Oakland Township, Pontiac, Rochester, Rochester HillsAugust 26, 2014
Return to the gridiron: Rochester Post
By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer
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.
Rochester Adams Highlanders
Last season’s record: 8-4
League: Oakland Activities Association White Division
Returning starters: 16
Opening game: at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
After leading Adams to a district title as a freshman in 2013, quarterback Kyle Wood is set to lead the Highlanders to potentially greater heights.
Wood took over the starting quarterback spot after Matt Sokol broke his ankle last year, and he quickly earned the trust of his team.
“He (Wood) learned that his teammates will support him,” Adams coach Tony Patritto said. “As a freshman, the older kids really embraced him and trusted him, so I think that’s an important part of the process.”
Adams will look to achieve more balance offensively after relying heavily on the run game in 2013. That balance should be achieved through Wood’s development as a passer this offseason.
“Wood was a great runner last year; now he’s got to get some confidence as a passer. Playing in those games makes this year a lot easier, and the game should slow down for him a little bit,” Patritto said. “Last year, we were pretty much run-orientated, plus Kyle (Wood) has a great arm. So if we can do that, we’ll be much better on offense.”
Leading the rushing game is Clarence Broadnax, who had 19 touchdowns last year as a junior.
Adams will be bringing back several experienced starters on defense.
Paul Moceri will start at defensive end for the third consecutive season, while Jacob Okarski returns at linebacker. Mark Sokol anchors the defensive line.
“Sokol is our biggest guy at 236 pounds, so we’re not a big team, but I like to think we have good size and strength for high school football, and we’re going to get after it a little bit,” Patritto said.
Patritto deferred the potential success of this year’s defense to defensive coordinator Mark McFarland.
“We have one of the smartest defensive coordinators in the county in Mark McFarland. He’s going to scheme it and get it ready. Our kids should be ready to play, so we’ll find out about Stoney in Week One and go from there.”
After going 4-5 in 2012, Adams’ late-season run in 2013 helped regain some of the program’s momentum.
“Two years ago, it was difficult for us to stomach, and last year we tried to fight back and get our tradition going again. The kids really busted their butts to get there. We didn’t get where we wanted to go, but we’re going to try and get back again,” Patritto said.
After knocking Stoney Creek out of the postseason in predistricts a year ago, Adams will put its five-game winning streak on the line against the Cougars in Week One.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a chance to play them early in the season, so that should be exciting,” Patritto said.
Auburn Hills Avondale Yellow Jackets
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning starters: nine
Opening game: vs. Redford Union, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
Speed will be the identity of this year’s Avondale offense.
Joshuwa Holloman, a state champion sprinter and University of Cincinnati commit, will start at running back.
He will be joined by junior quarterback Travis James, who broke Avondale’s school record for stolen bases during last spring’s baseball season.
Wide receiver Jalen Saunders and Chase Lalla, another running back, will also be key contributors this year.
Despite having such skill on the perimeter, Avondale coach Steven Deutsch stressed that the development of the offensive line will be key to a successful season.
“They know their success is dependent upon how fast that group gets together. Hopefully, within the first two weeks, if we can get that group of linemen to start figuring it out and start jelling, these skill kids will go because we return everybody,” Deutsch said.
Avondale’s defense will look to improve after surrendering 34 or more points to four opponents in the OAA Blue last fall.
Similar to the offense, the unit returns a lot of speed, but is lacking experience in the trenches. All but one starter in the back-seven returns, while three linemen will be new starters.
“If we can get the new linemen to get it quickly, the guys behind them will make them better, but they’re going to have to be the ones who pick it up right now to make them comfortable,” Deutsch said.
Avondale hopes to get back to the postseason after missing out last year for the first time in three seasons.
“We’ve had six winning records in a row. We hope to continue that and make it seven. We’re looking forward to the competition,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch said that the intangibles displayed by the linemen throughout the summer should help them develop quickly.
“I’m so proud of them. There’s no egos, and they’re making it happen together as a group. If they can come together, our success is going to be a lot faster than I anticipate,” Deutsch said.
Lake Orion High Dragons
Last season’s record: 7-3
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning starters: 11
Opening game: at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
Lake Orion coach Chris Bell hopes that this year’s offense will be a throwback to previous teams, ones that could dominate the offensive line.
“We’re going to be bigger up front than what we have been, and that allows us to get back some of that physical style of play that we like to play,” Bell said.
Senior Austin Jones will be one of the anchors of the offensive line.
The Dragons will start a new quarterback, but return several backfield and perimeter weapons.
