Clarkston, Muskegon picked as state’s best
1. Clarkston – If the adage winning breeds confidence rings true for Clarkston this season there’s no reason the Wolves won’t make another long run in the state playoffs in November.
Coach Kurt Richardson never said he felt pressure to win a state championship for his alma mater but there’s no doubt he took tremendous pride in knowing he was at the helm last season when Clarkston won the school’s first state football title.
Clarkston, 13-1 last season, has been selected by State Champs as the No. 1 team in the preseason for 2014.
Clarkston was a team that improved week by week last season and played its best football in its five playoff games. An injury early in the season to its star running back Ian Eriksen (now at Eastern Michigan) forced Richardson to rely even more on then junior quarterback D.J. Zezula and Zezula responded. He threw for over 2,300 yards, 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions. In Clarkston’s 32-14 victory over Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 final Zezula was 10-for-15 for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
With three offensive linemen returning plus a tall tight end who committed to a Division I school Clarkston will again have one of the state’s top offenses.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of an experienced quarterback like Zezula. He’s a three-year starter and is also a college prospect as a baseball player. And he’s intelligent. Among the schools he’s considering for football include Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
There are a number of reasons why Clarkston is State Champs’ No. 1-ranked in the preseason but the return of Zezula is perhaps the most important.
“He’s had a good winter for us,” Richardson said. “He did his time in the gym, throwing. He’s throwing better.” Also look for Zezula to be more involved with the running game.
Tight end Cole Chewins (6-7, 225) will also start at linebacker as will Jack McKillop and Will Scarlett
Adam Matich returns on the offensive line and will start at nose guard. Merrick Canada and Joe Popp are two of the top cornerbacks in Oakland County.
Clarkston’s junior varsity hasn’t lost a game in two years so there are quality players waiting to get their shot.
2. Muskegon: The football machine on the state’s west side will continue to churn as four offensive linemen return plus one of the top receivers in the state.
Replacing quarterback Deshaun Thrower (Stony Brook) will challenge Coach Shane Fairfield and his staff. Look for senior Shawn Pfenning to start at quarterback and for the Big Reds to concentrate on the ground game for the first half of the season. Cameron Copeland could also see playing time at quarterback.
Jalvin Walker will move from center to tackle and the best returner could be guard Derices Brown (6-1, 257). The third junior in this threesome returning is tackle Juanye Johnson (6-4, 275).
Receiver Joeviar Kennedy also started on the state championship basketball team and Caleb Washington is a short (5-7) but powerful running back.
Linebacker T.J. Smith led the team in tackles (106) last season and Brandon Oliver will move from linebacker to defensive line. Two other starters return on defense and the line will receive an added boost with the addition of tackle Khari Cunningham (6-0, 265), a transfer from Muskegon Orchard View.
3. Birmingham Brother Rice: The three-time defending Division 2 champions won’t miss a beat offensively with the return of quarterback Alex Malzone (Michigan commit) and four other starters.
Three linemen return including guards Spencer Dickow and Matt Hendry, and tackle Mark Miller.
Grant Perry returns at receiver and defensive back, and he might draw double teams. If that’s the case that’ll create opportunities for receiver Delano Madison who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg. Madison will also return kicks. Madison committed to Western Michigan.
The running back spot will likely be filled by committee. Justice Sanders might get the start early but Bobby Dixon and Brandon Thomas will have opportunities to carry the ball as well.
Defensively the Warriors will take a step back. Jack Dunaway and Sean Kubit-Miller are returning linemen but the secondary will feature new faces and the top three linebackers were lost to graduation. Juniors Jeff Timko and Riley Maher are expected to start at linebacker and the last of the Pickens brothers, Beau, will likely start in the secondary.
The pressure of following Al Fracassa as head coach will definitely hang over the head of Dave Sofran. But Sofran has been around this program for 20 years or so and he’s had pressure on him before.
4. Oak Park: Coach Greg Carter returns nine starters on defense and eight on offense, including Chauncey Loman who split time at quarterback. John Kelly (RB/DB/K) is one of the state’s top players and has the ability to impact a game in many ways.
