HECK YEA! It’s FOOTBALL SEASON! Although I had a nice summer, working in my home orchard and cutting grass at my grandma’s house, I’m ready for football. There is always some great teams and players in our Great Lakes State. From the 8man football teams of the Thumb and the UP to the huge Division 1 schools in Detroit, we have plenty of football in every corner of Michigan. This upcoming high school football season will feature some of the perennial powers in our state as well as some up and coming teams. Will Ithaca continue to dominate Division 6? Living Legend Al Fracassa, the 81 year old coach from Brother Rice is giving it one last go-around before he retires at the end of the season. There are many other story lines that will be going around this year as well. As always, it should be a fun season! If you would like to request that I cover a game, head over to The Phalanx Forum and tell me. I’m always open to suggestions.
I’d also like to say thanks to you. It’s a grind to write these articles twice a week for 14 weeks. If I didn’t think about people reading my articles, I would have stopped long ago. Thanks to Hondo for giving me a platform from which I can talk about my lifelong love for the greatest team sport on the planet. Without his encouragement, I may have stepped down as the prep editor years ago. It’s been six great year so far and I’m hoping the seventh is even better. I’ll make you a deal. You guys keep reading my stuff, and I’ll keep writing it. Deal? Now that we’ve gotten pleasantries out of the way, let’s get into the meat of Week One!
Clarkston at Rochester Adams (Friday August 30, 7pm)
This game was suggested in the Phalanx Forum by ECameron. It fit the criteria that Spartan88 was looking for; games that feature players who will don the green and white in the future. Clarkston is led by running back Ian Eriksen and OL/DL Nick Mattich. Mattich is projected as one of the top defensive tackles in the state this year. Ericksen ran for 2,167 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. Then we have Michigan State commit David Beedle (6-5, 290). Pair those two together on defense and you better have a strong interior line, or your quarterback will get killed. When those two are playing offensive tackle, your defensive ends better come hard. Clarkston played very well last season. They had rattled off 11 wins before bowing out of the Regional Final with a 25-14 loss to Rockford. Head Coach Kurt Richardson should have his team ready to go. The Wolves have won, tied, or been second in the Oakland Activities Association Red Division since its formation. This year, some media publications are picking them to win the conference.
Rochester Adams didn’t have the season they wanted last year. It was the first time since 1996 that they had missed the playoffs, finishing with a disappointing 4-5 record. But, that was last season. Now is a new year. What happened last year doesn’t matter. Rochester Adams has a Michigan State commit of their own. Matt Sokol will be part of the 2014 recruiting class, coming in as a tight end. The funny thing, in my mind, is where the Highlanders will utilize his skills this season. The 6-5, 235 Sokol will play quarterback and linebacker. Sokol threw for 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns as a quarterback last season. Coach Tony Patritto runs a veer offense (triple option.) His brother in law is Tony Annese. Coach Annese won plenty at the high school level using the veer and is now the head coach of Ferris State University. Coach Patritto has been involved in the veer for 25 years, so this offense is nothing new. They are hoping to get back on track and prove the doubters wrong.
Iron Mountain at Ishpeming (Friday August 30, 7pm)
The Mountaineers are ready for action. Last season, they snuck into the playoffs with a 5-4 record. Unfortunately, Negaunee bounced them in the first round. Now, Robin Marttila will need to get his squad ready to play the reigning D6 champion in Ishpeming. Not only that, but it’s also a battle in the Mid-Peninsula Conference to start the season.
Everyone loved the underdog Ishpeming story last year. From the heart-warming Eric Dompierre story to being the Sports Illustrated Underdog of the year. Even when they were named Underdogs of the year, instead of flying a few players to New York City, they all piled on a bus and went together. But that was last year. The trophy is already in the case. Now it’s 2013. They do return quarterback Alex Briones (6-2, 215). Senior back fielders include Adam Prisk at fullback, Bobby Zhulkie at tailback, and Dan Brown at wingback. Their center (David Simula), guard (Jake Quayle), and tackle (Andrew Bennett) are all seniors. While they might not be last year’s squad, the expectations are high, coming off their third State Championship in the playoff era. They beat the odds last year. Coach Jeff Olsen will try to do it again in 2013.
Great Lakes Bay Region
Saginaw Nouvel at Saginaw Swan Valley (Thursday August 29, 7pm)
If you are from Saginaw, this is an amazing matchup. Even Saginaw News sportswriter Hugh Bernreuter is excited about it. Nouvel is the team that no one wants to play. They end up scheduling teams from Canada because there aren’t many teams with the gumption to put them on the schedule. This year, the Panthers open with the Vikings and close with the Freeland Falcons. Both teams are among the elite of the Tri Valley Conference Central Division (One of the toughest Division 4/5 conferences in the state.) Both schools have an enrollment of nearly double Nouvel. Yet, Nouvel schedules them and adds in Traverse City St. Francis and Lansing Catholic Central. Running back Ryan Sullivan ran for more than 1,500 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last year. Under center is quarterback Garrett Graham, a dual threat to pass and run. Linebacker Tyler Jacqmain had a monster season in 2012, with 110 tackles, five sacks, three fumble recoveries, and two interceptions. Even their safety is fast. Tyler Hendricks won the 200 meter dash in Division Three this past spring. Coach Mike Boyd is in his 14th year at the helm, with 126 wins and 20 losses to show for it (including three state titles.)
You hear me talking about Nouvel, and think they will beat up Swan Valley? Those Vikings are tough. They will always, and I mean ALWAYS run the ball down your throat. It’s been that way since old Chuck Koons left Hemlock and drove 5 miles down the road to take over a brand new program at a brand new school. Head coach Ken Bourbina played for Koons and is now the head coach. He continues what Koons started in the early 1970’s. Last year was an exceptional with them playing in another state semifinal game. Many of the players were sophomores brought up to varsity. Now, they have some experience and are looking to make some noise. Running back Alex Grace smashed his brother’s record for rushing yards in a season (2,163 yards and 27 touchdowns.) Alex Dils is a three year starter at linebacker. Nick Call moves from wide receiver to the quarterback position. This game will be a BATTLE. Both teams have some speed. These two teams haven’t played each other since the 2001 playoffs and Nouvel has not lost to Swan Valley in the three previous times these two teams have played. Can Swan Valley finally get Nouvel’s number? Can they finally score a point against the Panthers? We will find out on Thursday night.
Grand Rapids Christian at Grand Rapids South Christian (Thursday August 29, 7pm)
Why not write about a game that features two of last year’s state champions? Grand Rapids Christian won the Division 3 title behind a monster game from Drake Harris (243 receiving yards.) Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him out of the first four to six games. Coach Don Fellows is a former college coach and has really got the program going. Quarterback Tyler Sigler has joined the team from Jenison. Cornerback Patrick Hall is back as well as offensive lineman Tommy Doles. The Eagles can prove early that they will be good, with Muskegon on tap for week two and East Grand Rapids at the end of September to begin the O-K White Conference schedule.
Grand Rapids South Christian won a state title last year. Interestingly enough, they did not win their conference. A loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central stopped them from winning the O-K Gold Division title. In fact, they have never won the O-K Gold. The last conference championship banner that hangs in their gym is from 2004, when they won the O-K Green. They have junior quarterback Jon Wassink back after losing him in the semifinals. Also returning are offensive lineman Travis Steenwyk, receiver Kyle Haan, and linebacker David Boomsma. The Sailors could be in a position to win the O-K Gold and back to back state titles. It will be interesting to see what happens. I’ll say this; it won’t be a cake walk. They will earn everything they get this year.