Seniors Matt Krause and Zach Serzo will make up a formidable backfield. Krause averaged 7.1 yards per carry last year, while Serzo averaged 8.9 yards per carry.
“We’re going to be able to run the ball and get back to a little more of a physical style to give those quarterbacks time to grow up,” Bell said.
Lake Orion’s defense returns seven starters from a unit that surrendered 22.2 points per game last fall.
Junior defensive back Jaylen Wiggins started every game as a sophomore in 2013. Drew Casey, also a junior defensive back, started all but one game last season at free safety.
Also returning are all four linebackers. Seniors Jack Luby and Logan Shadia provide an experienced, physical presence in the middle of the defense.
Junior Justin Cathers leads a transitioning defensive line, but one that will feature great size.
“We should be pretty thick up front on the defensive line. We expect to be better; 7-3 last year was a decent year, but we expect to be better,” Bell said.
After bowing out in the pre-district round of the state tournament last year, Bell believes his team is refocused.
“We weren’t really proud of how we played last year,” Bell said. “We felt that we didn’t play up to the standard set for ourselves, and that’s been our focus this offseason.”
With a mixed bag of youth and experience, Bell is hopeful to get his team to improve each week to be peaking when the postseason nears.
“I love my team, and it’s a team that’s going to get better every single week, and that’s our goal, to get better every single week and play great football at the end of the year,” Bell said.
Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest Crusaders
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Michigan Independent Athletic Association
Returning starters: nine
Opening game: at Marine City Cardinal Mooney, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
Last season, Lutheran Northwest produced its lowest-scoring output since 2004. But with key returners at the skill positions, the Crusaders are primed to improve this fall.
Senior quarterback Bryan Miscovich came into last season having only taken a few snaps on the varsity squad. Now with a full year under his belt, Miscovich is ready for a breakout year.
Joining him in the backfield are junior Cam Krzewski, who had no varsity experience prior to last fall. All of last year’s receivers were call-ups from the JV, and they all return.
The Crusaders will have to fill four new offensive line openings. Tackle Brandon Schrupp is the lone returner on the line.
“We’re very positive about the kids we have at the skill positions this year,” Lutheran Northwest coach Don Justice said. “Our linemen could be a bit of a concern because we have one returning linemen from last year. We have some really good kids who have some varsity experience, and they’re actually coming along better than we thought.”
The defense gave up 262 points last year, its most since 2003, but Justice said that 17 turnovers by the offense in the opening two weeks of the season were partially to blame.
Similar to the offense, the defense is skilled but will lack experienced size in the trenches.
Miscovich and Krzewski will start at two linebacker positions, with senior Jacob Griem playing the other. Schrupp lines up at defensive tackle, and he will be joined on the line by senior defensive end Andrew Justice.
“We started turning things around, and we started doing things a lot better,” Justice said. “We did see a lot of development last year, and we’ve had a much better offseason than in the past, so those are real positives.”
Justice is expecting a big step forward for his team this year.
“I don’t think there’s a game on our schedule that we can’t win,” Justice said. “I think there are games that we’re going to have to play very well to beat a couple other teams, but for the most part, I think we have the opportunity to be in every game that we play.”
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Fighting Irish
Last season’s record: 8-3
League: Catholic League AA Division
Returning starters: nine
Opening game: vs. Dearborn Heights Robichaud, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
New head coach Pat Fox will be bringing an option system to the Fighting Irish this fall.
Over the last three seasons, Notre Dame Prep has produced its top three scoring outputs in school history, and the Fighting Irish will look to continue that trend.
Senior running back Anthony Gunn will be the primary carrier, while junior Matt Durkin gets the start at quarterback. Durkin started two games last season.
Linemen Will Mullins and Connor Matsick will anchor the Irish up front.
“We’re young, but we have some good skill kids,” Fox said. “We’re an option team. It’s been around. It wasn’t what they did primarily last year, but it’s in the neighborhood, so it’s not a big transition schematically.”
The defense gave up eight points or fewer in six games last year but surrendered 27.8 points per game in Catholic League play.
To improve upon that, Fox said that he has implemented an eight-man pressure front style of defense, which is a new style for the current players.
Inside linebacker Luke Adams and senior cornerback Jordan Gust will lead the defensive unit.
Fox takes over head coaching duties from Kyle Zimmerman, who spent five years at Notre Dame Prep before taking over the head coach position at Davison this past offseason.
Fox’s last stop was at Milford High, where he was the coach from 2000-2007, and again from 2011-2013. He was an offensive coordinator at Northville High in 2010.
