Birmingham,Bloomfield HillsAugust 29, 2013
Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle: The journey begins
Prep football season set to begin as teams set out on weekly quest toward Ford Field
Rice quarterback Alex Malzone hands off to Austin Brown during a scrimmage against Walled Lake Western Aug. 22. The Warriors are searching for their third straight state title in 2013, coach Al Fracassa’s final season.
The 2013 Michigan High School Athletic Association football season officially kicks off Aug. 29. Here’s a look at the local teams’ schedules. For a list of all the prep schedules, visit www.mhsaa.com.
8/30 @ Bloomfield Hills High
9/6 @ Hazel Park High
9/12 vs. Ferndale High
9/20 vs. Auburn Hills Avondale
9/27 vs. North Farmington
10/4 @ Royal Oak High
10/11 vs. Berkley High
10/18 @ Birmingham Seaholm
10/25 @ Waterford Mott
Bloomfield Hills High
8/31 vs. Cleveland St. Ignatius (OH)
9/6 vs. Toledo St. John’s Jesuit (OH)
9/13 @ FlintCarman-Ainsworth
9/21 vs. Warren De La Salle
9/28 vs. Novi Detroit Catholic Central
10/4 @ Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
10/12 vs. Niagara Academy (Canada)
10/19 vs. University of Detroit Jesuit
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood
8/29 vs. Zeeland West
9/7 @ University of Detroit Jesuit
9/12 vs. Detroit Loyola
9/20 vs. Detroit Pershing
9/28 @ Escanaba High
10/3 vs. Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy
10/12 vs. Flushing High
10/18 @ Belleville High
10/25 vs. Brighton High
Novi Detroit Catholic Central
8/30 @ Oak Park High
9/6 @ Toledo Whitmer (OH)
9/13 vs. Detroit Consortium
9/20 @ University of Detroit Jesuit
9/27 vs. Warren De La Salle
10/4 vs. Birmingham Brother Rice
10/12 @ Novi Detroit Catholic Central
10/18 @ Davison High
C & G Sports Staff
Prep football teams will be back on the gridiron beginning Aug. 29. Here’s a rundown of each local team, including returning starters, offensive and defensive keys, and what each coach is expecting from their squad.
Birmingham Brother Rice Warriors
Last season’s record: 12-2
League: Catholic League Central Division
Returning starters: 11
Simply put, the Brother Rice offense was explosive a year ago, scoring a program-record 432 points during the 14-game season.
With six starters back in the mix, coach Al Fracassa’s final season on the sideline just may be another one loaded with fireworks.
“We hope to score the way we did last year,” the legendary coach, now in his 45th season with the Warriors, said when camp opened. “We have some great players back, but we don’t have a ton of depth. Staying healthy will be essential.”
Seeking its third state title in as many seasons, the Rice returns some key players in key spots.
Alex Malzone is back under center after splitting time as a junior with Cheyne Lacanaria.
Malzone’s best game in 2012 came in the Division 2 state final against Muskegon, where he completed 8-of-10 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-28 victory.
Running backs Shon Powell and Brian Walker are also back to shoulder the load in the ground game.
As good as the offense was in 2012, the defense was equally productive, allowing just 15.3 points per game.
Five starters return, including Jason Alessi, who also serves as a kick returner (game-winning, 91-yard kick return in state final) and kicker.
“We returned some solid guys, some good linebackers and linemen,” Fracassa said. “The guys are doing well so far.”
Fracassa credited defensive coordinator Adam Korzeniewski for much of the team’s success.
“He gets those guys ready to play,” Fracassa said. “They have a great plan, and they are ready to go every week.”
Some thought last season’s state title, and the first back-to-back championship for Fracassa, would be the end of the line for Fracassa.
Of course, some thought that following the 2011 championship, as well.
But back for one final season, Fracassa said he’s looking as forward to this fall as he has any.
“We’re going to try and have some fun, work hard and see what happens,” he said.
But asked about going out on top again, with a third title in a row, he just laughed.
“Oh boy, all we can think about right now is the first game of the season,” he said. “We have a great team to face (St. Ignatius from Ohio), an awfully good squad with a ton of talent. So that’s our only focus right now.”
Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets
Last season’s record: 11-3
Returning starters: 12
After a 1-1 start in 2012, Country Day shifted into a new gear and never looked back. By the time the season was over, the Yellowjackets were at Ford Field playing for a Division 4 state championship.
The 40-7 loss to Grand Rapids South Christian has only added further motivation to a senior class loaded with weapons and now a desire to finish what it started.
And especially on the offensive side of the ball, Country Day could be as dangerous as ever.
“We had great balance last year with how much we passed and how much we ran, and if we can build on that, we’ll be in good shape,” coach Dan MacLean said.
Tyler Wiegers threw for more than 2,600 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior, while the running game totaled roughly the same yardage.
The entire receiving core is back, including University of Michigan-bound Maurice Ways, who had 50 catches, more than 900 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
Richard Wilson is also back to anchor the running game.
Wilson rushed for more than 1,400 yards and totaled 32 touchdowns in 2012.
“As good as these kids were, I think they can be even better,” MacLean said of the offense, which scored 433 points. “These kids are determined to do more.”
The same can be said of a defensive unit that doesn’t have as many returning starters, but has a major chip on its shoulder after allowing 40 points at Ford Field.
“They are very motivated,” MacLean said.
