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STATE CHAMPS! Preseason top 25 Michigan football teams for 2019

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, August 23, 2019, 11:36 am

1 West Bloomfield (9-3, lost to Belleville in D1 regional)

The Lakers return eight starters on defense — six of them in the front seven, where the entire defensive line comes back intact — as well as the core of their offense in quarterback CJ Harris (Ohio), and four-star junior running back Donovan Edwards, as well as both offensive tackles. While the defense lost all-everything linebacker Lance Dixon (Penn State), it does return the entire line — led by Sterling Miles (Cincinnati) and Beau Davis — along with middle linebacker Cornell Wheeler (Michigan) and safety Makari Paige (Michigan).

2 Belleville (12-1, lost to Chippewa Valley in D1 semifinals)

The Tigers return eight players on offense, including their all-state quarterback, junior Christian Dhue-Reid, a slew of wideouts, as well as four of five offensive linemen — including Coleon Smith (Indiana), Ramier Lewis and Cameron Wallace. The issue will be replacing the majority of the front seven on a defense that lost Jalen Hunt (Iowa/Michigan State), Julian Barnett (Michigan State), Marvin Ham (Colorado) and Tyrece Woods (Buffalo), among others. The defense won’t be bereft of talent, though, with corners Andre Seldon (Michigan) and Brenden Deasfernandes (Iowa), along with safety Ronald Jackson. They’ll play behind young studs Damon Payne (DT) and Jamari Buddin (OLB).

3 Oak Park (9-2, lost to Warren De La Salle in D2 district finals)

The offense lost quarterback Dwan Mathis and running backs Phillip Stewart and Torriano Richardson, but returns the No. 1 player in the state in the 2020 class — Kentucky-bound lineman Justin Rogers — book-ended with tackle Rayshaun Benny, along with king-sized senior wideout Maliq Carr and junior running back Davion Primm running the ball, along with all-state safety Enzo Jennings (Penn State). Frank Black takes over under center for Mathis. The defense is led by Rogers, Tremayne Oliver and Dondi Price on the line, backed by Marlon Dawson (OLB), and Jalen Mines alongside Jennings.

4 Muskegon (13-1, lost to Detroit King in D3 title game)

The Big Reds won’t be quite as big this year, having graduated four of five 300-pounders from the offensive line, but they’ve still got plenty of talent. Quarterback Cam Martinez (Ohio State) broke the school rushing records for yards (2,526) and TDs (38), but will play receiver and DB more this year, with junior Amari Crowley replacing him at times under center. D’Andre Mills-Ellis (Sr, C, 6-1, 300) the lone returning starter on the offensive line, but he’ll be joined by highly-recruited DE Billie Roberts, who will slide from tight end over to tackle. Mills-Ellis will join Roberts on the rebuilt defensive line, as will tight end Jordan Porter.

5 Detroit King (12-2, won D3 title)

If there’s a team on here complaining about losses to graduation, the Crusaders would like to point to the fact that just two offensive starters return from the lineup that beat Muskegon in last year’s D3 title game — left tackle Deondre Buford and running back Peny Boone (Maryland). Indiana-bound WR Rashawn Williams will be the primary target for decorated freshman signal-caller Dante Moore, who takes over for last year’s STATE CHAMPS! Mr. Football, Dequan Finn. Junior Brandon Honorable steps on on the offensive line. The defense returns more, with corner Joe Frazier and four-star junior safety Jaylen Reed playing behind DE Esean Carter and linebacker Blake Bailiff.

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6 Clinton Twp. Chippewa Valley (14-0, won D1 title)

The ‘other’ Big Reds lost a ton to graduation, too — including quarterback Tommy Schuster (North Dakota), wideouts Martice Bunting (SVSU) and David Ellis (Indiana), running backs Andre Chenault (Siena Heights) and Ja’Von Kimpson (Miami (Ohio)), along with the winner of our inaugural STATE CHAMPS! Anvil Award, middle linebacker Marcel Lewis (Michigan State) and the rest of the starting front seven. But Chippewa Valley does return four of five on the offensive line, backup quarterback Josh Kulka — who switches over from wideout — along with backup running backs Myren Harris and Antwaine Gunter. Speedy Waterford Mott transfer Quillen Howze joins Myles Harris and Carde Johnson as key pieces on the perimeter. 