Previously, Fox served as head coach at Berkley High from 1989-1996 before head coaching at Ann Arbor Pioneer from 1997-1999.
Fox’s teams at Milford went 62-45 overall. At Northville, his offense set a school record for points scored with 420, which was 257 more than the previous season.
Now with the Fighting Irish, Fox hopes to build upon the success that the program has had in recent years.
“They’re really good kids. They’ve been well-coached before — that’s obvious,” Fox said. “I’m just getting to know the kids and what they can or cannot do. Every time you start a new job, that’s part of it. We’re young, but we have pretty good players, so we’re excited.”
Rochester High Falcons
Last season’s record: 4-5
League: Oakland Activities Association White Division
Returning starters: 12
Opening game: at Lapeer High, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
Rochester produced 210 points in 2013, which was the highest regular-season total since 1999.
The Falcons hope to improve that total this year with returning running backs Blake Fetterhoff and Chris Ross.
“We have some skill guys coming back, so we should be pretty good there,” Rochester coach Erik Vernon said.
Offensive line should also be a strength for the Falcons.
“We should be pretty good up front, hopefully. We have the biggest offensive line since I’ve been here,” Vernon said. “It’s just a matter of getting them acclimated to the new system and what we do. Hopefully, once they do, sooner rather than later, we should be alright.”
While Rochester’s offense made great strides last fall, the defense surrendered its highest point total in four seasons.
Fetterhoff and Ross will also be keys in the defensive backfield to help make up for a lack of experience at linebacker.
“Our defensive backs are pretty much all returning, so we should be good there,” Vernon said. “We have to find some linebackers because we lost a lot of linebackers last year, so hopefully, we can find some guys who can play there.”
After spending four seasons in the OAA Red, Rochester will be playing in the OAA White for the first time since 2009.
“It’s kind of sad to see some of the games that we lost and the rivalries we have kind of developed over the years, but we’re excited to be in the White Division. We’re excited for new faces, and the opportunity to new teams and play in some great atmospheres,” Vernon said.
Before OAA play begins, Rochester will travel to Lapeer High in Lapeer’s first-ever football game since Lapeer East and Lapeer West combined.
“It should be a good experience, and a good opportunity for these guys to see some good support from the town, and have a good start to the season,” Vernon said.
Rochester Hills Stoney Creek Cougars
Last season’s record: 6-4
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning starters: seven
Opening game: vs. Rochester Adams, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
Stoney Creek’s offensive identity will initially be established by its line, which has four starters returning.
Elsewhere, Jack Allen will be moving from cornerback to starting quarterback, and three-sport athlete Scott Reader will start at running back.
“We’ve got four guys returning on the offensive line, so we’re hoping that’s a strength. Those guys have been working hard,” Stoney Creek coach Brad Zube said.
With a bit of turnover in the coaching staff and starting lineup, Zube said it’s been important to develop chemistry this offseason.
“Offensively, we’re breaking in some new coaches and some new starters, but it’s coming together really well,” Zube said. “We’re going to try to just keep pushing the envelope on the offensive side of the ball just like we’ve done in the past. It’s a good group of kids, and we should have a good season.”
Linebacker will be a position of strength for the Cougars.
Joe Platz is a three-year starter, and he is getting attention from Ivy League scouts. Andrew Price, a fourth-place finisher in his weight class at the wrestling state tournament, starts at outside linebacker.
“We think we should be pretty physical on defense with our linebackers returning. We’re very active on defense. We move around a lot and do a lot of different things,” Zube said.
Reader will also start at cornerback.
“We’re still a multiple 5-2, and we move it around,” Zube said. “A lot of the guys in the defensive line have some experience, so we’re probably a little ahead of schedule on defense.”
Stoney will have an opportunity to avenge last year’s playoff defeat to Adams in its season opener.
Stoney has never defeated Adams, but Zube said his team is excited for the challenge.
“They were our last game last year when we lost to them in the playoffs. It’s been on our minds for a while. I know they’re excited about playing us, and we’re excited about playing them,” Zube said. “It’s good to play the teams in the city and get that rivalry going.”
Stoney closes its season against Rochester High.
Zube took over a team that won one game in 2011, and after winning 11 games over the last two seasons, he hopes to maintain the program’s momentum.
Stoney graduated seven players last year who went on to play in college, and the team earned academic All-State honors with a team grade point average of 3.87.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past couple of years, and we plan on these guys to keep building on it as we move forward with the program,” Zube said.
— Thomas Franz