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Frank Steketee

Frank W. Steketee (April 26, 1900 - December 26, 1951) was an All American football halfback and fullback who played with the University of Michigan Wolverines in 1918, 1920, and 1921. As a freshman in 1918, he was the team's only All-American, scored three touchdowns and kicked three extra points in his first game, and led the Wolverines to an undefeated National Championship season. He was regarded as one of the best kickers in football at the time and reportedly once kicked a 100-yard punt.

High school

Steketee was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was the son of prominent Grand Rapids businessman Jacob Steketee. Steketee was a star athlete at Grand Rapids Central High School.

College football All-American at Michigan

After graduating from high school, Steketee attended the University of Michigan, where he became known as “Stek.” He played halfback and fullback for Fielding Yost’s Michigan Wolverines football teams in 1918, 1920, and 1921, missing the 1919 season due to military service during World War I.

Though he was a skilled runner and "line-plunger," Steketee was principally known for his punting and place kicking. There are press accounts of Steketee once having kicked a record 100-yard punt. According to one account: “I remember the Saturday Evening Post doing a writeup on U. of M. It told how Frank Steketee stood behind his own goal posts and made a punt which was picked up by the opposing team behind their goal posts.” “As a result of his prodigious field goals, Stek is given credit for Michigan victories over Syracuse, Illinois and Minnesota.”

Michigan’s undefeated 1918 season

As a freshman in 1918, Steketee was named an All-American. In a season shortened to five games due to the deadly 1918 flu epidemic and war-related travel restrictions, the Wolverines were 5-0 and National Champions. They shut out four of their opponents, including a 14-0 shutout over Ohio State. For the season, the Wolverines outscored their opponents 96-6.

In the opening game against Case Institute of Technology, Steketee entered the game as a substitute and made an impressive debut. In a 33-0 victory, Steketee accounted for 21 points, “making three of the five touchdowns and kicking three out of five attempts at goal.”

In the third game of the season, Steketee’s performance was even more impressive. Michigan defeated Syracuse 15-0 on a field inches deep in mud, with rain falling throughout the game. Steketee scored all 15 points in the game, kicking three field goals and scoring a touchdown. The Syracuse Herald reported: “One man stood out in the Michigan triumph, Steketee of Grand Rapids. He made the entire 15 points scored by his team and otherwise mussed up perfect good intentions on the part of the visitors.” In the fourth quarter, Steketee also intercepted a pass from Ackley and ran 20 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring.

The final game of the 1918 season pitted the undefeated Wolverines against the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes. In a 14-0 victory, Steketee again had a hand in all 14 points scored. The game was scoreless in the fourth quarter when Steketee kicked a 73-yard punt that pinned Ohio State at its two-yard line. Ohio State attempted to punt out of its end zone, but Michigan’s Angus Goetz broke through and blocked the punt which was recovered for a touchdown. Steketee also threw a touchdown pass to end Robert Dunne from Ohio State’s 12-yard line in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.

In addition to being Michigan’s only All-American in 1918, Steketee was also the only member of Michigan’s undefeated 1918 team to receive a “gold football” from Coach Fielding Yost. He was the first player in school history to be named an All-American in his freshman year. The freshman rule had been relaxed in 1918 because of World War I.

The 1920 season

Steketee served in the Naval Reserve in 1919 and missed the 1919 season. Without Steketee in the lineup, the Wolverines record dropped to 3-4 in 1919, as they gave up 102 points – 96 points more than they had allowed in 1918.

In July 1920, the New York Times reported on Steketee's return, noting that Michigan supporters were “greatly rejoiced by the announcement from the office of the Registrar of the University that Frank Steketee, the famous 1918 All-American fullback, will be eligible for the 1920 eleven.” The paper also opined that, had Steketee been eligible in 1919, “the season’s long succession of defeats might have been averted.”

As the season got underway, newspapers asked the question: “Is Michigan Coming Back?” One wire service account noted: "Frank Steketee, a member of the 1918 team, and who was given the position of fullback on Walter Camp’s All-American eleven, will be back on the line-plunging job this year. Steketee is as good a booter as they come, and he promises to be one of the national gridiron stars again this year."

With Steketee back in the lineup, the Wolverines improved to 5-2 in 1920, outscoring opponents 121-21.

In the 1920 Illinois game, Michigan lost 7-6, as a 50-yard place kick by Steketee with a few minutes left missed "by a few inches.

The season’s other loss came to Ohio State, 14-7. However, an Ohio newspaper account noted that, despite the loss, “Steketee was the offensive star for the Wolverines, his 26-yard gain around right end in the first quarter being the most spectacular run of the game.” Another account reported: “Several spectacular gains by Steketee for Michigan featured the third period.”

Though no Wolverine player made the All-American team in 1920, Steketee was selected as first-team All “Big Ten” by Chicago experts.

1921 season

In 1921, the Wolverines improved to a 5-1-1 record and outscored their opponents 187-21.

Pre-season accounts noted: "In Frank Steketee, Michigan has one of the best distance punters in the conference.

After losing to Ohio State, 14-0, Michigan rebounded the following week to defeat Illinois, 3-0, on a “placement kick” by Steketee. The New York Times reported that Steketee was “the outstanding figure of the Michigan offense.” Steketee scored the game’s only points on a kick from the 15-yard line near the end of the first half. Later in the game, Steketee “broke up the match” when he intercepted a long pass, and later “broke through and blocked Anderson’s attempted place kick.”

Steketee’s final game in a Michigan uniform came against rival Minnesota in the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Michigan beat Minnesota 38-0, as Steketee scored a touchdown after Michigan’s Frank Cappon fumbled the ball at the Minnesota four-yard line, the ball rolled across the goal-line and Steketee pounced on it. Steketee also had a long run in the fourth quarter to set up Michigan’s final score.

Multi-sport star

Steketee was also a letter winner for the Wolverines’ hockey, swim and golf teams. His grandson, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge David H. Sawyer, said: “He was one of these athletes who did everything. They say he was an accomplished gymnast, too, but they didn’t have gymnastics at Michigan back then.”

Bernard Kirk's tragic death

In December 1922, Steketee was a pall-bearer along with Harry Kipke, Paul Goebel and other Michigan teammates, at the funeral of Bernard Kirk in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Kirk had been Michigan’s starting left end and died in an automobile accident on December 17, 1922. The funeral was also attended by Michigan Governor Alex Groesbeck, U-M President Burton, and the coaches of the Western Conference football teams.

Later life

Steketee served as a medic in World War II. He worked as an account examiner for the finance division of Michigan Department of Highways from January 1945 until his death in December 1951.

On the day after Christmas in 1951, Steketee was stricken by a heart attack and collapsed at his desk in the state highway department headquarters. He died three hours later at Lansing's St. Lawrence Hospital. He was survived by his widow, Emma, and a son Frank W. Steketee, Jr.

Steketee was inducted into the the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

See also

Notes

External links

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