Oak Park was 6-5 last season and all of its losses were by eight points or less.
“The majority of our kids were juniors and sophomores,” Carter said. “This is my best team in the three years I’ve been here. Our success will depend on our line play, which we have confidence in.”
Shahid Bellamy will start at tackle on both sides, Jameer Butts will move from guard to center and Ricardo Smith (DE/G) is a three-year starter.
Carter returns his best receiver (Juan Hernandez) and his top linebacker (Junior McMullen).
5. Rockford: Two quarterbacks, four receivers and three linemen suffered injuries last season so, with a little luck, the Rams will stay injury free and make a long run in the playoffs.
“I’m excited about the group,” Coach Ralph Munger said. “We have a good blend of seniors (31) and juniors (38).”
Rockford could have two, perhaps three, play quarterback. Landen Haney, a pitcher on the baseball team, is the lone senior in the mix.
The offensive line is solid with the return of center Vance Powell and guards Nick Alfernick and Derek Scholl. Junior Noah Foss might start at tackle on both sides.
As is always the case Munger will use a handful of running backs. His best is Ethan LeCourt. There’s depth in the secondary and at receiver but Munger must find dependable linebackers to shore up the defense. Mason Pant will play at one outside linebacker position and Tyler Bradfield returns in the secondary and could see time at quarterback.
6. Detroit Catholic Central: The Shamrocks’ starting lineup is always laden with seniors and, although few are familiar with the new starters, every year C.C. is a team to be reckoned with.
C.C. has reached the Division 1 finals four of the last five years and Hall of Fame Coach Tom Mach does return a handful of starters. Tight ends Nick Cococcetta and Cameron Hendershot are two of the area’s best.
Senior Joe Fanning is expected to get his first start at quarterback at Muskegon on Aug. 29. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins is a sure tackler and Hendershot is back on the defensive line.
C.C. does have a playmaker and that’s junior Alex Bock. Bock returns in the secondary and he’ll again return punts and kickoffs.
As always there’s depth in this program. The freshmen team didn’t lose a game last season.
7. Detroit Cass Tech: The Technicians will be as talented as any team this season but a thin senior class could prevent them from getting out of the gate quickly.
Six starters return on offense, but quarterback Jayru Campbell (legal issues) isn’t expected to play until midseason. Until then, sophomore Rodney Hall will start. Look for the state’s top running back, Michael Weber, to carry the ball often and Weber could see some time at quarterback as well.
Josh Alabi (DL/OL) committed to Ohio State and he’ll be joined on the line by Michael Onwenu and Braxton Willis, both of whom saw plenty of playing time last year. Receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Demetri Vance has received scholarship offers from Division I schools.
The linebacker position is solid with the return of Michael Oliver and Keith Jones. The secondary is young. Keyshawn Gilmore could be the lone senior starting.
8. Macomb Dakota: Coach Mike Giannone returns five starters on both sides and for a program like this one that’s quite a few.
The big question surrounds the quarterback position where senior Maurice Moon (6-1, 205) is expected to step in. Moon played running back last season so it makes sense the Cougars will feature the run game even more.
Benji Marshall is the team’s top playmaker (slot, running back, returns and he could be the team’s top receiver). The core of this team is on the line where Colin Shock will move from center to guard. Division I commits Tony Balbani (OT/DE) and Daniel Crawford (DE/TE) will again start on both sides. Basketball star John Hall (6-4, 180) is an athletic receiver.
9. Warren De La Salle: The defense, with nine starters returning, promises to be one of the state’s best. End Michael Danna committed to Central Michigan. Linebacker Ryan Smith also started at guard last season and junior Eric Rogers (6-2, 235) returns at inside linebacker and will also play the H-back.
Seven starters are back on offense and look for sophomore running back Allen Stritzinger, who qualified for the state track finals in the 110-meter hurdles, to stretch the defense. Joey Garbarino saw playing time at quarterback last season and tight end Drew Beasley (DL) is expected to be one of his favorite targets.
There’s plenty of depth on the offensive line. Gus Vanderdunck and Jordan Asbury are the top two.
