Preseason top 10: St. Mary’s holds top spot; Muskegon No. 2
Orchard Lake – Many thought Orchard Lake St. Mary’s was a year away from winning a state championship last season. The Eaglets were a young team with an unproven quarterback but they progressed game by game eventually reaching the Division 3 final before methodically defeating Muskegon 7-0.
St. Mary’s allowed just 28 points in the four playoff games leading up to the final and against Muskegon this unit again proved to be stingy. The Eaglets allowed Muskegon 168 yards and eight first downs. The offense gained 164 yards and 10 first downs. Clearly the defense carried the load.
Senior quarterback Brendan Tabone is one of five starters returning on offense and he said the offense is quickly catching up.
“We’re all eager to get back,” Tabone said. “We want to win another title.
“Last year gave me a lot of experience. Playing at Ford Field makes me more confident, confidence knowing a can do well.
”Our offense is more comfortable this season. We’re more flexible. (The defense) was the backbone of our team. The offense has caught up.”
In addition to the returning starters, coach George Porritt has a few other players who had significant playing time. He said he has solid depth at nearly every position. Of the 56 varsity players 25 are seniors, 29 are juniors and there are two sophomores.
St. Mary’s, which plays in the highly competitive Catholic League Central Division, has been selected as State Champs’ No. 1 team in the preseason.
St. Mary’s, 12-2 last season, will open the season Aug. 29 against defending Division 7 champion Detroit Loyola as part of the Prep Football Classic at Wayne State University at 11 a.m.
St. Mary’s is predominantly a running team but with a senior quarterback who possesses an accurate arm the Eaglets could open up their playbook.
Tabone’s favorite receiver will likely be Kahlee Hamler (5-10, 165), a junior who is equally adept at playing defensive back. He’ll also return kicks and punts.
Seniors Brandon Adams and Justin Myrick return in the backfield in Porritt’s two-back, veer offense set. Pierce Bauer (LB) will play fullback when St. Mary’s lines up in the wishbone.
Cameron Kolwich (6-5, 275) is a two-way tackle who committed to Northwestern.
In addition to Hamler, Bauer and Kolwich, Josh Ross (6-1, 225) is a returning starter on defense at inside linebacker. Though just a junior Ross has received scholarship offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame among others. He’s the leader of the defense, the one who drives the bus, according to Porritt.
Porritt nods his head when asked if this could be one of his best teams. St. Mary’s has won five state titles under Porritt so the bar has been set high.
Talent is but one reason why some teams are labelled as “great”. True greatness is achieved by talented players working together as one unit in an effort to achieve team goals, not individual goals.
Team speed is another asset. St. Mary’s won three of the four relays at the Division 2 track and field finals last season and Porritt said all of the runners who competed on those relay teams are playing football.
Add to this an experienced quarterback and the formula for success is complete.
“It’s huge having Brendan back,” Porritt said. “The first part of the season is really important. We don’t have to spend that much time with him. He knows the system. And his teammates love him. He’s a very positive person.”
2. Muskegon (12-2), A: The Big Reds return their entire offensive line, three of which are three-year starters, from a team that lost to St. Mary’s in the Division 3 final. Just as important they have depth, so much so that Khari Wilcox will move from center to tight end. Derices Brown (G) and Juanye Johnson (OT) are perhaps the best on the line. Cameron Copeland (SB/RB) is the playmaker and Jacorey Sullivan, a junior, is the top receiver. Junior Kalil Pimpleton is expected to start at quarterback. Muskegon lost one game with Pimpleton as a starter at the freshmen and junior varsity levels. Six starters return on defense
3. Lowell (10-2), A: The Red Arrows overachieved last season with what was a young team. With 17 starters returning Lowell could have its best team since winning the 2009 Division 2 title. “We haven’t been in this situation for a while,” coach Noel Dean said. “It’s a well-balanced group. They’re family-oriented and they all like each other.” Dean’s son, Zeth, is back at running back and cornerback, and his nephew, Max Dean, will again start at linebacker and fullback. Guard Karson Murley (6-3, 290) is a three-year varsity player and Ryan Stevens, the starting point guard, is back at quarterback. His favorite receiver is Gabe Steed (6-1, 170) who’s also a fine basketball player. Lowell won’t overwhelm teams with its size, linebacker Sawyer Olesko (5-10, 175) is an example but the Arrows are athletic. Olesko also excels at lacrosse.
4. Detroit Cass Tech (12-1), A: Once again the Technicians are loaded with players who have been offered scholarships by Division I schools, and many are underclassmen. Lineman Michael Onwenu (Michigan commit) and defensive back/receiver Demetrice Vance (Michigan State) top the list. Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR/FS/KR) and Jalen Kelly-Powell (RB/SB/DB) are two of the state’s top juniors, and both have received 20 scholarship offers. Junior lineman Jordan Reid (6-5, 295) has received scholarship offers from Florida and Tennessee. One of the top seniors is tackle Edrick Mathis (6-3, 295). Junior Donovan Johnson could start at running back if Kelly-Powell doesn’t. What will make this team so formidable is the return of quarterback Rodney Hall (6-3, 210), who’s now a junior.