7 Warren De La Salle (12-2, won D2 title)

Ohio State-bound tackle Grant Toutant will play both ways this year, helping bolster a front seven on defense that was decimated by graduation. He’ll pair with DE Michael Young Jr. and LB Braden Babich to form a core to build around, hoping to duplicate the defensive efforts of the last two title seasons. Anthony Stepnitz is back under center after missing most of last season, and he’ll be protected by Toutant and Adam Zepp up front, and have running back Brett Stanley, fullback Jordan Rogers, wideout Babich and wing Justice Scott as outlets.

8 Detroit Cass Tech (10-1, lost to Dearborn Fordson in D1 district finals)

The Technicians had their streak of eight straight trips to the semifinals snapped with last year’s district finals loss to Dearborn Fordson, and graduated a talented slew of 29 seniors, many of whom went on to play ball in college. This year’s squad will be much less senior-heavy, with 8-10 on the roster, while a big, talented group of juniors will be the ones helping the Technicians reload. Highly-touted junior linemen Raheem Anderson (6-foot-3, 298) and Terrence Enos (6-5, 317) will provide plenty of shelter for the skill positions, while senior linebacker Daniel Wynn will team up with junior defensive tackle Doran Ray Jr., junior linebacker Kobe King and junior corner Kalen King to be the cornerstones of a defense that looks to replicate last year’s stifling average of 8.2 points per game.

9 Clarkston (11-3, lost to Chippewa Valley in D1 title game)

The Wolves have to replace nearly every skill-position player that helped them back to the title game for the fourth time in six seasons, but the upside is that they return five offensive linemen with starting experience — led by four-star prospects Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler, who anchor both lines — to protect sophomore signal-caller Mike DiPillo. Hayden Temple and Blake Kosin will be the tight ends, and play linebacker alongside Devin Parkinson on the other side of the ball. Dylan Erskine (DB) and Matt Miller (WR) provide experience on the perimeters.

10 Lapeer (11-1, lost to Clarkston in D1 regional finals)

The Lightning are another of those teams that’s still trying to get over that hump. In their five playoff trips since the East-West merger, the Lightning have lost to Clarkston three times and Romeo once, two of those teams going on to win the D1 state title, and another finishing as runner-up. Lapeer has to replace its entire offensive line, as well as quarterback Brady Apple (Lawrence Tech) and running back Jalen Kirkland, along with all-staters Will Sollie and Carson Currie, but the cupboard is hardly bare. They do still have do-everything linebacker Phoenix Dixon (Holy Cross), who ran the offense out of the Wildcat last year, fullback Kyle Sahr, wideouts Bobby Opalewski and and Brian Brown, and two capable quarterbacks. Six starters return on a defense that allowed just 115 points in the regular season, and 23 in three postseason games. 

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11 Macomb Dakota (8-3, lost to Chippewa Valley in D1 district finals)

The Cougars return four of five starters on the offensive line, which will give do-it-all back De’Javion Stepney (RB/FS) room to run, and give time to new quarterback Zach Droski, who replaces the graduated Mark Tocco. Dakota returns six starters on offense, seven on defense from a team that was in a three-way tie for second in the MAC Red last year, but had its two regular-season losses come by a total of 15 points, before Chippewa Valley rolled in the postseason rematch. Dakota has made the playoffs 18 straight seasons — every year since missing them in 2000, the program’s fifth season of existence — but hasn’t gotten out of the tough MAC/OAA/PSL region since winning it all back-to-back seasons in 2006 and 2007.

12 DeWitt (12-1, lost to Detroit King in D3 semis)

The Panthers lost a considerable amount of talent from last year’s semifinal squad, but this year’s senior class at DeWitt is talented, too, and the juniors haven’t lost a game since the fourth grade. DeWitt returns five of the front six on defense, including 295-pound all-state defensive tackle Jacob Redinger, along with defensive end Brock Yabs, who forms a prodigious tight end combo with 6-foot-7 Mason Gilbert (Eastern Kentucky). Drew Schorfhaar takes over at quarterback, with 6-foot-4 sophomore wideout Tommy McIntosh to throw to. 

