Preseason Top 25 Football Teams: Nothing new this season as Cass Tech again takes the top spot
Football | Tom Markowski
Detroit Cass Tech (14-0), A: The defending state champions have a number of Division I prospects including quarterback Aaron Jackson, defensive back Kalon Gervin and linebacker DeAndre Square. The question for the Technicians is just how well, and how quickly, their young offensive line develops. Coach Thomas Wilcher will lean on Eric Smith and Andre Carter to stand their ground on the offensive line until others develop. Running back Lou Nichols and receiver Brandon Gray, both transfers from Southfield A&T, will start and contribute immediately. Jaron Mangham, who, like Nichols is a junior, became one of the Technicians’ most consistent running backs the last half of last season. Mangham is a power back with many Division I scholarship offers. Junior Jalen Graham (6-3, 200) is a transfer from Detroit Country Day who will bolster the secondary at the safety position. He’s also a backup to Jackson and could play some this season at this position. UCLA is among the schools that have offered Graham a scholarship. The Technicians will almost assuredly be a better team next season but until proven otherwise they’re still the team to beat this season.
Lowell (12-1), A: Five starters return on both sides of the ball including quarterback David Kruse (6-1, 190) who threw for 1,950 yards last season. The Douma twins, Connor and Brady, are back at the cornerback spot and will also play in the offense backfield. Garrett Pratt (LB/RB) and Addison Bukias (WR/S) are other top seniors. Caleb Devereaux (G) and Austin Whaley (DE) are two of coach Noel Dean’s linemen. What Lowell does is what it always has done. The Red Arrows will run the ball with Kruse (1,200 yards rushing) reading his keys and handing off to what will be a host of running backs. When the defense bites that’s when Kruse will check off and beat defenses with an accurate arm. Don’t look for Division I recruits as you would at Cass Tech, Detroit King or other teams. Lowell’s players are a hard-nosed, no-nonsense bunch that are homegrown.
Muskegon (12-2), A: Six starters return on both sides led by quarterback La’Darius Jefferson who committed to Central Florida. Left tackle A.J. Reed (6-6, 330) committed to Penn State and defensive lineman Eli Jackson (6-1, 298) is another college prospect. Other key players offensively are slot backs C.J. Jefferson (no relation) and Davion McCall. A sprinter on the track team, McCall will also return punts. Junior linemen Anthony Bradford (6-5, 330), who’s been offered a scholarship by Alabama, Georgia and Michigan State, and Marquis Cooper (6-3, 280) will help pave the way for a rushing attack which gained 4,500 yards last season. There doesn’t seem to be a weakness defensively either. Billy Roberts (DE) and Paul Riley (DE) will enhance Jackson’s fine play in the interior. Demetrius Harris (LB) is a returning starter and Ali’Vonta Wallace (LB) is a junior who is receiving some Division I attention. Bo Shanks and C.J. Jefferson return in the secondary.
Oak Park (7-4), A: The strength of this team is their linemen, the quarterback position and the receivers. Juniors Dwan Mathis and Corey Graham will likely hare time at quarterback with Mathis switching to receiver at times. Marquan McCall (6-3, 310), who committed to Kentucky, and sophomore Justin Rogers are two of the state’s top offensive linemen. Senior Kevin Bradley and sophomore Maliq Carr (DB) will likely start at receiver. Drew Elly is a three-starter at guard and safety Robert Daniels is a four-year starter who has been offered a scholarship by a number of Mid-America Conference schools. Junior Daniel Phillips could be the top linebacker and another playmaker on defense is Toriano Richardson. Richardson, the brother of John Kelly (Tennessee), will share the load in the backfield with senior Cashual Goldsmith. Kevin Bradley (5-9, 170) is Oak Park’s game-breaker. He’ll play in the slot and return punts.
