Teammates since first grade, St. Mary’s cousins cherish final weeks on field

By: Mike Moore | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 16, 2012

 St. Mary’s senior Parker McInnis is pictured during a 35-0 victory against De La Salle Oct. 6. McInnis and cousin Grant Niemiec have formed a deadly duo in the Eaglets’ backfield.

St. Mary’s senior Parker McInnis is pictured during a 35-0 victory against De La Salle Oct. 6. McInnis and cousin Grant Niemiec have formed a deadly duo in the Eaglets’ backfield.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ORCHARD LAKE — It wasn’t yesterday, but at times, they admit how it certainly seems like it.

Memories, moments — on and off the field — pass by in a flash until they arrive at the here and now.

Parker McInnis and Grant Niemiec have been football teammates since the first grade, friends even longer, and cousins since birth.

Now, the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior running backs relish the time remaining in red, black and white, knowing the end is closer than the beginning in what has been a football career neither will soon forget.

“I actually don’t think I was very good, probably terrible,” Niemiec, the Eaglets’ top rushing threat said with a laugh about his early days on the field. “I just ran around and ran into people. I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

“I think I played quarterback,” McInnis said of his childhood position. “I don’t even know.”

Positions, and even success, mattered little compared to just playing the game.

Some 12 years after first suiting up together, they stood just outside the team locker room with, worst-case scenario, two weeks remaining in their high school careers.

Of course, while success at a young age was mystifying, it’s all the two have known lately.

A year ago, they were instrumental in bringing St. Mary’s a Division 3 state title.

This fall, they’ve been the one-two punch for an offense loaded with an array of haymakers.

“They are just hard, tough football players,” coach George Porritt said of his two seniors. “They play the game with a ton of passion. As a coach, you know you’re getting their best at all times, and that rubs off on the rest of the team.”

At press time, Niemiec and McInnis were leading the Eaglets to a 6-1 record that included a six-game winning streak and perfect 3-0 mark in the Catholic League’s Central Division.

St. Mary’s took on Novi Detroit Catholic Central Oct. 12 in a game played after press time and was in the running for a spot in the 7 p.m. Prep Bowl championship Oct. 20 at Ford Field.

Asked about all the success this year, as a team and individuals, McInnis and Niemiec quickly deflected any praise heaped their way.

But the numbers don’t lie.

Through seven games, the two accounted for 1,378 rushing yards, and running the ball is what the Eaglets have always done best.

That total is good for 73.6 percent of the entire team’s rushing output.

On 115 carries, Niemiec had accounted for 818 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

Defensively, he has 45 solo tackles and 31 assisted stops from his middle linebacker position.

“Any success I’ve had is because of this team around me,” he said.

McInnis, meanwhile, rushed for 560 yards on 90 carries and five touchdowns. He also hauled in 10 passes for 172 yards and has two kick returns for touchdowns.

“The offensive line has been great,” McInnis explained. “That’s been the key.”

The journey to this spot, starring for a premiere football program that’s favored to repeat as a state champ, would be a shock to many, but for these cousins, it’s long been in the cards.

Both are the youngest brothers of former Eaglets players.

Spencer McInnis, a 2012 grad, put on a show in last year’s 45-7 win against Mount Pleasant in the D-3 final, rushing for 213 yards and three scores.

Niemiec grew up watching brothers Pierce, a 2009 grad, and Austin (2004) don the all-red helmet.

“I think we both were always so excited to one day be part of this,” Niemiec said. “It was something we knew we’d do but always looked forward to actually happening.”

Looking back, there’s not much the two can complain about.

During their careers, they were part of an 11-win team in 2010 that reached the state final, a 12-win team last year that took home the crown and a 2012 team that’s taken aim on another trip to final.

And while neither would specifically talk long-range about the postseason just yet, the destination and time when they’d like to see their careers as teammates finally end almost goes without saying.

“That’d be pretty cool,” Niemiec said of one more shot at a state title. “We’re not thinking about the end just yet, and right now, we’re trying to cherish every moment we have here. But to end this all at Ford Field would be pretty neat.”