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STATE CHAMPS! Preseason top 25 football teams in Michigan: West Bloomfield, Davison, Belleville lead cast of 2020 contenders

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 17, 2020, 6:26 pm

Based on input from coaches from around the state, here are the preseason top 25 teams in Michigan for the 2020 fall season. Once competition begins, we’ll break down the rankings by division, as well as a weekly top 25 (last year’s record in parentheses).

1 West Bloomfield (10-2) — D1

The Lakers have gone 30-8 over the last three seasons, making a trip to the 2017 title game, and two straight regional finals losses, and just need a nudge over that final hump. They break in a new quarterback in Alex Short, but they have the perfect recipe to make his transition seamless — four of five offensive linemen coming back, and a two-headed running attack with Donovan Edwards and Dillon Tatum. The latter also plays in a loaded secondary that includes Gavin Hardeman (Air Force) and Maxwell “Greedy” Hairston (Kentucky). 

2 Davison (12-2) — D1

Of the top three contenders, the Cardinals have something the other two don’t: A ring. The Cards broke through last year, behind the play of Brendan Sullivan (Northwestern), who’s back to make a run at Mr. Football, behind a veteran offensive line. Defensive end Harry Unger (Air Force) is one of eight returning starters on the defense. 

3 Belleville (12-1) — D1

The only thing missing from the Tigers’ resume over the last three years is the big ring. Quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid has never lost a regular-season game since taking over the role as a freshman, and the Tigers are packed with talent in OLB Jamari Buddin (Penn St.), DT/OT Damon Payne (Alabama), safety Myles Rowser — who is back from IMG — and a bevy of fleet-footed wideouts. 

4 Clarkston (3-6) — D1

The Wolves get one more go-round with their massive two-way linemen, Garret Dellinger (LSU) and Rocco Spindler (Notre Dame), giving them all five linemen back, along with Blake Kosin (Northern Illinois) at tight end, protecting Mike DePillo at quarterback. 

5 River Rouge (13-1) — D3

The Panthers aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this season after claiming the D3 title a year ago. Led by quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski (Western Michigan), a Mr. Football candidate, Rouge has experience and size on both lines, led by massive DT Pius Odjugo (Central Michigan) and defensive end Davonte Miles on the defensive side and Jalen Johnson (Ball State) and Chance Moore on offense (Morgan State). Armorion Smith (Cincinnati) leads the back seven on defense.

6 Muskegon (13-1) — D3

Amari Crowley steps into Mr. Football’s shoes at QB for a program that’s made four straight trips to the title game, while the defense has loads of talent on the back end in safeties Tyreese Oakes and Julius Sims and corner Myles Walton. 

7 Detroit King (11-3) — D3

The Crusaders have made it to the title game four of the last five — falling in the semis in 2017 — and have the ammunition to two titles in five seasons, led by sophomore signal-caller Dante Moore, who threw for 33 TDs as a freshman, and will be protected by a talented and veteran line. The defense is led by Penn State-bound safety Jaylen Reed. 

8 Cass Tech (7-5) — D1

Nobody has a bigger line than the massive road-graders for the Technicians, led by Terrence Enos (Pittsburgh) and Raheem Anderson (Michigan). The defense features twins Kobe and Kalen King (Penn State) and Doran Ray (Toledo). 

9 Clinton Twp. Chippewa Valley (9-1) — D1

The Big Reds are the team to beat in the stacked MAC Red — until someone does, at least — and have experience on the wings, but need seasoning in the trenches. Quillen and Jaillen Howze (Buffalo) lead the way on both sides of the ball.

10 Muskegon Mona Shores (12-2) — D2

Last year’s postseason hero, Brady Rose, is back under center for the Sailors, who return six starters on offense, and five on defense from the squad that won a state title a year ago, making them a favorite to challenge for a repeat title. 