West Bloomfield (6-5), A: The Lakers would have been one of the state’s best even if they hadn’t been bolstered by four transfers. Quarterback Bryce Veasley (6-3, 225), who committed to Bowling Green, is one of six returning starters on offense. He possesses a strong arm and topnotch leadership qualities. Taj Mustapha committed to Wisconsin whom coach Ron Bellamy said is the state’s best receiver. Left tackle Javon Foster (6-6, 290) committed to Central Michigan and is supported on the line by Max Green (OL/DL). Nick Seidel (DB) is considering Ivy League schools and the team’s top junior is linebacker Lance Dixon (6-3, 200) who has received scholarship offers from 10 Division I schools including Iowa State and Temple. Now the transfers. A.J. Abbott (WR) came from Northville and he committed to Wisconsin. Jordan Rush, a transfer from Grosse Pointe South, could start at running back. Collin Heard (DB) came from Birmingham Groves and is considering the Naval Academy and Howard among others. Dwayne Thompson (DB) came from Birmingham Brother Rice and he’s being recruited by Division II schools. “They’re fun to coach,” Bellamy said. “We’re older. We’re more experienced.”
Saline (11-1), A: This program is in good hands with coach Joe Palka. And the fact that it is a program, not a team that plays well one season and falls off the next, it is the seniors who lead the way. That will be the case again this season. Defensively, just two starters return and both are excellent players. C.J. Gildersleeve (6-2, 215) is a three-year starter at linebacker and he committed to Central Michigan. Ethan Collick (6-1, 190) also returns at linebacker and he’s such a good, quick athlete that Palka will use him as a punt returner. Michigan hired Greg Frey (formerly at Indiana) as an assistant coach in January and Saline is one beneficiary as Frey brought his two step sons with him, Cam and Drew Richardson. Drew will start at cornerback and Cam could see time at safety and is a back-up at quarterback. Belleville transfer M.J. Griffin (6-0, 180) is a senior who will also start at cornerback and play receiver at times. The best of this group is likely left tackle Dimitri Douglass (6-4, 280). Douglass committed to Michigan State and is one of four starters back on offense. Receiver Emmitt Turner (6-4, 195) uses his skills he gained as a basketball player to ward off defenders. Andrew Diuble (SB) suffered a separated shoulder recently and will likely return early next month. There’s yet another U-M connection. Center Zach Drevno is the son of the Wolverines’ offensive coordinator Tim Drevno. This Drevno is a tenacious player who will also serve as the long snapper. Competing for the quarterback spot are Cole Daniels, a pitcher on the baseball team who committed to Kentucky, and Jay Drew McGovern. If McGovern doesn’t win the job look for him to play receiver.
Detroit King (12-2), A: The two-time defending Division 2 champions return four offensive linemen who started five or more games plus junior quarterback DeQuan Finn. Jaeveyon Morton (DB) could emerge as the team’s top running back. Above all else, depth should be King’s strength. Coach Ty Spencer said he could have 70 on varsity. Five starters return on defense including three linemen. This depth could keep offensive tackle Jeremiah Hardge (6-3, 265) and center/guard Josh Mayberry (6-2, 310) from going both ways. Both are Division II or III recruits. King lost two linebackers to graduation so look for junior Richard Miller (6-0, 220) to step in and take responsibility. Marvin Grant (DB) is another returning starter. King opens with Indianapolis Cathedral at Wayne State then goes to Toledo to play Central Catholic.
Utica Eisenhower (12-1), A: The Eagles came within one play of playing for the Division 1 title. Five starters return on both sides and there are many others that saw valuable playing time. Quarterback Max Wittwer passed for 2,000 yards, rushed for 1,000 yards and is a three-year starter. Derian Doherty (6-4, 285) is the lone starter returning on the offensive line. End Henry Janeway (6-5, 225) is the best of the three defensive linemen back. Drake Myny (6-2, 190) is the leader of the linebackers and cornerback John Fantauzzo (5-10, 165) is the lone starter back in the secondary. Now the playmakers. Jack Morris will play the slot and will move from linebacker to defensive back. Ben Mets (6-0, 180) is the top receiver and he’ll see time in the secondary. Caleb Oyster is a junior and look for him to have a breakout season at running back after seeing limited action in 2016. Wittwer is the centerpiece. He’s a tremendous athlete and a great competitor.
