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August 26, 2014

Return to the gridiron: Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle

By Christian Davis and Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writers

» click to enlarge «
Birmingham Seaholm quarterback Tommy Sheppard breaks through the line in a recent scrimmage. After winning the OAA Blue two years in a row, the Maples are in the OAA White this season.

The prep football season kicks off Aug. 28 on fields across the state.

Here’s a look at your local squads, along with some thoughts from the coaches regarding what they hope will make this a season to remember.

The opening game for each squad is also listed. For a look at every local team and their complete schedule, visit www.candgnews.com and click on the Sports tab.

Bloomfield Hills Black Hawks
Last season’s record: 3-6
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning Starters: Nine
Opening game: vs. Walled Lake Northern, 7 p.m. Aug. 29

Offensive keys:
In its inaugural season, Bloomfield Hills averaged 18.8 points per game, but saw its offense hit its stride in the last third of the year, scoring 110 points (36 points per game).
Coach Dan Loria hopes to see that trend continue with the help of five starters back, three of whom are linemen.

Defensive keys:
The Black Hawks return four players, including all of their linebackers, which will be the strength of the unit that allowed 34 points per game.

Coach’s outlook:
Bloomfield Hills started last season 0-4 before winning three of its final games.
“I think we’re building off the end of last year. I felt last year’s team, from the beginning until the end, made vast improvements,” Loria said. “We have a lot of guys that will have the opportunity to play that were a part of that. “

— Mike Moore

Birmingham Brother Rice Warriors
Last season’s record: 14-0
League: Catholic League Central Division
Returning starters: Eight
Opening game: vs. Chicago Brother Rice, 2 p.m. Aug. 30 (at Wayne State University)

Offensive keys:
Lost in all the success the past three years at Brother Rice is the fact so many guys have graduated to play at the next level.

This year’s team brings back just eight total starters from last year, but more than half of those reside on the offensive side of the ball.

Alex Malzone will be where everything starts.

The University of Michigan-bound quarterback had a stellar junior season while guiding Rice to a third straight state title.

He passed for 2,782 yards a year ago with 25 touchdowns, just nine interceptions and a completion percentage near 70.

“Our passing game should be very strong,” said first-year head coach Dave Sofran. “With a somewhat new (coaching) staff, for Alex to be there, and know the system and be accustomed to changing plays and being a good leader that commands the huddle, it’s a big advantage.”

The top four leading rushers from last year’s team also graduated, and while Brother Rice has always been a run-first offense, Sofran knows there will be a steady diet of air attacks.

“I’m very comfortable being a team that can pass,” he said.

Grant Perry is the lone receiver back who saw significant time a year ago, hauling in 57 passes for 862 yards and six scores.

Defensive keys:
It will be a vast overhaul on the defensive side of things with just three regular starters back in the mix, along with Ben Rowden taking over as the defensive coordinator.

The strategy won’t change, though — ever.

“In our league, it comes down to stopping the run,” Sofran said. “That’s what this league is about.”

Defensive end Jack Dunaway, linebacker Riley Maher and Perry (cornerback) are the three regular starters who will lead the defense.

“We have some guys in the mix who played some good time for us (last year),” Sofran said. “They may not have started, but they saw significant time. This is a defense that can be above average, and now we have to work on improving that. The potential is there.”

Coach’s outlook:
Three state titles, 22 consecutive wins and a fresh batch of expectations awaited Sofran when he became the second head coach Rice has had in the past 69 years.

As if replacing Al Fracassa wasn’t difficult enough, he also does so after 16 of last year’s seniors moved on to play at the collegiate level.

“Right off the bat, we can’t assume we’ll just jump right into the playoffs,” Sofran said of tempering expectations with a new team and a new year. “We may not be unbeaten, but the goals for this team are the same as we always aim for. We never discussed a goal of being undefeated last year, but we approached every game the right way, and that’s what this team has to do.”

— Mike Moore

Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets
Last season’s record: 8-4
League: Independent
Returning starters: 11
Opening game: at Zeeland West, 7 p.m. Aug. 28

Offensive keys:
Scoring points was hardly a concern for Country Day in 2013, averaging 37 per game and totaling 40 or more on six different occasions.

Of course, having the tandem of quarterback Tyler Wiegers (now with the University of Iowa) and receiver Maurice Ways (University of Michigan) didn’t hurt.

While those two have moved on, there is still a solid core of players back in the mix, and coach Dan MacLean said this year’s team may be even tougher to defend.

“We have a great group of offensive linemen, and with the skilled guys we have, we’re going to have several guys that can move the ball,” MacLean said. “I think it’s the cumulative effect that will help us replace some of the talent we lost. By having so many weapons, we may be harder to defend with multiple ways to attack.”

MacLean said David Pohl enters the season as the starting quarterback after two years of starting at the junior varsity level.

“He’s a great kid,” MacLean added. “He’s a good athlete who can run the ball, is very competitive and will be just fine for us.”

Defensive keys:
After an 0-3 start last fall, Country Day’s defense was one of the key reasons it reeled off eight consecutive victories.

