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August 29, 2013

Grosse Pointe Times: The journey begins

Prep football season set to begin as teams set out on weekly quest toward Ford Field
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Grosse Pointe North’s Michael Bylski, along with a couple of his teammates, participate in a recent practice. After missing the postseason last year, North coach Frank Sumbera would like to see his team aim for a Macomb Area Conference Blue Division title and secure a playoff spot.
Grosse Pointe South football players are pictured in a huddle during a pre-season scrimmage. South will be aiming to win its fourth MAC Blue title in the last five years.
 
Game on
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.

Grosse Pointe North
8-29 @ St. Clair Shores Lakeview
9-6 @ Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse
9-13 vs. Macomb L’Anse Creuse North
9-20 vs. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley
9-27 @ Warren Cousino
10-4 vs. Fraser
10-11 @ Grosse Pointe South
10-18 vs. Port Huron Northern
10-25 @ St. Clair*

Grosse Pointe South
8-29 vs. Detroit U-D Jesuit
9-6 @ Macomb L’Anse Creuse North
9-13 @ Fraser
9-20 vs. Utica Eisenhower
9-27 vs. Roseville
10-4 @ Port Huron Northern
10-11 vs. Grosse Pointe North
10-18 vs. Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse
10-25 @ St. Clair Shores Lakeview

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett
8-29 vs. Royal Oak Shrine Catholic
9-6 @ Montrose Hill-McCloy
9-13 @ Auburn Hills Oakland Christian
9-20 vs. Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest
9-27 vs. Southfield Christian
10-4 @ Sterling Heights Parkway Christian
10-12 vs. Lutheran Westland
10-19 vs. Harper Woods
10-25  TBD

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.

Grosse Pointe North Norsemen
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Macomb Area Conference Blue Division
Returning starters: 10

Offensive keys:
Having players who have the capability of playing at a high level, combined with experience at the varsity level, can be the best luxury a coach can hope to have. Grosse Pointe North coach Frank Sumbera may have just that going for him on the offensive side of the football.

“We have our offensive backfield returning, led by Tod Long,” he said. “He’s a three-year starter at tailback. He’s looking real good. We also have Martice Dunlap at the fullback slot. He’s an outstanding player, also. At quarterback, we have Dan Robinson and Sal Ciaravino. Sal also can play wide receiver, and he’s a very good defensive back — excellent athlete. Real excited about it.”

Tight end Andrew Lock, as well as offensive linemen Anthony Corrado, Josh DeCraene and Makai Polk, are other players on North’s offensive unit who may be able to help put points on the board for the Norsemen.

Defensive keys:
Sumbera will be looking to some of his experienced defensemen to help shut down opponents and put the ball back in the hands of his offense.

“One of the defensive ends that has some experience is Ken Elkin,” he said. “We also return Jon Bevier; he led our team in tackles last year and he returns at linebacker. The other kid that returns is our starting defensive tackle — one of our captains — Michael Bylski.”

Coach’s outlook:
Last season, North finished in third place in the MAC Blue, and according to Sumbera, lost three games by a total of six points. Had the Norsemen come away victorious in any one those contests, it would have likely earned them a trip to the postseason.

Sumbera is hoping to rectify that situation this time around.

“We look to, hopefully, win the Blue Division,” he said. “We’d definitely like to qualify for the state playoffs, which we missed last year. We’d like to get six wins this year and see what the team can do. They have a great attitude — working real hard. Looking for some good things from (them).”


Grosse Pointe South Blue Devils
Last season’s record: 8-2
League: Macomb Area Conference Blue Division
Returning starters: Approximately 13

Offensive keys:
According to coach Tim Brandon, South returns most of its skill players, including receivers Jordan Spratt and Tony Moore, as well as quarterbacks Richie Kish and Ryan Liagre, who shared time at the position last season.

The kind of talent and experience that exists within his offensive unit has left Brandon feeling optimistic about his team’s potential to put points on the board.

“We have two quarterbacks with extensive experience — both are back,” he said, adding that the wide receiver core, tight end, and a couple of linemen are also back.

“So our offense is very good, very explosive.”

Defensive keys:
Despite losing linebacker Jack Doyle, who Brandon said earned a spot as a preferred walk-on at the University of Michigan, South still has three experienced linebackers returning. With a couple of “good” backup linebackers also on the roster, Brandon expects that position to be an area of strength for South.

With players such as cornerback Josh Gray and defensive tackle Tristan Russano also a part of South’s defensive core, Brandon would like to see his defense help pick up the slack for some of the players who have moved on.

“We’re going to be younger in some key spots because we lost some of those guys,” he said. “But we do have a decent core back, and I think some very talented juniors coming up.”

Coach’s outlook:
While winning the MAC Blue three out of the last four years and beating rival Grosse Pointe North the last three consecutive seasons are all worthy accomplishments, Brandon is hoping for even more. Although he cited winning the division and beating North for a fourth year in a row as goals for this campaign, as well, Brandon has his sights set even higher.

“We’ve made the playoffs four years in a row and had one extended run,” he said. “But the other three times, we lost in the first round. So, one of our key goals this year, after the regular-season stuff, is making an extended run in the playoffs. We haven’t done that since 2010, when we went to the semifinals, and that’s something this group is really focused on doing.”


Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett Knights
Last season’s record: 8-3
League: Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Conference
Returning starters: 4

Offensive keys:
Dan Cimini revived football at Liggett in 2009. Now, the coach is back at it in 2013 to try and keep the program’s up-swing in place.

It won’t be easy, though, with just four returning starters back from a 2012 team that went 8-3 under coach Lou Ray.

As far as the offense is concerned, replacing a contingent of graduates, namely quarterback Nate Gaggin, is the top priority.

“We have to find a way to control the football and get first downs,” Cimini said. “We’re going to run the ball a lot. It will be a different style than it has been, but we don’t have the weapons we did the last few years.”

Gaggin, a four-year starter and do-it-all signal caller, will be replaced by sophomore Tommy Jackson, who Cimini said won’t throw as much as his predecessor did, but can run the ball and is as versatile as anyone.

The offensive line, anchored by senior Antonio Malkoun, may have to carry the load early on.

Defensive keys:
If you take away the 50 points given up in last year’s district-final loss to Detroit Loyola, the Liggett defense went 10 weeks while allowing just 154 total points.

Despite the need of replacing so many starters, Cimini said this group can enjoy similar success.

“We have to do what we’ve been doing the past few years,” he explained. “It’s a matter of our guys being at the right place at the right time.”

“We have a lot of new faces, so the job is to game plan week to week and shut down some of the best players in the league,” he added. “With the guys we have, I think we are very flexible with what we can do.”

Coach’s outlook:
“We’ve had three great years of football here to build on,” Cimini said. Since 2010, Liggett is 23-8 with three playoff appearances. “We’re excited, and we want to be competitive again. We feel like with some work, this is a team that can be.”