Rockford (7-4), A: Despite a small senior class (20) the Rams have quality players and depth at a number of positions. Quarterback Jason Whittaker (6-5, 205) is one of five three-year starters and he committed to Northwestern. He had a solid junior year throwing for 1,100 yards and six TDs. Left tackle Cody Carone (6-4, 296) is the lone starting offensive lineman back. Marcus Remtema returns in the secondary and could be the best of the handful of running backs coach Ralph Munger uses. There’s experience on defense especially in the secondary and at linebacker. Khale Showers, Paul Reinke and Ian Rodriguez all return at linebacker. Reinke is a three-year starter. The defensive line must be rebuilt but there is talented players, they just lack experience. Alex Trammington did see playing time last season. The secondary is tight with the return of Remtema, Alex Miller, who will also play receiver, and Chase Novak, who’s also a fine receiver. Eric Zeboor (6-5, 190) returns as the place kicker and he’s being recruited by Division II schools. The Rams have won or shared the O-K Conference Red Division title in each of the past eight season and they’ve made the playoffs 22 consecutive seasons.
Walled Lake Western (13-1), A: The Warriors graduated a number of quality players but the half dozen or so transfers will help to fill the gaps. Juniors Sam Johnson (QB) and lineman Spencer Brown (6-6, 305) are the two most high-profile transfers. Johnson (From Southfield A&T) should have a breakout season and Brown (Walled Lake Northern) recently committed to Michigan State. Justin Thomas (WR/DB) is a returning starter and the offensive line has experience. The offensive line is spearheaded by Brown, center Joey George (6-2, 275), guard Ryan Dickinson (6-2, 275) and right tackle Jacob Dean (6-9, 310). Randall Harris (6-1, 180), a transfer from Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, adds to a talented secondary that includes Ben Reilley and Thomas. There’s quality at linebacker with Zak Kempstar (SP) and Jon Moffett (6-1, 235), who committed to Indiana State, back. The weakness, at least early on, is the defensive line.
Detroit Catholic Central (13-1), A: The Tom Mach era is over as Dan Anderson takes over as the head coach. Anderson will have four starters back on both sides including the last of the three Darkangelos, Isaac. A three-year starter, Darkangelo is 6-1, 230 pounds and will play middle linebacker and running back, just like his older brothers. Matt Young (RB/LB) and Cameron Ryan (RB) are also three-year starters. Tackle Nick Carrey (6-7, 295) is the Shamrocks’ top college prospect. Virginia and Central Florida are among the schools that have offered him a scholarship. He might end up at an Ivy League school. Mike Harding (TE/DE) and Andrew Paxton (OL/DL) are physical two-way players. Kevin Korte is the top receiver and will help fill the holes left by graduation in the secondary. Among Anderson’s big tasks is to find a replacement for quarterback Austin Brown who transferred to Madison Heights Madison.
Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (6-4), A: This could be the Big Reds best team since 2003 when they finished 11-2. Coach Scott Merchant returns 11 on defense and eight on offense, and his junior varsity finished 7-2, that with four sophomores on varsity. The offense will center on junior quarterback Tommy Schuster (6-1, 185) who passed for 1,200 yards and 15 TDs, and rushed for 500 yards and seven TDs. The receiver spot has plenty of depth with the top two being Jon’Naize Owens (6-2, 205) and Jacob Rybicki (5-6, 150), a slick receiver who will also return kicks. Of the three returning linemen Don Wesley (5-11, 235) tops the list. Defensively linebacker Brian Schieweck (5-11, 185) is the leader. He led the team in tackles and is being recruited by Division II schools. Junior linebacker Marcel Lewis (6-0, 205) has received scholarship offers from Mid-American Conference schools. Lineman Kevin Krasniqi (5-11, 215) had 10.5 tackles for loss and Carnell Snorton (6-0, 185) will bolster a sometimes inconsistent secondary as he returns after suffering a knee injury in the second game of the season.
