Former EagleHerald Sports Editor
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Mar. 16, 2020 edition of the EagleHerald. The Menominee High School Athletic Hall of Fame will induct eight new members at a ceremony on Oct. 23 at Embers 1971 in Peshtigo. Tickets for the ceremony and banquet are on sale. Cost is $25 per ticket. For further information, contact John Wills at 906-863-6887 or 715-923-6880.
MENOMINEE—It is not often a professional-caliber athlete comes through Menominee High School, but back in the late 1970s one player broke the mold.
Bret Pearson’s illustrious football career brought him to the University of Wisconsin and then allowed him to become one of the—if not the—first Maroons’ drafted to the NFL as he went in the 12th round of the 1985 NFL Draft to the San Diego Chargers.
Before he did all that he ate up the competition as a four-sport athlete, earning major M’s in football, basketball, track and field and tennis at Menominee. Now, he will have one more accolade to add his trophy case as he becomes one of the eight members inducted into the Menominee High School Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 at a ceremony at Embers 1971 on Oct. 23.
Born on March 31, 1962, Pearson was already pretty well known for his efforts as a Maroon athlete before but really burst onto the scene during the M&M football game his junior year when he caught eight passes for 184 yards including a 45- and 23-yard touchdown catches at the tight end position—both school records at the time. A newspaper clipping from the Menominee Herald Leader from 1979 read “Pearson, the tall split end turned in a brilliant performance in the M&M Game.”
After his junior season of basketball where he averaged 11.35 points per game and earned an honorable mention nod in the Great Northern Conference’s postseason awards meeting and after he put in another season with the track and field team, Pearson was set to start his senior year of football.
Pearson became a much bigger part of the Maroons offense his senior year as he caught 25 passes for 463 yards and three touchdowns in addition to three interceptions, two pass deflections and one fumble recovery on defense.
For his efforts, he received All-GNC first team recognition as an offensive end and defensive back as well as honorable mention at punter, but the awards didn’t stop there. He also received an All-U.P. honorable mention selection at end and defensive back and was recognized with the Thomas Caley Trophy for Menominee’s team MVP.
“(Bret) was an excellent young man,” former coach Ken Hofer said. “He had great hands, good size and he wasn’t afraid to get in there and throw a block on somebody. Not many guys can play tight end on offense and then turn around and play safety defensively, but that shows how special he was a player.”
After hauling in the awards for his performance on the gridiron, Pearson turned his attention to the hardwood for basketball season where he led the Maroons in scoring with 16.36 points per game and attributed 8.8 rebounds as well. His season-high for points came was 26 and he also added 25 points and 15 rebounds in another game to highlight his regular season.
In the Maroons first postseason game that year, with the game tied at 35 and time winding down in the third quarter, he sank two free throws en-route to a game-high 25 points to help Menominee advance to the district finals where its season ended.
In the GNC, he tied for fifth in scoring at 13.3 points per game and that earned him a spot on the All-GNC second team. His 16 points and 8 rebounds per game hooked him up with an honorable mention selection in the U.P. and on the Class ABC All-State team.
As a senior in track and field, Pearson was a part of the Maroons 1980 U.P. Champion team that won Menominee’s first Yooper title since 1968. That year at U.P. Championships, he shattered the Maroons previous record by jumping 6-4 in the high jump for a second-place finish.
After high school, Pearson chose to attend the University of Wisconsin to play football, becoming one of the first Maroon athletes to attend a Division I college. When asked why he chose Wisconsin in a Menominee Herald Leader article from 1980, Pearson answered, “I settled on Wisconsin because I felt it would be a better school for an education. Education is so important. The next four years will determine what I do for the rest of my life. Playing in the Big 10? It’s all up to me. I have to decide how much I want to play. I’ll need the self-discipline to push myself, to try harder, to be better.” According to Hofer, that was Pearson’s mindset every single day no matter what.
“I never had to worry about if I would be getting 100 percent from Bret no matter if it was a practice or a game,” Hofer explained. “He always got the job done and always wanted to push himself to be the best he could.”
Pearson worked his way up the depth chart until he finally started to see some action on the offense, hauling in one pass for eight yards against Michigan his junior season while playing in every game. As a freshman, he was named Most Improved Freshman Offensively after spring drills and as a sophomore he saw playing time in every game as he was a fixture on special teams for the Badgers.
By the time his senior season rolled around in 1983, Pearson was the No. 1 tight end on the Badgers roster as he beat out fellow a Yooper for the position, Escanaba’s Jeff Nault.
The 1983 season was arguably Pearson’s best at Wisconsin as he turned 34 catches into 373 yards and two touchdowns. One of his touchdowns came when the Badgers needed it most against Purdue.
Trailing 38-35 with under a minute left in the game, Pearson got free on a route and quarterback Randy Wright hit him with a pass in the endzone and he secured it to give Wisconsin the lead and that turned out to be the deciding factor in the Badgers’ 42-38 victory.
His second touchdown came against Ohio State and was one of his best games as a Badger. He caught eight passes for 81 yards and a touchdown and was awarded Big 10 Player of the Week for his efforts in the 45-27 loss.
Pearson was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA and came back to Wisconsin for the 1984 season where he took back his tight end position and produced for the Badgers again, catching 41 passes for 415 yards and helping to lead the Badgers to the Hall of Fame Bowl against Kentucky in Birmingham, Alabama.
While the Badgers fell 20-19, Pearson led Wisconsin with five catches for 55 yards to bring his career total to 76 catches for 796 yards and two touchdowns.
Pearson capitalized on his superb college career and entered his name into the 1985 NFL Draft where he was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the 329th overall pick in the 12th round. He later signed with the Orlando Roughnecks of the USFL, but the league folded before he got a chance to play and then he signed on with the Detroit Lions in 1987’s strike-shortened season before deciding to step away from the game.
From 1986-91, Pearson coached JV girls basketball at Waunakee, Wis., in addition to being the varsity volleyball coach and assistant girls JV basketball and varsity football assistant coach at Baraga, Mich. From 1991-97 he served in the U.S. Navy, and in 2010 he was inducted into the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame.
“(Bret) is very, very deserving to get into the Hall of Fame,” Menominee historian Larry Ebsch said. “Those of us who saw him play and go to cover him understand the impact he had in Menominee. He paved the way for area athletes to get looked at by bigger schools. This induction is really just a tribute to all that he has accomplished.
“He was a prototype Maroon.”