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August 28, 2013

Macomb Township Chronicle high school football preview

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Players from Macomb Dakota participate in a blocking drill during a recent practice. Dakota will look to defend its Macomb Area Conference Red Division championship.
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. Listed are home and away games. Teams that do not play home games at their own school are marked with an asterisk.

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley
8-29 @ Dearborn*
9-6 vs. Romeo
9-13 @ Utica Eisenhower*
9-20 @ Grosse Pointe North
9-27 vs. Utica Ford
10-4 vs. New Baltimore Anchor Bay
10-11 @ Sterling Heights Stevenson
10-18 @ Macomb Dakota
10-25 vs. Port Huron

*Utica Eisenhower plays its home games at Swinehart Field.

Macomb Dakota
8-29 @ Dearborn Fordson
9-6 vs. Sterling Heights Stevenson
9-13 @ Romeo*
9-20 vs. Port Huron Northern
9-27* @ Utica Eisenhower
10-4 @ Warren Cousino
10-11 vs. Utica Ford
10-18 vs. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley
10-25 @ Roseville

*Dakota’s game against Romeo is scheduled to take place at Powell Middle School.

Macomb L’Anse Creuse North
8-29 @ Warren Cousino
9-6 vs. Grosse Pointe South
9-13 @ Grosse Pointe North
9-20 vs. Romeo
9-27 @ New Baltimore Anchor Bay
10-4 @ Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse
10-11 vs. Port Huron Northern
10-18 vs. Fraser
10-25 @ Marysville

Macomb Lutheran North
8-29 vs. Yale
9-6 vs. Allen Park Cabrini
9-13 @ Livonia Clarenceville
9-20 vs. Dearborn Divine Child
9-27 vs. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard
10-4 @ Harper Woods
10-11 @ Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
10-18 @ Detroit Loyola*
10-25 vs. Richmond

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.

For all the previews from our local teams, visit our website at www.candgnews.com and click on the Sports link.

Chippewa Valley Big Reds
Last season’s record: 5-5
League: Macomb Area Conference Red Division
Returning starters: 11

Offensive keys:
According to coach Scott Merchant, Chippewa will have approximately seven returning starters in the mix on the offensive side of the ball.  One of those returning starters is senior quarterback Brendan Rohlfs, who Merchant said threw for approximately 1,400 yards, with 11 touchdowns and just one interception last season. Merchant will be looking for him to help lead the way for the Big Reds.

“He had a really good year last year,” he said. “We expect him to have a great year; your quarterback’s (the) leader of your offense. He’s a captain, a good kid and a good player. When you have two years experience, that’s a nice luxury to have.”

Defensive keys:
Defensively, Merchant said Chippewa has three linebackers and two defensive linemen who have to be replaced. And while he can’t be all over the field, Merchant is hoping defensive lineman Sicelo Robinson can help anchor Chippewa’s defensive unit.

“He was a second-team All-County player last year as a junior,” he said. “He’s a really good player. He’s really a key guy for us on defense. Our secondary should be a strength, but we’ve got to replace most of our front. He was a very good player last year, but he’s going to have to play an even bigger role this year with the losses we had. We lost some really good seniors from our defense last year.”

Coach’s outlook:
According to Merchant, every year there are a lot of close games played in the MAC Red. He thinks winning the majority of those kind of games will be a key in determining the kind of season the Big Reds have.

“There’s a lot of good teams in our conference,” he said. “A lot of games come down to the final minutes. I think we’re going to have a good team. How good is going to depend on how many of those close, tough games we can win. I have a good group of seniors. They’re providing good leadership for our team, and we’re excited about the season.”

Macomb Dakota Cougars
Last season’s record: 10-2
League: Macomb Area Conference Red Division
Returning starters: 10

Offensive keys:
According to coach Mike Giannone, as is the case “pretty much” every year, the key to the Cougars’ success as an offense is the guys responsible for controlling the line of scrimmage.

“If they can do what they’re supposed to do, we can get a couple guys that can run the ball,” he said.

Scott Masyra and Greg Brohl are two of the offensive linemen who will be responsible for providing protection for quarterback Tyler Crowell. Senior wide receiver Angelo Dimaggio is expected to be one of Crowell’s targets.

Defensive keys:
While each season may present an opportunity for new players to step up and be key contributors, for coaches, there can be a certain level of comfort that comes from going into a season with players who have already showed what they can do.  Giannone has such players on his defensive unit.

“Defensive side, it’s mainly going to be our experience is what I’m thinking,” said Giannone regarding the Cougars’ defensive keys. “We have a lot of kids that can play.”

Defensive tackle Brandon Lozon, defensive end Tony Balabani, linebacker Niko Savich, and safety David Basirico are expected to be some of Dakota’s defensive contributors.