But the tendency to give up big plays is one thing MacLean said he and his staff are focusing on avoiding this year.

“We’re working hard to correct that,” he said.

More than half of last year’s starters are back in the mix, and MacLean said the strength is in the back seven.

“Our backers and our secondary can make some plays,” he added.

Jeremiah Tyler, called a “ball hawk” by MacLean, should also give the defense a boost. The linebacker/strong safety was lost all of last year due to a knee injury, but he’s back to anchor the group this fall.

Coach’s outlook:
The Yellowjackets’ 0-3 start in 2013 had more do to with a brutal schedule than it did poor play.

The 2014 campaign may be even tougher, though.

Country Day, an independent program, faces three state champs from a year ago in Zeeland West (Division 3), Brother Rice (D-2) and Muskegon Catholic Central (D-8).

The Jackets also face a Detroit Loyola team that lost in the D-7 final.

“At 0-0, you always feel good,” MacLean said. “We have a very tough schedule to contend with, but I like this team. If we play to our potential, we have a good opportunity to do some good things. … It starts with finding a way to make the playoffs. If we do that, we have a chance to do some great things.”

— Mike Moore

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood Cranes
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Catholic League Intersectional Division
Returning starters: 11
Opening game: vs. Madison Heights Lamphere, 4 p.m. Aug. 28

Offensive keys:
The Cranes scored 149 points last season, but more than half (75) came in the first two weeks, which was also the only two wins of 2013.

Inconsistency hurt.

“And we were inconsistent because of how young we were,” said second-year coach Joe D’Angelo. “We expect that to be better this year. We expect to be much better.”

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Santangelo, who passed for nearly 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman, is one of five offensive starters back in the mix.

“The passing game will be our strength,” D’Angelo said. “We have some guys there that can make some things happen.”

Defensive keys:
Much like the offense, the defense got off to a strong start with consecutive shutouts to open 2013.

But then things dropped off significantly, allowing an average of 29 points per game the rest of the season.

“In our league, it’s all about stopping the run,” D’Angelo said. “We didn’t do that enough last year in the sense that we let teams control the ball.”

Having six returning starters back should help.

“That is huge,” D’Angelo added. “There are some different schemes we’re working with, and we have a new defensive coordinator (Garret Chapel) with some good experience to fall back on.”

Coach’s outlook:
“I’m always optimistic, and that’s the case here,” D’Angelo said about the season. “Last year was my first year, and we were competitive in all our games. I think improving on the 2-7 record is so important and something we are capable of.”

“We don’t have a ton of depth, though,” he added. “We will have a good 11 kids on the field at all times. If we can keep them healthy, we’re going to have a better chance to succeed.”

— Mike Moore

Birmingham Groves Falcons
Last season’s record: 7-3
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning Starters: Six
Opening game: vs. Birmingham Seaholm, 7 p.m. Aug. 29

Offensive keys:
Last season, the Falcons broke the school record for points scored when it tallied 364, eclipsing the old record by 57 points.

Much of the unit is lost to graduation, as only threestarters are back, but quarterback Zach Van Faussien returns as a three-year starter and gives the squad some experience.

Defensive keys:
Much like the offense, the defense is also looking to new faces to step in and lead the charge. The Falcons have three returning starters after holding opponents to less than 19 points a game last season.

Davion Curry leads the charge from the secondary. Coach Brendan Flaherty calls him “pound for pound” the toughest guy he’s coached.

Coach’s outlook:
Groves lost 27 seniors from last year’s playoff-bound team, but Flaherty believes what’s left on the roster is a good combination.

“Filling some big shoes is going to be key for us,” he said. “This year, we’ll have some balance from some good seniors that have always had success, combined with our (former) freshmen class that was undefeated and had some great success.”

— Christian Davis

Birmingham Seaholm
Last season’s record: 9-2
League: Oakland Activities Association White Division
Returning Starters: Four
Opening game: at Birmingham Groves, 7 p.m. Aug. 29

Offensive keys:
With only two returning starters back to the unit that scored more than 28 points in seven of its 11 games last season, Seaholm is inexperienced.

Coach Jim DeWald said this year’s success heavily depends on the offensive line.

“That’s kind of the staple of how you win football games. You have to win in the trenches,” he said. “If all five of them can jell together, which I think they will, we’ll have some success.”

Defensive keys:
With only two returning starters, the Maples are also counting on new starters on the defensive side of the ball

“These guys are coming up from the JV; they’re not going to understand the difference between a JV hit and a varsity hit,” DeWald said. “That’s where we have to grow, that’s where we need to harden that skin, especially for our younger guys.”

Coach’s outlook:
After winning the OAA Blue the past two seasons, Seaholm finds itself in the highly competitive White with the likes of Southfield High, Rochester Adams, Oak Park High and Farmington Hills Harrison, among others.

“It’s a great challenge for us. We’re excited for that. It’s an opportunity to see new faces across the ball,” DeWald said. “We talked to the team about how we’re being rewarded for what we’ve done in the past. ‘Now it’s your job to carry the torch onward.’”

— Christian Davis

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Christian Davis at cdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1062. Twitter Follow Christian on Twitter.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.