10. DeWitt: Rob Zimmerman said this team has more team speed than any in his previous 15 years as head coach.
Quarterback Jacob Johnson is the heart and soul of this team. Johnson possesses a strong arm and will be more involved in the running game this season. The offense is loaded with the return of running back Ben Heinritz (1,500 yards rushing), Mike Roberson at receiver and two three-year starters (Jacob Wozniewski and Josh Villegas) on the line.
In addition Shonquise Trainor, a transfer from Lansing Eastern, will start at slot receiver and Raynor Berrerra (6-2, 210), a transfer from Texas, will start at halfback.
Berrerra will also start at linebacker and with just four starters back on defense his addition here will have an immediate impact. Conner Grice (LB) and Ben Zamiara (FS) are three-year starters.
11. Lake Orion: The Dragons were 7-3 last season and that’s not acceptable for a program accustomed to going deep into the playoffs. Seven starters return on defense and Coach Chris Bell said he’s never had an offensive line with the size that this unit will take to the field this season.
At 210 pounds center Austin Jones is the lone returning starter on the line but Bell has plenty of depth here. Eight will likely play significant minutes and tow of the top ones are juniors, guard Jeff McCarty (6-3, 280) and tackle Brendan Thompson (6-2, 265). Senior Jacob Erker (5-10, 260) could start at either guard or center. Sophomore Nick Novak (6-3, 240) could start the season at left tackle.
Matt Krause will start at running back after splitting time there last season in Bell’s one-back set. Look for sophomore Keith Fields to make an impact at one of the slots.
Senior Cameron Kostiz and sophomore Max Horneffer are competing for the starting quarterback spot.
Defensively three of the top returners will be juniors. Jaylen Wiggins (DB/WR) is a terrific athlete. Justin Cathers anchors the line at nose guard and he’s extremely mobile for 245 pounds. Drew Casey started the final nine games at free safety and he’s also a fine hockey player.
12. Detroit King: Coach Dale Harvel returns lost a handful of starters to graduation so this year’s unit is not short on experience.
Linebacker Tyriq Thompson committed to Michigan State and is a Mr. Football candidate. Defensive backs Jessie (SP?) Johnson and Dontre Boyd are Division I recruits who will also see time as receivers.
Transfer Mahakl Washington (San Diego) and sophomore Martinez Callaway will compete for the quarterback spot, and the running back position will be filled by committee but look for sophomore D.J. Griffin (5-10, 220) to get his share of carries.
Add to this group two highly recruited transfers. Offensive tackle Keonte Stallworth (6-4, 270) played at St. Clair Shores South Lake last season and he committed to MSU. Receiver Donnie Corley (6-2, 180), a transfer from Wyandotte Roosevelt, is one of the top juniors at his position.
Last season King had fewer than 40 on varsity. This year its numbers approach the mid-50s.
13. Caledonia: Coach Tom Burrill will switch to the Auburn spread offense with Eddie Kelly and Jalen Burton, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, respectively, in the backfield. Burrill said they are two of the best the program has had in 20 years.
Kobe Wilson and Tanner Christian are in competition for the quarterback spot.
Kelly and Mike Andrusiak are three-year starters at outside linebacker. Jon Hubbell returns at middle linebacker.
Logan Soule is a three-year starter in the secondary. Trent Foreman also returns in the secondary. There are holes to fill on the defensive line and it’s possible that Austin Simmons, one of three starters returning on the offensive line, will start at defensive tackle. Burrill has 57 on varsity, the most in school history.
Caledonia was 5-4 last season and its schedule will be challenging once again with non-conference games against Rockford and Muskegon Mona Shores on tap.
14. Southfield: The stinger left by the loss to Birmingham Seaholm in the first round of the playoffs last season still causes pain to this program. A long playoff run will do much to remedy that disappointment.
Coach Tim Conley returns Dior Johnson, a three-year starter at free safety. Johnson, who committed to Wake Forest, will see time at receiver as well.
Ray Buford, Jr., (DB/WR) missed much of last season because of a leg injury and he’s committed to Minnesota.
Conley could use a two-quarterback system with seniors Kanye Harris and Michael Thornton.
