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August 26, 2014

Return to the gridiron: Fraser-Clinton Chronicle

By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Fraser senior wide receiver Jeff Mainhardt catches a pass during a practice drill on Aug. 14.
Junior kicker Dane Haggarty goes through a drill during a Chippewa Valley practice on Aug. 15.
 

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.

Chippewa Valley Big Reds
Last season’s record: 9-2
League: Macomb Area Conference Red Division
Returning starters: 10
Opening game: vs. Lake Orion, 7 p.m. Aug. 28

Offensive keys:
Replacing record-setting quarterback Brendan Rohlfs will be the first order of business for the Big Reds on offense this fall.
Junior Patrick Briningstool and senior Tyler Kulka are the top two candidates for the quarterback position, and Scott Merchant said whoever wins the position will be helped out by a trio of returning wide receivers.
“Both (Briningstool and Kulka) are really good kids. They’re both 4.0 students and work hard,” Merchant said. “The strength of our team will be our skill players. We return a lot of skill players.”
Running back Troy Taylor split time with Doug Roberts in the backfield last season while rushing for 600 yards and nine touchdowns. Taylor will look to lead a Chippewa offense that averaged 32.6 points per game last year.
Sean Bunting returns for his senior season after leading the Big Reds in receiving in 2013.
Senior Tyler Allison will anchor an offensive line that lost three starters from a year ago.

Defensive keys:
For the second consecutive season, Chippewa will be replacing nearly all of its defense. The 2013 defense featured eight new starters, and this fall, it will feature nine new starters.
“We tend to be a senior-laden defense,” Merchant said.
Chippewa will have to replace all of its linebackers, but its secondary will be led by three-year starter Stefan Claiborne, a junior who is being looked at by several Division I college programs.
Allison will also lead the defensive line as the other returning starter. The remaining nine starting positions remained unsettled at the start of August camp.
“Linebacker is wide open. I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four juniors playing there,” Merchant said.

Coach’s outlook:
Chippewa took a big step forward last year by increasing its win total from five in 2012 to nine. Both of Chippewa’s losses came to rival Macomb Dakota, and avenging those losses is one of Merchant’s goals for this year’s team.
“Each year, we’ve gotten better, and the program has improved; 9-2 was pretty good when you beat everybody but one team. Obviously, our goal is to beat that one team (Dakota), hopefully win a MAC Red title and move on past the districts,” Merchant said.
The Big Reds will not have any time to ease into the 2014 campaign. Chippewa opens its season with home games against Lake Orion and Dakota, two of Michigan’s perennial contenders for the Division 1 state title.
“If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what does. You’re playing two of the best teams in the state,” Merchant said. “We have a tough schedule, so it’s going to be important for us to start quick. We’re going to find out really quick what we’re made out of.”
Merchant said that his team has been working in the offseason with a sense of urgency to be ready for the first two contests, but in the end, health and chemistry will dictate how far the Big Reds go in 2014.
“We need to stay healthy, and playing in the MAC Red and that schedule, there’s a lot of tough opponents and a lot of close games, so if we can win those close ones, we expect to have a successful season.”

Fraser Ramblers
Last season’s record: 3-6
League: Macomb Area Conference Blue Division
Returning starters: 16
Opening game: vs. Utica, 7 p.m. Aug. 28

Offensive keys:
Fraser’s offense closed the 2013 season on an explosive note. Over their last four games, averaging 38 points per contest. Seven starters return from last year’s unit, including every player from the passing attack.
Quarterback Dylan Walker, who took over starting duties midway through last season, will be flanked by wide receivers T’Shaun Kimbrough, Jeff Mainhardt, Tyler Uller and Brad Ouimet.
“We feel that we have four kids that we can go to with the ball and make plays,” Fraser coach Pat Threet said.
Senior Antonio McSwain will lead the offensive line.
“(McSwain is) an anchor for us on the offensive line and a big kid. He’s a winner and going to do some great things.”
Four-year starter Marcus Bowers will lead Fraser’s rushing attack.

Defensive keys:
Fraser struggled on defense last year,  giving up 35 points per game in MAC Blue contests. But with eight starters back, the Ramblers have the experience necessary to improve.
Ouimet, Kimbrough and Mainhardt are joined by Orande Roy in the defensive backfield. All four are returning starters.
“We return a lot of kids on defense, so we look to be much better,” Threet said. “At each level, we have guys who are returning that have a good idea of what they’re doing.”
Bowers will start at linebacker, and Threet said that he will be the unit’s leader.
“Having Marcus (Bowers) as a four-year guy, that’s like having another coach out there, so it’s really helpful,” Threet said. “Bowers is probably one of the best I’ve ever coached, as far as being a person and a worker. He’s done a great job.”

Coach’s outlook:
After an exciting finish to last year, Threet hopes to sustain the program’s momentum.
“This is the best group that I’ve had in my four years. I’m very excited about it,” Threet said. “My first year coaching, we had about 30 kids out for varsity football, and this week, we have 64 kids signed up at conditioning, so we’ve just about doubled our numbers.”
An improved defensive unit should go a long way in taking advantage of the Ramblers’ potentially explosive offense.
“We scored a lot of points last year. Our big focus is improving on special teams and defense, because we gave up a lot of points and a lot of big plays on defense,” Threet said.
Aiming for more consistency, Threet believes that his team is now prepared to take a big step forward.
“I think, last year, our kids learned how to win some games against some playoff teams, and then we learned how to be humble and come to play the next week when we didn’t have as good of effort. I think they came away with learning a lot about the process, because winning is not easy.”
With that in mind, the Ramblers hope to start fast and maintain that effort throughout the season.
“Hopefully, we can get off to a fast start and see what happens,” Threet said. “We need to just take it one game at a time because we play a very good schedule. We’re just looking forward for a great season.”