Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe WoodsAugust 21, 2012
Grosse Pointe Times: A look at local prep teams as gridiron season nears
It’s finally here.
High school football season has arrived. And to help you get familiar with all the local teams, we present our annual football preview, chock full of information to review right up until the first kickoff.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett
Last season’s record: 9-1
League: Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Returning starters: 18
Now in its fourth year of football resurrection, the Liggett program may have it’s most dangerous team yet, and much of that has to do with the offense.
Nearly every starter returned to the unit, including Nate Gaggin, who will be under center for the fourth season.
“We’ve engineered most of the offense toward him,” said second-year coach Lou Ray. “He’ll have the ability to get us going, to change things at the line. The key is to keep us at an up-tempo pace all game long.”
As a junior, Gaggin finished with 1,403 yards passing and 19 touchdowns. He also chipped in seven rushing scores.
He’s hardly the lone weapon, though.
After a freshman year where he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards, Charles Jones returns to the backfield.
“He had a great year last year, and he’s only gotten better,” Ray said. “He hit the gym this summer and looks great already.”
With 18 total starters back, there aren’t too many places on the team lacking much experience.
The defense, though, will have some new faces in new places in 2012.
“We lost some outside linebackers to graduation, guys that were excellent at stopping the run,” Ray explained. “That’s where we’ll need some guys to really step up. But I think we’ve got the athletes to do it.”
Dan Baird will anchor the defense at the middle linebacker spot, and with Jones and Jake Smith at the outside positions, the transition shouldn’t take too long.
“With the athletes we have, I know they’ll get it,” Ray added. “As time goes on, this is going to be a very solid group.”
The Knights rolled through the 2011 regular season, but then, faced with a Royal Oak Shrine team in the playoff opener, were outmatched and eventually eliminated in 49-7.
“We designed the schedule to be tougher this year,” Ray said. “We had a tough draw last year in the playoffs against some real good teams, and it hurt us. This year, we’ve amped up the schedule a bit to get some more playoff points, and hopefully, find ourselves in a better draw.”
Grosse Pointe North
Last season’s record: 4-5
League: Macomb Area Conference Blue Division
Returning Starters: 14
While six starters return on offense, Norsemen coach Frank Sumbera tabbed junior tailback Tod Long as the key to North moving the ball this season.
“As a sophomore, he was the starter all year last year,” the coach said. “He rushed for 1,300 yards last year, roughly. He’s very fast, got another year of experience — hopefully, he’ll be just as good if not better this year.”
The coach added that getting the offensive line up to task has been a big priority of the preseason.
Sumbera said he’s never had his entire secondary return intact like he has this year. So he’ll look to the guys in that unit — Robert Tillman, Jack Guest, Chris Hamilton and Taiwan Wiggins — to help lead the way, along with linebacker Steve Elliott, who Sumbera described as a “very active kid.”
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to move the football. We have a lot of skilled kids back. Look for us to be able to move the ball with those skill kids.”
North has plenty of big games on its schedule, but none more important than the annual rivalry showdown with Grosse Pointe South Oct. 5 at North. The Norsemen will be looking to stop the Blue Devils from beating them three times in a row for the first time in the rivals’ history.
Grosse Pointe South
Last season’s record: 6-4
League: Macomb Area Conference Blue Division
Returning Starters: 12
Just four starters return to an offense that lost several key players.
“We are very young at the offensive skilled positions,” South coach Tim Brandon said. “We need to stay within ourselves, play ball control and win the field-position battle. A huge key will be to limit key mistakes.”
The majority of South’s starters return on defense — including the entire front seven — so Brandon expects that unit to lead the way for the Blue Devils.
“It will be very important for our defense to keep us in games to allow the offense time to figure themselves out,” the coach said.
“As always, we are very optimistic about the season,” Brandon said. “Our goals are to win the very tough MAC Blue, beat (Grosse Pointe) North and make the playoffs.”
Brandon noted that South’s schedule is “very tough this year,” with the Blue Devils slated to face University-Detroit Jesuit, Utica Eisenhower, Roseville High and St. Clair Shores Lakeview outside division play. All of those squads figure to be in contention for their respective league titles and playoff berths.
South has made the playoffs the past three seasons in a row and knocked off rival North the past two. South has never beaten North three times in a row in the rivals’ storied history.