Grandville (10-2), A: This program has taken off since Eric Stiegel took over as coach. His basic style of offense (two right ends, often a full-house T-formation) has given members of the O-K Conference Red Division fits. After missing the playoffs seven consecutive seasons the Bulldogs have made the playoffs each of the past three under Stiegel. The defense lacks experience and will count on Kyle Nyboer (LB/DE/TE) and Keaton Hamilton (DB) to become the leaders. The offense will be ahead of the defense early on as Matt Kelly (G), an all-state selection last season, and Dirk Tipton (6-2, 240) return on the line. Senior Tommy Blitchok won the starting quarterback spot this summer and look for juniors Shane Baker and Bryce Sanderson (DB) to get their share of carries in the backfield. Stiegel said 90 percent of his players play other sports and he points to that fact as one of the reasons for his program’s success.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (10-4), A: The defending Division 3 champions will sport a number of new faces in the starting lineup as just two return on defense. The good news the Eaglets have four back on offense led by quarterback Caden Prieskorn (6-5, 215). Prieskorn is a three-sport athlete who has surprisingly good speed and great vision. Rashawn Allen (5-8, 205) rushed for 2,000 yards last season and he’ll keep low to the ground and run behind guard Don Whalen (6-2, 290) and center Brennan Ebbert (6-0, 290). Ky’Ren Cunningham (LB/RB) is the Eaglets’ best two-way player. Nathan Kolwich (DT) is the other starter back for a defense that will be trimmed down and quicker. Ben Fee, who booted a 50-yarder in the state final, could be the state’s top place kicker.
Muskegon Mona Shores (5-4), A: Coach Matt Koziak believes his program has turned the corner despite the hiccup last season. Two years ago the Sailors made their first state final appearance and Koziak said, “This is my best team. We have 18 starters back and we have some really good classes coming up.” The spread offense revolves around senior quarterback Tristan Robbins (5-11, 180), a superb runner who also competes in wrestling and rugby. Junior Damari Roberson (6-2, 191) is perhaps the mostly recruited player. Roberson (WR/DB/KR) has a 3.8 grade-point average and has been offered a scholarship by 12 schools including Western Michigan. Another top junior is Jacob Wahlberg (6-4, 215) who is an H-back and will play linebacker. Four offensive linemen return and the best two are Chuckie Anthony (6-1, 295) and Keontae Watson (6-5, 273) who has a couple of Division I scholarship offers. Keyshawn Sommerville (6-1, 175) is an all-conference receiver and the best player could well be D’Anthony Davis (5-11, 178). He’ll play linebacker and running back, and plays with a high motor.
Canton (8-3), A: The Chiefs lost to Saline in a district final and return five starters on both sides. Numbers are down a tad as coach Tim Baechler has 55 on varsity, which could cause issues with depth. The freshmen team was 8-1 last season so there is talent. His son, Lou (5-10, 210), is a three-year starter at middle linebacker and a two-year starter at tight end. His leadership on both sides is invaluable. Back on the offensive line are Max Mulvaney (C) and Patrick Lenczewski (RT). Steve Walker (DB), a junior, and Colin Troup (CB) will carry much of the load in the backfield. There’ll be a new quarterback as senior Conner Engel gets his shot. Engel was a running back and defensive back his first two seasons but didn’t play last season. Noah Brown (LB) and Ronald Fenderson (DT) are part of a strong nucleus defensively.