Junior running back Matt Falcon (6-1, 215) missed last season (ACL) and is expected to be the main ball carrier this season. He’s been offered a scholarship by Ohio State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and other Division I schools.
Ja’Mar Antwine, a transfer from Pontiac, and returning starter Davonte Ginwright will both play receiver and defensive back. Antwine committed to Central Michigan; Ginright to Western Michigan.
A handful of linemen who saw playing time last season return. The top two are Aaron Turner (DT) and Makene Culpepper (DT).
15. Canton: The Chiefs will be ahead of the game offensively as they return six starters including four linemen and quarterback Greg Williams, a three-year starter.
Colin Caflisch will start at one tackle and Adam Armesto could be slated for the other tackle spot, or remain at tight end, his original starting position last season. Chuck Turfe rushed for 1,200 yards last season and will be the deep back when Coach Tim Baechler switches from the tight T-formation to the I-formation.
Defensively there are some concerns. Four starters return notably Jack Pagel at linebacker. Pagel runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and he’ll be called on to carry the ball as well. Vic Villarini returns in the secondary and nose guard Evan Piontek anchors the line.
In Williams, Baechler has a quarterback who has the knack for making the big play in third down situations.
16. Utica Eisenhower: Nine starters return on offense and this senior class is accustomed to winning. Two years ago the junior varsity was undefeated.
Senior Jake Bradsher will get his first start at quarterback at Rockford to open the season but he won’t be asked to carry the entire load. All five offensive linemen return including tackle Trevor Curle. Nick Osuch, Kadari Johnson and Andrew Szalkowski will all carry the ball. At the receiver spot both Nick Ribbing and Logan Fredal.
Seven return on defense, a unit that played inconsistently at times a year ago. Coach Chris Smith said his front seven could be as good as any in Macomb County. Colin Koscielniak and Fredal return at end and Mark Szalkowski will anchor the line at nose guard. Chad Sherry represents the core of this group at middle linebacker.
17. Lowell: Coach Noel Dean lost 18 starters, and the senior class is thin so the Red Arrows could be a year away from making a serious run to Ford Field but there is talent.
Josh Colegrove is a four-year player at defensive end and he’ll also see time at fullback. Dean’s nephew. Max Dean, is a junior and will start at defensive end and share time with Colegrove at fullback. Both are outstanding wrestlers.
Dean’s son, Zeth, is another junior, and he’s in competition with senior Ryan Stevens for the starting quarterback spot. Junior Karson Murley (603, 275) is a returning starter at guard.
18. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s: Seven starters return on defense and four on offense and though there’s much experience this is still a young team.
Tyson Smith (DB/WR) is the top senior and he’s committed to Michigan State. Other top seniors include Jared Mosely (DE/OT), Josh Dabney (DT/OL), a three-year starter on defense, and Lamon Mathison, a three-year starter in the secondary.
Along with Smith sophomore linebacker Josh Ross is one of Coach George Porritt’s marquee players Ross and could see time at tight end. Sophomore Kahlee Hamler (DB) has been offered a scholarship by Michigan State and junior Cameron Kolwich (OT) is another Division I prospect.
Junior Brandon Tabone will contend with senior Evan Henry for the quarterback spot. Henry has better mobility; Tabore a stronger arm.
19. East Grand Rapids: The Pioneers’ luck is sure to change this season. They finished 5-4 last season and three of their losses came on the last play of the game.
Defensively the Pioneers return seven starters and this will be an athletic group. Carter Masek (LB/DE) is a three-year starter and his partner Michael Johnston led the team with 105 tackles. Juniors Michael Clifford and Gourney Sloan both started in the secondary. Sloan was the starting point guard on the basketball team.
Mikey Roth returns at quarterback after suffering a broken collarbone in week three last year. Mason Bandury (6-4, 225) is the latest in a long line of fine tight ends at East Grand Rapids.
It’ll take time for the offense to jell under first-year offensive coordinator Casey Longo.
20. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley: The offense should click immediately for the Big Reds as Coach Scott Merchant returns seven starters on this side of the ball.