Coach’s outlook:
The Cougars are coming off of a season that saw them win a Macomb Area Conference Red Division championship and a district title before losing to Lake Orion in regionals.

This season, Dakota will aim to make its 14th consecutive playoff appearance.

“We should be very competitive,” Giannone said. “If everybody stays healthy, that would be one of the better teams we’ve had.”

Macomb L’Anse Creuse North Crusaders
Last season’s record: 8-3
League: Macomb Area Conference Blue Division
Returning starters: Nine

Offensive keys:
According to coach Anthony Kiner, LCN will run a no-huddle, up-tempo offense. Kiner is hoping that style of offense will be too much for opponents to handle.

“Our no-huddle offense is pretty unique,” he said. “Not too many teams see it, so when they do, they sometimes struggle with it. Our quarterback (Sean Koski) is a returning starter — great player. He did a really fantastic job last year for us. Deiontae Nicholas is a wide receiver for us. Our other wide out that started for us last year is Connor Carbary. Those guys should have really, really big numbers this year.”

Defensive keys:
On the defensive side of the ball, for Kiner, it starts with turnovers.

“It’s how many can we create,” he said. “The other thing is tackling. It’s got to get a little bit better this year. The last one is making sure our team speed is something we play to.”

Middle linebacker Troy Tanzy, safety Trevor Conklin, defensive end Tyler Sirut, and Nicholas represent some of the players Kiner would like to see make defensive contributions for the Crusaders.

Coach’s outlook:
Kiner’s outlook for the season is a “pretty good” one. He is hoping that once the postseason comes around, his team will be there for the second consecutive season.

“Our offense should be pretty high-flying this year,” Kiner said. “We have a great arsenal of athletes. Our defense — if we can create some turnovers — will be really good.”

Macomb Lutheran North
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Catholic-AA
Returning starters: 12

Offensive keys:
Coach Ryan Wesley cited getting the ball downfield as an offensive key for the Mustangs. Wesley is hoping that plan of attack will open up more room for running back Trevor Mason, who Wesley said had more than 1,300 total yards last season and was selected to the All-Catholic team.

“We’ve got a great group of skill-position players, who, hopefully, will remove people out of the box and give us room to run,” he said. “We’ve got a tremendous running back; we’ve got a tremendous quarterback (Will Kruse). This will be his fourth year on varsity, so we’re expecting big things out of him. Big, strong kid with a 4.2 GPA — he’s really smart in his decision-making.”

Wide receiver Vince Petitta, tight end Travis McConnell, and the offensive line, including tackle Austin Bass, could also play a big role in the offense.

Defensive keys:
Defensively, Wesley wants his squad to be aggressive and “get after people.” He offered some ideas as to how his defense can go about doing that.

“Be strong up front,” Wesley said. “We’re going to run a 3-4 and try to move a lot of people around — not just be a typical sit-back defense.”

Coach’s outlook:
Wesley said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming season. If North is able to make a postseason appearance, the path to get there isn’t likely to be easy.

“We’ve got our toughest schedule in school history,” Wesley said. “I think somewhere around seven or eight of our nine opponents were in the playoffs last year. Two of them — (Detroit) Loyola and (Ann Arbor) Father Gabriel Richard — made it to, at least, the final four.”

Utica Eisenhower Eagles
Last season’s record: 8-3
League: Macomb Area Conference Red Division
Returning starters: Approximately nine

Offensive keys:
As is the case with Utica High, Eisenhower coach Chris Smith also thinks his team has the potential to have a solid passing, receiving and running attack. And with an offensive unit he hopes is mostly solidified, Smith would like to see his offensive line help do its part by providing the kind of protection that may be required to achieve success.

“The whole offensive line is new, so it’s how those kids come together and play together,” Smith said. “We have a good quarterback (Dan Chmielewski), and we got a good, strong running back — good possession receivers. So, the main thing for us is the offensive line.”

Charlie Hayes and Adam Figlan are a couple of the receivers Smith would like to see contribute to the Eagles’ offense.

Defensive keys:
Speed makes a lot of coaches happy, and Smith thinks he has just that on the defensive unit. He is hoping to take advantage of that strength via putting the ball back in the hands of his offense.

“We got a lot of team speed,” Smith said. “We’re pretty young up front. We got four returning starters at defensive back. We’re going to have a lot of quickness, a lot of speed. We’re going to be very aggressive. I think the key for us is trying to create turnovers.”

Coach’s outlook:
Given that Eisenhower competes in a tough MAC Red Division, wins won’t be easy to come by. With the kind of competition his team is likely to see within the division, and the unpredictability of how games will play out on a week-to-week basis, Smith prefers to focus on what his team can control — being properly prepared once the whistle blows.

“We could be 0-5 in our league, we could be 5-0,” he said. “The key is to keep the kids focused, and work to get better every day — getting them prepared to play in every game. If they’re prepared, you’re at least giving them a chance.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.