Macomb Dakota (7-4), A: Coach Greg Baur lost 30 seniors to graduation and there’s talk that the Cougars will be down this season. We’re not buying it. The junior varsity was undefeated last season and this group of seniors are accustomed to winning. Six starters are back on offense and the receivers are especially well skilled led by Jeron Kelley and Ronye Walker, Kelley was the Macomb County champion in the 100-meter dash (10.8) and Walker runs a 10.9. Tackle Patrick Donovan (6-5, 285) and center Jason Ribbentrop (6-2, 270) are the two starters returning on the offensive line. Dustin Solomon (DB) could push Dawson Sloan (5-10, 195) for playing time at running back. Four starters are back on defense led by linebacker L.J. Hassell (6-0, 215), end Nick Audia and safety Alex Chang. Dakota opens at O.L. St. Mary’s marking the fourth consecutive season it has opened the season against a defending state champion.
River Rouge (11-2), B: The Panthers reached the Division 4 semifinal and it appears that they will remain in Division 4 despite the addition of 96 students. Coach Corey Parker returns five starters on offense and six on defense. The top players are four-year starter Reggie Pearson (5-11, 190), a safety who committed to Wisconsin, and Lee Payton (6-3, 225), a tight end who committed to Western Michigan. Three offensive linemen return and the best ones are junior Dontrel Walker (6-0, 270) and Javeon Coleman (DL) who led the team in tackles for loss. Parker’s big challenge, especially early in the season, is to decide who will play quarterback. Sophomore DeAndre Bulley (6-2, 220) and junior Emmanuel Ferguson (6-3, 175) are in the running.
Clarkston (9-3), A: Gone are the days when the Wolves sported a wide open offense and looked to throw it almost as much as they ran it. This season coach Kurt Richardson’s offense could mirror that of Detroit Catholic Central under Tom Mach. Richardson will break in a new quarterback this season and with three starting offensive linemen back the Wolves will run the ball often. Senior Mike Fluegal (RB/SB) has been a starter since late in his sophomore season and he’ll likely carry 20 times a game. Noah Nicklin and Stewart Newblatt are the top two linemen returning, and Newblatt could see time on the defensive line. Just three starters are back on defense and two are linebackers. Zach Scott, a three-year starter, is the best.
Traverse City West (6-4), A: West has plenty of experience back especially on offense where eight starters return and coach Tim Wooer has both of his kickers back as well. Of the seven up front West has five back led by one of the state’s best, Ryan Hayes (6-6, 255). Hayes is a three-year, two-way starter at tight end and defensive end. He’s also the punter and is committed to Michigan. Hayes is a starter on the basketball team and has an 85 mph fastball. Halfback Erik LaBonte (6-0, 210) is big and fast (11.1 in the 100-meter dash). Andrew Campbell (FB/DB) made all-league last season and these two will run behind center Sawyer Perkette and Brent Walters (G/DT). Junior Sam DeKuiper will get his first shot at quarterback and other starters returning on defense include safety Jacob Pawlowski and Jacob Ransom (DE), another three-sport athlete.
Brighton (7-3), A: The Bulldogs surprised many by making the playoffs past season with just six seniors starting. Nine return on offense and five on defense for a program that will sport 85 on varsity. At receiver there’s Matt Buschman (6-2, 210) and Rudy Ramirez, who’s also a strong place kicker. Andrew Miller (6-3, 265) and Ellis Woolette (6-4, 255) are back on the offensive line. Luke Helwing (6-1, 215) could be the team’s best athlete. He played in the offensive backfield as a sophomore and last season but will move to linebacker this season. There’s an interesting situation at quarterback. Senior Cameron Tullar and junior Will Jontz platooned last season and likely will again. Two or three sophomores could be in the mix as starters for a team that won’t have any player go both ways.
Dearborn Divine Child (10-3), B: It’s been more than a few years since the Falcons made a preseason top 25 list. Quarterback Theo Day (6-5, 210) and five other offensive starters returning give coach John Filiatraut hopes for another long playoff run. Day committed to Michigan State and is considered one of the top candidates for the State Champs Mr. Football award. Aidan Hutchison (6-6, 250) committed to Michigan. Mainly a defensive lineman, Hutchison also plays tight end and is the long snapper. Three offensive linemen are returning starters