Forty of the 65 varsity players are juniors and Stefan Claiborne is the best of the bunch. Claiborne has started all 21 games at defensive back the last two seasons. He will also play receiver and return punts and kickoffs. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
Teams might shy away from the 6-1 Claiborne at one cornerback spot but on the other side Merchant has Sean Bunting who has been offered a scholarship by Saginaw Valley State.
Two offensive linemen return the best being tackle Tyler Allison (6-3, 290). Running back Troy Taylor rushed for 600 yards and nine touchdowns last season but the quarterback spot remains unsolved. Senior Tyler Kulka and junior Patrick Briningstool could split time there.
Merchant has some holes to fill defensively as Nick Baril (DL) is one of two starters returning.
21. Muskegon Mona Shores: Coach Matt Koziak is cautiously optimistic after the school’s first state playoff appearance last season. Six starters return on defense and Koziak said this is the best defense he’s had at Mona Shores.
The excitement the program created last season should continue with an offense that’s centered on quarterback Tyree Jackson. Jackson enters his fourth season as a starter and he’ll have Deontay Mossett back at running back.
Hunter Broersma will play the slot and two linemen return as starters including center Simon Karel. Zach Hellman (DE) is perhaps the top defensive player, and tackles Mike Bordeaux (6-3, 255) and Christian Boyd (6-1, 265) both started as sophomores.
22. Saline: Coach Joe Palka enters his third season and has a plethora of playmakers returning including quarterback Trent Tyson.
The challenge facing Palka is replacing all five offensive linemen. Austin Buckley provides a quick remedy as he will move from the defensive to the offensive line. Juniors Alex Bromley and Brandon Brown will likely start on the offensive line as well.
Tyrone Miller (DB) is a threat when he returns kicks and punts, and he’s been offered a scholarship by a handful of Division I schools. Kevin Gross (RB) suffered an ankle injury and missed all of last season. Chris Terech (LB) and Cam Cole are expected to be Tyson’s favorite receivers.
Other top juniors include Cal Criner (LB) and Palka’s son, Jeb (RB).
23. Holland West Ottawa: At 5-4 the Panthers missed the playoffs after three consecutive playoff appearances. Eight starters return on offense including three linemen, all of whom are juniors, plus tight end Caleb McNitt. With both starting running backs (James Lacy and Christian Rodino) returning look for West Ottawa to run the ball often.
Mason Decker, a three-year starter at linebacker, is one of four starters back on defense. Tyler McDonald (DE) will be joined by Jarrit Scholten on the defensive line. Scholten returns at tackle on the offensive side. Safeties Luke Bakker and Colin DeShaw return in the secondary.
24. Farmington Hills Harrison: Five starters return on defense and despite the return of quarterback Jevon Shaw the offense could be one-dimensional until Coach John Herrington finds a reliable running back to replace Lorenzo Collins.
Jared Char, a returning starter at linebacker, could be called upon to carry the ball this season. Linebacker Mike Ojamudia committed to Eastern Michigan and cornerback Donte Eubanks is one of the fastest defensive backs in Oakland County.
Center Derrick Parker and tackle Dorian Williams, a three-year starter, are back on the offensive line, which bodes well for Shaw who will have the ball in his hands often. Shaw is also the team’s top punt and kickoff returner.
25. Traverse City West: West has an outstanding junior class and could be a year away from making a serious run in the playoffs but if Coach Tim Wooer’s team can get off to a good start (they open with Midland) six or seven wins is not out of the question.
West was 5-5 last season as it lost to Rockford in the first round of the playoffs.
Seven starters return on defense led by three-year starter Zack McGuire (WR) who will switch from safety to cornerback. Two other seniors who are returning starters are Zac Schwert (DL) and Calvin Bouttavong (DE).
Offensively six starters return including three linemen who started as sophomores. Tackle Thiyo Lukusa (6-5, 295) has been offered a scholarship by Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Tackle Jake Cerny (6-5 280) has been offered a scholarship by Western Michigan and Wooer said guard Tommy Roush (6-3, 260) was his most consistent lineman last season.
Junior Jeff Turnquist started last season at quarterback and needs to continue to manage the offense for his team to be successful.