13 River Rouge (8-2, lost to Detroit King in D3 first round)

The Panthers have gone 69-14 since 2012, but last year’s first-round exit (a 7-6 loss to the eventual champion) snapped a three-year streak of making the semifinals or beyond. Outside of a 40-7 loss to Cass Tech in the opener last year, the River Rouge defense gave up just 24 more points in the remaining nine games of the season. Rouge graduated a considerable amount of defensive talent, but still has corners David Carter (Eastern Michigan) and Leroy Watson to go with three-star safety Joshua Wiley, a Cody transfer, and middle linebacker Deshawn Walker (Toledo). On offense De’Andre Bulley (Akron) will run behind a massive offensive line, which should help the Panthers break in a new quarterback under center. 

14 Saline (11-2, lost to Clarkston in D1 semifinals)

The Hornets have gone 71-12 since 2012, making the regional finals or beyond five times, going to the finals in 2014 and the semis last year, losing to Clarkston both times. The Hornets are young again this season, but this time it’s youth at the skill positions, with the experience on the lines. That will force them to rely early on a defense that allowed just 137 points in 13 games, as the youngsters grow into roles. Gone are quarterback Andrew Arbaugh, running back Brendan Munday and do-everything WR/DB MJ Griffin (Temple). Anthony Ferrari and Larry Robinson will battle for the quarterback job, and they’ll have the experienced Kolton Malinczak to throw to on the wings. Defensive lineman Zach Sabin, linebacker Alex Morrison (Air Force) and defensive back Noah Nelson all bring experience to the defense, while senior DB Kyle Greenwood could take on some of Griffin’s multi-faceted role.

15 South Lyon (10-1, lost to WL Western in D2 district finals)

The Lions lost their leading rusher (Ian Goins), and need to replenish their offensive line, but senior quarterback Connor Fracassi (1,318 yards, 19 touchdowns passing, six TDs rushing) is back for his third season as a starter. Jack Schafer and Mitch Komorous will try to pick up the slack in the ground game. The offensive line will be built around Jacob Klingler, Caleb Baker and Gus Taylor, while Brenden Lach and Isaac Nooe give Fracassi outlets on the perimeter. Jesse Powell will anchor the defensive line, while Jake Newman, Steven Shelton and Nooe provide experience in the secondary.

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16 Novi Detroit Catholic Central (7-4, lost to West Bloomfield in D1 district finals)

Catholic Central will have an experienced and big offensive line to protect quarterback Jack Beno, who started a handful of games last season, and open holes for the power run game, featuring Cole Price. The defense will be built around linebackers Brendin Yatooma — a state champion wrestler — and Easton St. Clair, along with defensive lineman Steve Kolcheff. 

17 Birmingham Groves (10-3, lost to De La Salle in D2 semifinals)

What Oakland County team has won 38 games over the last four years, and gone to the semifinals twice in three playoff runs? There are a lot of acceptable answers to that question, but the one that would probably least get used would be the Falcons of Groves. The Falcons return plenty of skill-position talent, including quarterback Markis Alexander, running backs Ralph Donaldson and Colby Taylor, and wideouts Clayton Fox and Eli Turner. Corner Jack Curran is back in the secondary, along with Donaldson, Kaleb Coleman and Markell Harris. 

18 Muskegon Mona Shores (12-2, lost to De La Salle in D2 finals)

Dual-threat quarterback Caden Broersma — who tallied more than 3,000 combined yards and 39 touchdowns, leading the Sailors back to the finals — broke his hand, and may miss a few games at the start of this season. Diminutive junior slot back Brady Rose will start in his place under center, while Tre Hatcher takes over as the lead running back after the graduation of Sincere Dent. Kolbe Trovinger and Keondre Pierce are weapons on the outside, while the lines feature Cooper Wierengo and 6-foot-6 Blake Bustard.

19 Mt. Pleasant (10-1, lost to Cedar Springs in D3 district finals)

Sophomore Ryan McIntyre and senior Cooper Phillips will battle it out at quarterback to try to replace the graduated MVP of the Saginaw Valley League, Jackson Ostrowsky, but the Oilers — who return six starters on each side of the ball — still have running back Zach Mogg (1,419 yards, 17 touchdowns) and wideout Jo Ostrowsky to rely upon on defense, and Harvard-bound Tyler Heunemann on both lines, along with Josh Schell to build around on both lines.