11 Sterling Heights Stevenson (8-5) — D1

The young Titans made it all the way to the semifinals after entering the playoffs as a four-loss squad, and are built around two-way lineman Giovanni El-Hadi (Michigan), who protects Biagio Madonna and opens running lanes for Jordan Ramsey. Linebacker Jordan Kwiatkowski paces a stout defense. 

12 Macomb Dakota (6-5) — D1

The Cougars have talent at the skill positions, with veteran quarterback Zach Droski, running back D.J. “Juice” Stepney (Central Michigan) and receiver Clinton Roberson (Central Michigan). Eric Reese (Central Michigan) leads the secondary. 

13 Oak Park (8-2) — D2

The Knights move up to the OAA Red this season, and have the horses to compete in the league’s top division, led by two-way tackle Rayshawn Benny, power back Davion Primm (Michigan St.), safeties Jaylin Mines (Toledo) and Glennie Cross.

14 Walled Lake Western (11-2) — D3

Zach Trainor (Eastern Illinois) led the Warriors to a school-record 537 points last season, tossing 44 touchdowns en route to a shootout loss to Mona Shores in the semifinals, and he’s back for a run at Mr. Football, surrounded by a solid cast of receivers. 

15 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (10-2) — D3

The Eaglets relied on a stout defense that gave up just 149 points through 11 games last season, before a regional loss to eventual champion River Rouge. That defense is still built around linebacker Jordan Cannon, while OLSM features one of the best specialists around in Tommy Doman (Michigan).

16 Warren De La Salle (5-5) — D2

Nobody wants to put last year behind them more than the Pilots. Nobody. New coach Dan Rohn still has a stifling defense to work with, led by linebackers Will Beesley and Brett Stanley, who doubles as the feature running back. 

17 Birmingham Groves (8-3) — D2

The Falcons have averaged more than nine wins a season over the last half-decade, making two trips to the semifinals. Wideout Jaden Mangham has 27 offers, and is worth the price of admission. 

18 Saline (8-2) — D1

The Hornets started six sophomores a year ago, and that experience should pay off for a squad that comes into the season riding a 33-game win streak in SEC Red games. Saline is led at quarterback by one of those experienced juniors, Larry Robinson.

19 Dearborn Fordson (9-2) — D1

The Tractors feature a massive and talented offensive line, with plenty of skill on the perimeter, as well, in Antonio Gates Jr. and Travis Boston Jr.

20 Grand Rapids Catholic Central — D4

The Cougars won their third title in four seasons last year, and return stars in quarterback Joey Silveri and wideout Jace Williams, while Nolan Ziegler (Notre Dame) anchors the defense from the back end. 

21 Romeo (7-3) — D1

Weston Jones (BYU) and Cameron Joseph open holes for power back Brian St. Clair on offense, while St. Clair headlines the defense, along with end Michael Heldman (Grand Valley).

22 Brighton (11-3) — D1

The Bulldogs have holes to fill following their first title-game appearance, but John Aurandt may be the next star quarterback in the program’s storied history. 

23 Birmingham Seaholm (9-4)— D2

A one-win team just three seasons ago, the Maples have won 16 games over the last two years, and made it all the way to the semifinals last season. The line, featuring Caden DeWald (Central Michigan) is a strength. 

24 DeWitt (10-3) — D3

The Panthers have made four straight trips to the regional finals or beyond, and two straight to the semifinals. The stout defense is led by linebackers Andrew Debri and Grant Uyl and defensive backs Luke Bresser and Tommy McIntosh.

25 Rockford (8-2) — D1

First-year coach Brent Cummings has a veteran defense, led by linebacker Ben Tadych and defensive end Kade Kostus. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Novi Detroit Catholic Central (D1), Hudsonville (D1), Southfield A&T (D1), Lapeer (D1), Portage Northern (D2), Midland (D2), Traverse City Central (D2), North Farmington (D2), Grosse Pointe South (D2), Detroit U-D Jesuit (D2), Allen Park (D2), Birmingham Brother Rice (D3), Chelsea (D3), Zeeland West (D3), Edwardsburg (D3), Cedar Springs (D3).