Lincoln Park — Ithaca’s football program was the envy of teams across the state the last several years, winning 69 straight games, earning four consecutive Division 6 state championships with 14-0 records.
Well, Lincoln Park’s program was on the opposite side of the spectrum — putting together a 66-game losing streak just a couple of years ago.
Jamie Grignon, who was head coach at Lincoln Park from 1994-99, returned to the school to turn things around.
And, Grignon has done just that. He took over a team that was outscored by an average of 38-9 in 2012 — the sixth consecutive winless season — and ended the streak in Week No. 6 of his first year back, then guided Lincoln Park to a 3-6 record last season.
Now, Lincoln Park is showing it is a legitimate contender to win the Downriver League title and make a state playoff appearance for the first time since 2002, also its last winning record.
That happens when you knock off the league power like Lincoln Park did against Wyandotte last week, coming back from a fourth-quarter deficit to pull out an 18-15 win to improve to 3-1.
Grignon credits the players for showing their dedication during the offseason as a big part for the turnaround.
“It was our ‘Rise & Grind’ program where we got up at 6 in the morning from January through March,” Grignon said. “It was a bonding thing, a lot of agility drills. I believe the success that we’ve had so far is really a combination of all the hard work they put in, along with the belief they could play with some of the best teams last year.”
Grignon said Lincoln Park has just three starters back from last year, but one of them is a big one in 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior quarterback Steve Glenn.
Glenn has thrown for 552 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 360 yards and four touchdowns. He threw for 150 yards and ran for 65 in the win over Wyandotte, finding Devon Carson on a big third-and-5 play for 25 yards to set up the winning score with a minute left.
“It was amazing,” Glenn said. “We had to make a statement and I believe we did. It feels great. It feels like everything we worked for is worth it. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of extra things other teams (at Lincoln Park) haven’t been doing like early morning practices before school. We’re turning this program around by dedicating ourselves and wanting to do it.”
Grignon has high praise for Glenn.
“He’s a good leader,” Grignon said of Glenn, who has 4.7 speed and is being recruited by Ferris State and Jackson State in Mississippi. “He has a strong arm and he’s sneaky fast. He was really on target with his passes (against Wyandotte).
“A big key to our success is the return of Devon Carson, our junior receiver who missed last season with a broken foot. He’s a big target at 6-1 and 185 pounds and has 4.5 speed too. He’s been huge for us.”
Carson is thrilled to be back on the field after suffering his injury a week before last season’s opener.
“It’s amazing. That’s why I put in as much work as I did so I could come back this season and help my teammates out,” Carson said. “I actually lifted from the time I broke my foot until the beginning of this football season and I put on a solid 20 pounds.”
Carson is looking forward to Lincoln Park’s game Friday at Melvindale, playing for “The Jug” which his team finally took away from Melvindale last year, ending a seven-year slide, including one-sided setbacks in 2012 (42-0) and 2013 (39-0).
“Winning the Jug would mean more to me than anything,” Carson said. “Last year it was bittersweet for me. It hurt me inside not to be able to be on the field, playing a part of the win, but still great to see my teammates succeed and get the Jug.”
Carson has 11 receptions for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
“My biggest weapon is Carson,” Glenn said. “He’s really athletic and has great hops.”
Carson felt Lincoln Park could turn things around. He loves being an impact player as Glenn’s go-to receiver.
“I knew for sure we were going to change it around,” Carson said. “Everyone looked down on us even though we weren’t a part of that losing streak. All my teams growing up, we never had a losing season and I knew big things would change when I got to high school.
“I’ve had a few games where big moments came down to third- and fourth-down plays to keep the drive alive, and I had the ball thrown up to me and I had to go up and get it for my teammates.”
Carson credits Grignon for helping chance the culture.
“Our coach put in a lot of his time and effort to help us get better,” Carson said. “He watches film and thinks of great plans for us. He motivates us to get better and never gets down on us.”
Said Glenn: “Our head coach is an old defensive coordinator so he’s made an offense based on what he wouldn’t want to face. It’s really an option-type offense that we run out of a lot of formations. I like running the ball and whoever is in my way I may run through them or make a move on them.”
Sounds like it’s been a fun journey for Grignon, and he’s enjoying the run with his son, Alexander, as the team’s offensive coordinator.
The journey continues with a rivalry game that could find Lincoln Park a step closer to a playoff spot.
On the way up
Lincoln Park through the last 10 years: