1,600 time of 4:20.65 at the Larry Steeb Memorial Meet of Champions was the fastest county time in the event this season.
Rudy Ramirez, Brighton
Only a junior, Ramirez was a football and baseball player, but he made himself valuable in perhaps more ways than anyone on this list. In football, he was a first team all-county wide receiver, hauling in 16 catches for 398 yards and five touchdowns on a Brighton team that won the KLAA West for a second straight year. He was also the team’s kicker, and a really, really good kicker at that. Ramirez was 11-for-11 on extra-point attempts and 6-of-7 on field goal tries, including a game-winner with time running out against Grand Blanc. Brighton coach Brian Lemons said Ramirez was the team’s most athletic player and his baseball coach, Charlie Christner, said similar after a spring season in which Brighton won the West and was ranked No. 10 in Division 1. Ramirez was “the team’s best hitter” posting a .385 clip while also scoring 35 runs, plating 25 and walking 21 times. And he served as Brighton’s No. 2 pitcher, compiling a 7-1 record and 1.95 ERA.
Wyatt Thomas, Fowlerville
Fowlerville boasted its best football and baseball teams in quite some time. The football team was one of the state’s best surprises, going 7-3 and qualifying for the playoffs after winning seven games in its previous three seasons combined. The baseball team got off to a scorching hot start, earning a top-10 ranking in Division 2 and winning a district championship. Thomas was the leader of both of those groups. Football coach Bret Shrader called the senior linebacker the “emotional leader” of the defense, which held opponents to its lowest total points since 2009. He a was a first team all-county selection in a year that was loaded with talent at the position. In baseball, Thomas led the Gladiators with a .404 batting average, nine doubles and 31 RBIs. He also struck out 62 batters in 39 2/3 innings on the mound as the Glads’ No. 3 pitcher in earning his second first-team all-county selection this school year.