Brendan Johnson's Lincoln Park High has been outscored 245-47 in five games this season. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Lincoln Park — The Lincoln Park High football team isn’t playing for a spot in the state playoffs.
It’s not playing for a league title.
Far from it, really.
Tonight’s game against Taylor Kennedy is about one thing and one thing only: the streak.
And it’s not just any streak. It’s a dubious streak.
Sixty-six games ... of losing. It’s the longest such losing skid in state history.
“Are we sick to our stomach when we lose?” Lincoln Park coach Jamie Grignon asked. “Yes.”
The thing is, the losing streak nearly ended last season — against Kennedy.
Lincoln Park led 3-0 late in the fourth quarter, but ...
Kennedy blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown with three minutes remaining for a 7-3 victory.
And so, the streak lived on. But so does the enthusiasm and drive to end it.
“Our team is closer than it ever has been before,” senior Dominic Bennett said. “We don’t bring up last week. We concentrate on Friday. Every week it’s like were 0-0. Every game to us is like a championship game.”
Even so, Lincoln Park hasn’t come close to turning that 0-0 into a 1-0. At least not this season.
It has been outscored 245-47 in five games, including a 60-7 loss to Taylor Truman last week.
Grignon is in his second go-around as Lincoln Park’s coach. He was at the school from 1994-99 before leaving to become the defensive coordinator at Dearborn. He returned to serve as defensive coordinator from 2010-12 under Jim Kalbfleisch.
After Kalbfleisch resigned, Grignon had opportunities to go elsewhere. But he decided Lincoln Park was the place to be.
“I wanted another shot,” said Grignon, who has been a coach for 33 years. “We’re doing the right things. We’re doing the things to get on the right track. We’re turning boys into young men. We see all that good coming. We see guys who have trouble with discipline and the next day they’ll come to practice and say they’re sorry” for their actions.
“They’re all in. It’s the whole thing, not just football. Throughout the school we’re trying to capture young kids’ hearts.”
And it all starts even before Fridays.
Practices don’t change just because of a loss or a long losing streak. It’s all planned out.
On Mondays, Grignon and his staff, which includes his defensive coordinator son, Alex, lay out the game plan for the next opponent.
On Tuesdays, the offense goes to work.
And on Wednesdays, the defense is the focus.
That’s the plan, although it sometimes goes awry.
Take this past Tuesday, which was far from perfect.
Grignon wasn’t pleased with the intensity. But rather than punish his players by making them run laps, he switched from offense to defense, said a few words, and a change took place.
The players responded. They were more aggressive, and the practice was more productive.
“We’re asking them to do something they’ve never done before,” Grignon said. “They have to practice hard every day. They’re not used to that.
“We haven’t quit. We’ve moved the ball at times. We’ve played against a lot of (second team players) for sure. We only have three starters back from last year. Our younger kids are playing well. The seventh- and eighth-grade teams have good skill kids. Our freshmen team has lost just twice. We’re looking to make progress.”
Grignon wants to change the culture. Losing has become acceptable. Students don’t come to the games because they’re tired of watching their classmates lose game after game.
“Will it happen overnight?” he asked. “No. Hopefully we can chip away at it.”
Shawncory Avery is one of those chips that fell Grignon’s way.
Avery played little league football in Detroit, where he grew up, but didn’t play football at Lincoln Park until this season. He was a student in Grignon’s gym class, and the two had a brief conversation.
“He asked me if I would play football this year,” said Avery, a senior. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he asked what position and I told him receiver. He got me in the weight room and I gained 10 pounds (Avery weighs 168 pounds).
“I had a dream before the season I was the starting quarterback and we won the game. Actually, we were blowing the team out.”
And that dream is something that seems to drive the players, coaches and students.
And it hasn’t faded despite the long skid.
“We’re motivated to win this game,” Avery said. “This is our best chance, but I don’t think it’s our only chance.”