20 Livonia Franklin (7-5, lost to Birmingham Groves in D2 regional finals)

The KLAA coaches poll picked the Patriots to finish second in the East Division behind Belleville, and it’s understandable since they had three of their five losses — Belleville and Groves were not as close — come by a total of 24 points. Senior quarterback Jacob Kelbert led Franklin to the D2 finals as a sophomore, and will be working behind a big, experienced offensive line that features Kyle Fugedi, Aaron Mass, Jake Swirple and Chad Reeves. Running back James Carpenter and wideout Connor McIntosh are key weapons for Kelbert, while defensive tackle Erick Reaves, linebackers Evan Pittenger and and Grant Gibson, and DB Trevor Whisman anchor the defense.

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21 Brighton (7-3, lost to East Kentwood in D1 first round)

The Bulldogs return seven starters on offense and five on defense from a team that won the KLAA West, but lost twice to Belleville, and to East Kentwood in the a first-round nailbiter. Quarterback Will Jontz moved on to Indiana, but Brighton might actually be more pass-oriented this season than it was last year, with Colby Newburg replacing Jontz under center, and pass-catcher Reuben Salinas transferring in from McAllen, Texas. The strength of the Bulldogs will be the front seven on defense, with all three linebackers — led by Cole Riddle and Zach Pardonnet — back, as well as two starters on the D-line. That’ll help cover up for a less experienced secondary.

22 Dearborn Fordson (10-2, lost to Chippewa Valley in D1 regional finals)

The Tractors finally broke through against Cass Tech in the playoffs — after seven playoff losses to the Technicians since 2009 and four in a row — before losing to the eventual D1 state champ in regionals. Fordson has to reload a bit, replacing 30 seniors, including the core of their skill positions on offense in quarterback Hussein Ajami, running back Abe Jaafar and wideout Ahmed Allamy, a process that got harder when quarterback contender Rayan Abbas broke his elbow wrestling. Fordson returns four starters on each side of the ball, including defensive backs Hassan Mansour and Brandon Thomas, offensive lineman Ali Baiz and power running back James Wheeler, but has to get healthy.

23 East Kentwood (9-2, lost to Saline in D1 district finals)

The Falcons graduated stud linemen Logan Brown (Wisconsin) and Mazi Smith (Michigan), along with the super-fast Stephan Bracey (Wisconsin), starting quarterback Kyle Dent and running back Kionte Blakely, but still have a full cupboard of talent. Defensive end Bryce Mostella (Penn State) and offensive lineman Dallas Fincher (Michigan State) are headed to the Big Ten after this season. Ja’Moni Jones, Colton Emeott and Ayeden Ashbery are weapons for new quarterback Christian Tanner, while Drapher Cribbs, Silas McNeal and Josh Ledesma will be more powerful alternatives to replace Blakely. Junior defensive back Willie Berris and end James Mackey bolster the defense.

24 Port Huron Northern (10-2, lost to Warren De La Salle in D2 regional)

Northern is a rising program which has made the playoffs the last three seasons, winning its first-ever district title last year, before falling to the eventual D2 champion, De La Salle, in the regional round. The Huskies return 10 starters on a defense that allowed 12.4 points per game, including Michigan-bound defensive end Braiden McGregor, and linebackers Justin Harrison and Luke O’Hare. Seth Klink is back at quarterback and Theo Ellis returns at running back.

25 Midland (9-4, lost to Mona Shores in D2 semifinals)

Both Midland squads went into the final week of the regular season feeling like they probably needed to win to get into the playoffs, but the Chemics took advantage of the win over Midland Dow to boost themselves on a run to their first semifinal appearance since 2007. The Saginaw Valley League’s Red Division should be a dogfight at the top, with Dow, Midland and Mt. Pleasant, but the Chemics have a solid group of seniors, three juniors who all started as sophomores, and a handful of juniors up from an undefeated JV team. Quarterback Al Money has weapons back in running backs Drew Johnson and Tommy Johnstone, as well as wideouts Bryce Albrecht, Maxx Fisher and Eli Gordon. The lines will have to be refurbished, but that starts with two-way stud Solomon Thomas and Paul Volesky on the defensive line. 

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The next five:

Rockford (7-5, lost to Saline in D1 regional finals)

East Lansing (9-2, lost to DeWitt in D3 district finals)

Grand Rapids Christian (8-3, lost to Muskegon in D3 district finals)

Davison (7-3, lost to Oxford in D1 first round)

Southfield A&T (3-6, haven’t made the playoffs since 2016)