5. Warren De La Salle (11-3), A: The defending Division 2 champions have seven starters returning on offense including two lineman (Jordan Asbury, who committed to Western Michigan, and Tom Evans) and tight end Drew Beesley (DE) who committed to Bowling Green. Allen Stritzinger (RB) is one of the top juniors in the Detroit area. Myles Charley is a big-play receiver and Josh Wilk will start at quarterback. Wilk started at safety last season and could start again on defense. Ricardo Marble, a transfer from Sterling Heights Parkway Christian, could see playing time at quarterback. Tru Wilson, one of six returning starters, is a three-year starter at safety and Austin Potter (LB) is also a three-year starter. The loss of linebacker Eric Rogers (Western Michigan commit who suffered a knee injury) will test the Pilots’ depth.
6. Detroit King (8-2), A: The pieces seem to be in place for the Crusaders to make a run at a state title. Coach Dale Harvel has a good mix of juniors and seniors, and three transfers are expected to start and be impact players. Donnie Corley (WR/DB) is the marquee player on this team and he is a game-changer on both sides of the ball. King’s success could well depend on how well sophomore El Julian Jordan manages the game at quarterback. He does possess a strong arm. Running back Martell Pettaway, a transfer from St. Clair Shores South Lake who committed to West Virginia, will take the heat off of Jordan. Lavert Hill (DB/WR) is a transfer from Cass Tech who committed to Penn State. Lawrence Bryant (LB) is a linebacker who transferred from Grosse Pointe South and he’ll line up next to junior Cepeda Phillips who was second on the team in tackles. Add to this Leon Page (DE) who committed to Central Michigan and junior Ambre Thomas (CB), a returning starter, who has scholarship offers from Big Ten and Southeastern Conference schools.
7. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (8-4), A: This is Scott Merchant’s seventh season as head coach and he’ll have six starters back on defense, five on offense, from a team that defeated Macomb Dakota in a Division 1 district final. It’s quite possible, with 40 seniors on the team, that all 22 positions will be filled by a senior. The best is Stefan Claiborne (6-2, 175) who will start at receiver and defensive back. Patrick Briningstool (6-1, 200) is back at quarterback after throwing a for a school record 27 touchdowns. Jimmy Czarnik (SB) will return punts and the top two offensive linemen are Jon Andersen (6-2, 275) and Trevor Vergauwen (6-2, 285). Nicco Moroso (DL) and Stanley Williams (SS) lead the defense. Dane Haggarty will again handle the punter and place kicking responsibilities.
8. Canton (9-3), A: The Chiefs return four offensive linemen and their top two running backs, and when your offense runs the ball 85 percent of the time the prospects for the season are bright. “We have a good blend back,” coach Tim Baechler said. “I like their attitude. Our front seven defensively are smart.” Marcus Sanders (2,000 rushing yards) and Jake Wickens will get their share of carries in the backfield. Joel Foster, a junior who played on the junior varsity last season, could be a surprise. Devin Obrec leads the offensive line and Jalen Cochran (LB) will be one of a handful of players sharing time at tight end. Canton will have a new quarterback and senior Jared Stephens is expected to fill that role. Stephens (6-0, 195) started at free safety last season and he’ll play there again. Jake Stephan (LB) is a leader on defense.
9. East Kentwood (11-2), A: The Flacons had their best season in a decade and they return five starters on offense from a unit that scored 455 points. Tackles Trenton Fincher (6-8, 315) and Turner Ruby (6-4, 285) anchor the line, and Brett Patton (6-1, 205) is one of the top receives in the Grand Rapids area. Coach Tony Kimbrough has depth a tailback but a possible concern lies at quarterback where junior Evan Maday (6-1, 175) will get his first varsity start at Farmington Hills Harrison on Aug. 28. The secondary is sound with Marlon Dorsey moving from cornerback to free safety. DaJuan Thomas (SB) will team with Christian Green at cornerback. There’s plenty of depth (66 on varsity), especially on the line. Jean-Pierre Nkolo (DE) and Vincent Hayes (DT) are returning starters.
10. Saline (12-2), A: The Hornets return just two starters on defense so look for the offense, with six starters returning, to carry the load early. The offense revolves around Josh Jackson (QB) who committed to Virginia Tech. Jackson won the starting job early last season and led Saline to its first state final. The offensive line should be outstanding with the return of Alex Bromley (G), Brandon Brown (G) and Tyler Schzan (OT). The passing game will be enhanced by the return of Bryce Wilma (TE) and the coach’s son, Jeb Palka (WR). Rich Hovde, the No. 2 back last season, could be the main ball carrier. Coach Joe Palka does have some concerns defensively. John Raupp (LB/DE) and junior Sean O’Keefe (DE) return as starters, and Alec Richard (LB/S) and Joe Salowich (DB) both saw playing time. Sophomore C.J. Gildersleeve (LB), a transfer from Tecumseh, will add immediate depth.
Teams 11-25 will be released on Sunday.