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FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Best teams and players in the state for 2013

By: Scott Burnstein, August 28, 2013, 10:00 am

The State’s Top 10 Football Teams

1 Detroit Cass Tech – The two-time defending Division 1 state-champion Technicians are simply stacked; sensational across the board at every position. Ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, Cass Tech currently has seven Division I college-commits on its roster and several additional players that will eventually sign with Division I programs at some time in the future. Michigan State-commit Jayru Campbell, one of the best junior signal-callers in the nation, is entering his third year starting at quarterback for head coach Thomas Wilcher and the Technicians. Ohio State-commit Damon Webb (cornerback-wide receiver) and Campbell’s fellow Spartans-commit Deon Drake (linebacker), among others, are top "go-to guys" for the vaunted Cass Tech assault.

2 Clarkston – The Wolves 2013 squad is the school’s most-talented team ever; five seniors have already snared Division I college scholarships. Head coach Kurt Richardson, wearing the head phones in Clarkston since 1987, has it all on his roster this year: high-wattage star-power, leadership, experience, depth, size, speed and strength. All-state running back and Eastern Michigan-commit Ian Eriksen (over 2500 yards, 34 touchdowns in 2012) leads the Wolves’ offense and Michigan State-commit David Beedle (defensive line) and the Western Michigan-bound pair of Nick Matich (defensive line) and Timmy Cason (cornerback-wide receiver) lead Richardson’s ‘D.’

3 Birmingham Brother Rice – Like Cass Tech in Division 1, Brother Rice is going for a three-peat in Division 2 and has a well-stocked arsenal for its endeavor. The Warriors, sure to be the state’s emotional favorite this fall with legendary head coach and the MHSAA’s career win-leader Al Fracassa retiring at the conclusion of the season, have an experienced and hungry bunch in the mix. Fracassa’s battle-plan for his final campaign on the sidelines is highlighted by fast-rising junior field general Alex Malzone, the dynamic 1-2 punch of a tailback tandem in Brian Walker and Shon Powell, a vast receiving corps that goes more than a half-dozen deep (Corey Lacanaria is the No. 1 target and on the verge of setting multiple program-records) and an active and gutty defense spearheaded by Alberto Sandoval (defensive line), Shaun Jones (linebacker), Chris Carter (cornerback) and Jason Alessi (safety-kicker)

4 Grand Rapids Christian – Having two BCS commits and layer-after-layer of auxiliary standouts in the fold, the defending Division 3 state champs are equipped for another run at a crown. Michigan-commit Drake Harris (wide receiver), the state’s No. 1 player on offense, is a little banged up and will miss the first portion of the schedule, but expect Northwestern-commit Tommy Doles (offensive-defensive line) and the rest of his teammates to pick up the slack in his absence. There are 15 returning-starters at the disposal of head coach Don Fellows, nine on defense and six on offense.

5 Southfield – Loaded with lots of playmakers, the Bluejays will contend for a Division 2 state championship this season. Head coach Tim Conley has a very balanced club and can unleash primetime talent on both sides of the pigskin. Defensively, all-state rush-ends Malik McDowell (No. 1 recruit in the state on defense) and Lawrence Marshall (Michigan) will pose serious problems for quarterbacks and linebacker Jordan Cry is a three-year starter and was an all-league selection with 115 tackles last year.  On offense, Bowling Green-commit Jalen Brady (quarterback), the Western Michigan-commit duo of Chukes Okorafor (offensive line) and Jordan Billingslea (wide receiver) are just three of numerous weapons the Bluejays can employ.

6 Muskegon – Boasting athleticism and experience, the Big Red could very well be returning to Ford Field and the Division 3 state finals in November, where they fell to Brother Rice last fall. Powering the offense this year will be senior quarterback Deshaun Thrower, one of the premier two-sport athletes in the state (he’s being recruited in both football and basketball), Ball State-commit Malik King on the line and and John Hall, a steady presence in the backfield. Western Michigan-commit Kenny Finley (defensive line) and Willie Hunt (linebacker) pilot the defense for Muskegon, flanked by Jordan Ware (cornerback) and Jake Sims (defensive line).

7 Novi Detroit Catholic Central – Sporting the signature Shamrocks’ smash-mouth attack, Catholic Central, coming off two straight trips to the Division 1 state finals and three appearances in the past four seasons, is poised for another banner campaign on the gridiron. Longtime Shamrocks head coach Tom Mach’s most dangerous players this fall are returning third-year starters Dylan Roney and Zach Bock. Both are incredibly versatile threats; Roney, committed to Navy as a defensive end (CHSL-Central Division-best 12 sacks in 2012), also lines up at tight end and running back, and Bock, committed to Western Michigan for soccer, can hurt opposing teams at slotback, running back and quarterback on offense and in the secondary on defense.

8 Macomb Dakota – Defense will be the calling-card for Dakota this fall, as the program is stuffed to the gills with game-changers on the defensive side of the ball. Central Michigan-commit David Basirco (safety) tops the list, followed closed behind by Niko Savich (linebacker), Tony Balabani (defensive line), Brannon Lozon (defensive line) and Mustafa Abdur-Rahman (cornerback).

9 Lake Orion – The Dragons roll out a multi-skilled trio of slotbacks in seniors Chris Leigh, Corey Ester and Zack Arnold this year to go along with an underrated power-back in Dominic Giovinazzo on offense, while Trenton Elkins (defensive line) and Brennan Rourke (linebacker) will pace head coach Chris Bell’s defense. An “X-Factor” for Lake Orion this season will be the performance of senior quarterback Connor Grant, who will be in his first year starting under center after playing on defense last season as a junior at safety and linebacker.

10 Oak Park – One of the best junior classes in the state, headed by heavily-touted college-recruit Johnny Kelley (running back-cornerback), anchors the defending league and district champion Knights this year. Also from that class, Ricardo Smith is a tenacious pass-rusher and Shaheed Bellamy is a gritty run-plugger on the defensive line. Chance Savage (slotback) and Andrew Jackson (wide receiver) are two other players to watch on Oak Park’s offense.

The State’s Top 10 Football Players

1 Drake Harris (GR Christian SR WR) – The definition of “big-play threat”, No. 1 player in the state on offense

2 Malik McDowell (Southfield SR DE) – Dominant pass-rush specialist, No. 1 player in the state on defense

3 Lawrence Marshall (Southfield SR DE) – Plain nasty coming off the edge

4 Damon Webb (Detroit Cass Tech SR CB-WR) – Overall playmaker, might be the most versatile player in the state

5 Deon Drake (Detroit Cass Tech SR LB) – Best linebacker in the state…quick and relentless sideleine-to-sideline

6 Maurice Ways (Birmingham DCD SR WR) – Quintessential wide out with all the tools and intangibles

7 Jayru Campbell (Detroit Cass Tech JR QB) – The kind of high school quarterback you dream of

8 Byron Bullough (TC St. Francis JR LB) – The name says it all…great linebacker prospect

9 Avante Maddox (Detroit King SR ATH) – Could be the state’s most underrated player…smart, shifty and

10 Jalen Watts-Jackson (OL St. Mary’s SR CB-WR) – Scintillating wherever he lines up