In the four playoff games leading up to the final, the Yellowjackets allowed just 28 total points.
“We gave up way too many big plays in that game, and that’s an area of focus this year,” MacLean said. “We have to tackle, and create turnovers and get the ball back to out offense as much as possible. But the main thing is avoiding that big play against us.”
Country Day has made the playoffs every year since 2006 and owns a 65-20 record in that span.
But that same stretch of years includes three losses (2012, 2008, 2007) in D-4 championship games.
This may just be the team to snap that streak.
“I’m very enthused about this season and the group of kids we have coming back,” MacLean said. “Our goal is to get back to that title game. Without a doubt, we have some unfinished business.”
Birmingham Groves Falcons
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning starters: 11
With six returning starters on offense, coach Brendan Flaherty hopes to see some consistency on this side of the ball.
“For us to be successful, we have to stay on schedule and get positive plays with no mistakes. It sounds contrite, but that’s it,” the coach said.
Flaherty is counting on senior running back Ross Williams to make that happen.
Williams finished with more than 1,400 yards rushing last season and has game-breaking speed — he won the 300-meter hurdles state championship last spring and was second in the 110 hurdles.
“I think he’s also a great defensive back. He’s our best athlete. He’s our fastest guy and is going to get the ball a whole bunch. We’re counting on him,” Flaherty said.
The coach is also leaning on senior captains Cameron Tinsley at center and Logan Mendelson at guard to open up the holes for Williams.
“For us, it’s about playing together as a team and putting ourselves in position to make plays,” Flaherty said. “We don’t need to be too risky — let our guys make plays and line up right. We need to be fundamentally sound.”
Anchoring the defense is linebacker Bryce Anderson.
“He’s a very good football player. He plays solid and will play in college,” Flaherty said.
Other linebackers there to help are captains Spencer Robnett and Bradley Taylor.
Captain Ryan Roberts is the leader of the defensive backs.
“I think the strength of our team is having 27 seniors, which is the most I’ve ever had,” Flaherty said. “They just have a different mentality and sense of urgency and attitude, so it’s fun to be around.”
Flaherty added that he believes he has a team capable of a championship, expecting to battle with Birmingham Seaholm and Auburn Hills Avondale for the top spot.
“I think us three in our division will be fighting for the title,” he said.
Birmingham Seaholm Maples
Last season’s record: 8-2
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning starters: Seven
The Maples don’t have a returning starter on the offense, but does boast a handful of players who saw time last season, when they averaged 23.9 points per game.
“We’ll be OK. They’re working real hard, and the offense is as good as can be expected,” second-year head coach Jim DeWald said. “The guys that we have playing were around last year, so they understand the schemes. We’re further ahead that we were last year.”
While the offense has fresh faces, the defense brings back seven starters from a unit that had three shutouts last season.
“That will be our strength. Defensively, it’s picked up from where we left off last season. We’re very happy with the defense and are going to ride its coattails for a while,” DeWald said.
“I think our expectations are pretty high — won the league last year and expect to win it again this year,” DeWald said. “I know how zero offensive starters sounds, but the guys we do have have experience, and the defense is going to be pretty good.”
Bloomfield Hills High Black Hawks
Last season’s record: N/A
League: Oakland Activities Association White Division
Returning starters: N/A
In its first season of football, the Black Hawks do have some players with experience. The offense has three players who started last season for Bloomfield Hills Lahser and current coach Dan Loria.
“We have to be able to mix it up. I think our strength is throwing the ball, but we’re going to need to run the ball to be successful.”
There are also three starters on defense who started for Lahser last season. Loria said the key is discipline.
“We need to learn our responsibilities and swarm to the football. If we do that, we have a chance to be a good football team.”
The Black Hawks are in the OAA White, arguably one of the toughest divisions in the state, according to some local coaches.
Loria knows that with a new team, it’ll be a battle each week.
“I think with the league we’re in, we start with survival-mode,” he said. “As long as we see dramatic improvement at the end of the year, we’ll be a good football team.”
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood Cranes
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Catholic League Intersectional Division
Returning starters: Six
After back-to-back, two-win seasons, Cranbrook shook things up a bit this off-season, with coach Steve Graf shifting to a different role and Joe D’Angelo joining the staff as the new head man.
With the change in coaching comes a change in offense.
“We’re installing a whole new offense, with a staff of very knowledgeable coaches who have been successful with more of a spread-style offense,” D’Angelo said. “The offense is going to be different than it has been. We’re going to have some wrinkles in there to keep teams off-guard.”
Brad Fraser will be at the quarterback spot, but will also line up as a running back and receiver.
Joe Myrick is also back to carry the ball, while tight end Bevin Liles remains a weapon by blocking and catching.
Charles Peck is back to start at receiver.
“We have to score more than we have in the past,” D’Angelo said, as Cranbrook averaged 14.2 points per game last year.
After allowing more than 32 points per game last year, D’Angelo said the emphasis for the defense is getting back to basics.
“We’re really emphasizing alignment, responsibilities and the jobs the kids have to do,” he said. “We have to stay healthy, as well. The 11 guys we put out there are going to be good, but we can’t afford to lose guys.”
In its seven losses last season, Cranbrook allowed 35 or more points on five different occasions.
“We want to change the whole environment, the culture of the football program,” D’Angelo said. “We are very optimistic. We don’t have the numbers other teams do, and that won’t come until there is success. But we have some good, young kids that have a chance to step up.”