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August 25, 2014

Return to the gridiron: West Bloomfield Beacon

A look at the local squads as prep season kicks off
» click to enlarge «
West Bloomfield High quarterback Trishton Jackson makes a pass during practice Aug. 20. The Lakers play the first football game of the season out of all the teams in the state, taking on Dearborn High at 1 p.m. Aug. 28 at Wayne State University.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s coach George Porritt talks with his team during the first week of camp. The Eaglets went 5-4 and missed out on the state playoffs in 2013.
 

By C & G Sports Staff

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.

West Bloomfield High Lakers
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning Starters: 11
Opener: vs. Dearborn High, 1 p.m. Aug. 28 (Wayne State University)

Offensive keys: The Lakers’ offense found its footing again last season, scoring the most points since 2008 and the second most since 2002.

With four returning starters, West Bloomfield will rely on some new faces to match last year’s 28 points per game.

Michael King returns to the backfield, where he does his damage on the ground and in the passing game.

“It’s fun when he gets the ball in his hands,” assistant coach Zach Hilbers said.

Evan Boyer takes his spot back on the offensive line and will give the unit some experience.

Defensive keys: While the offense was averaging four touchdowns a game last season, the defense was letting up four scores a contest.

The Lakers should be improved with seven starters back, including Eddy Wilson at defensive end and Justin Hollins playing the down tackle.

Obbie Jackson, who also plays receiver on the other side of the ball, will be counted on to lead the secondary.

Coach’s outlook: The Lakers had their first winning season last year since 2009 and hope to continue that trend.

“Frankly, three or four years ago we didn’t feel like we were competitive with the other teams in the OAA,” Hilbers said. “(Last year), we felt we competed a whole lot better on the football field. … We’re excited about taking that next step as a program.”


Walled Lake Central Vikings
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division
Returning starters: 14
Opener: at Haslett High, 7 p.m. Aug. 28

Offensive keys: When asked about offensive keys for the upcoming season, Central coach Bob Meyer couldn’t help but laugh.

“Staying healthy,” he said.

A year ago, an offense he expected to flourish was ravaged by injury.

By the end of a 2-7 year, the Vikings totaled just 119 points.

“A lot of injuries to a lot of senior starters,” Meyer said. “The flip side of that, though, is now we have a lot of guys back with some experience.”

Seven offensive starters returned to camp, many of whom are now three-year starters.

“You don’t mind that at all,” Meyer said. “We have some very high expectations with the offense.”

Nick Krumm is back to run the offense at quarterback; senior Cody Patterson will anchor the offensive line.

“We expect to put some points on the board,” Meyer said.

Defensive keys: “Alignment, assignment and execution,” Meyer said when asked the keys to his defense. “We are going to play fast. This is a group with a ton of speed.”

Like the offense, seven starters are back on the defensive side of the ball.

Central allowed nearly 28 points per game last fall, and Meyer expects that number to come way down.

“We’re going to be much better,” he stressed. “We have a new defensive coordinator (Dan Novak) and our offseason was geared toward improving the defense.”

Adetokumbo Ogundeji, a 6-feet-5-inch, 220-pound junior, is one of the key defenders back in the mix.

He’s already been offered a scholarship to Western Michigan University.

Other key starters back in the mix include linebackers Jacharri Robinson and Prince Onwenu, and defensive tackle Keith Thompson.

Coach’s outlook: “We expect to be a playoff football team,” Meyer said. Central reached the postseason four times from 2006-2011 but is just 5-13 the past two years. “The way we do that is finding success in the North Division. I think, truthfully, we are bigger and faster than any of our opponents. But it will be tough. Everyone in this division is going to be very good.”


Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Eaglets
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Catholic League Central Division
Returning starters: Eight
Opener: vs. Southfield High, 4 p.m. Aug. 29 (at Wayne State University)

Offensive keys: St. Mary’s brings back eight total starters in 2014, but just two — slot receiver Tyson Smith and fullback TJ Bauer — on the offensive side of the ball.

And in an offense that is built around the run, the offensive line is usually what makes, or breaks, any season.

“And that’s the key for us, how fast that group grows and gets better,” said coach George Porritt. “I think we’re fairly strong at the skilled positions.”

Brandon Tabone did make a couple of starts at quarterback last year and is back to lead the offense.

“He had a real good summer throwing the ball,” Porritt said. “We may have to pass a little more than normal this season, which is fine. But we are still a run-first team.”

Defensive keys: While much of the offense learns on the fly, the defense will be the strong suit of the team, especially with six starters back in the mix.

“We’re going to be pretty sound defensively, good in the trenches,” Porritt said.

The defensive front and linebackers are where most of the experience is, and in a league that demands you stop the run, that is the key.

“Brother Rice is a team that can probably hurt you in the air, but you still have to stop them on the ground, as well,” Porritt said. “In the Central Division, stopping the run is what you have to do to be successful.”

Coach’s outlook: After four straight trips to the Division 3 final, last year’s team finished 5-4 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

The simple expectation is for things to return to normal in 2014.

If it were only that simple.

“We feel good about this team, feel good about battling for a top spot in the league,” Porritt said. “But every year, you say the same thing when it comes to the Central. It’s very difficult to put any team in a specific order.”

“It’s going to come down to a couple plays here and there, and avoiding the big mistake,” he added. “This is a league that’s so tight, one mistake or one play can really put you from first to fifth.”


Walled Lake Western Warriors
Last season’s record: 9-2
League: Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division
Returning starters: Seven
Opener: at Bay City Western, 7 p.m. Aug. 28

Offensive keys: For most teams, the early focus to any season centers on who’s back.

For Western, however, it’s more who’s not back.

Kyle Bambard’s graduation leaves the program a huge void to fill at the quarterback spot.

In three years as a starter, the do-everything Bambard accounted for 68 touchdowns, nearly 7,000 yards of total offense and an additional 202 points — in the kicking game.

Kyle Thomas, a junior and varsity rookie, will step into that role this season.

Coach Mike Zdebski said he has full faith is his new signal-caller.

“He’s going to take over,” Zdebski said. “He’s a very hard-working kid who is also very athletic. How fast he picks up on the speed and tempo of the varsity game will determine a lot for us.”

The Warriors have four starters back on the offensive side of the ball, including Marcus Bailey (receiver), Dorian Favors (tight end), Matt Jenkin (center) and James Lalonde (running back).

“Our offensive success is going to depend a lot on our new guys,” Zdebski added. “They have to adjust to the speed of the varsity game.”

Defensive keys: The Warriors’ defensive approach will be similar to the offense, in the sense there will be so many new faces taking on starting roles.

“Can we match up physically? That’s a key question,” Zdebski said. “That’s where everything starts.”

Western graduated its entire defensive line from a year ago and has just three starters — John Whitkowski (defensive back), Jeremiah McCurtis (DB) and Adam Stasinski (linebacker) — back in the mix.

“We do have some guys back that saw the field quite a bit,” Zdebski said. “They will be critical to us.”

Coach’s outlook: Western’s success has been well documented the past two decades, forming a program that has missed the playoffs just twice since 1996 and is 36-10 the past four years.

The challenge now is reloading on the fly with a group gaining experience as the season unfolds.

“This is a team that has the potential to be very good,” Zdebski said. “It all comes down to acclimating itself to varsity football. That is the whole key. This is much different than the junior varsity level. If these guys can make that adjustment, we’re going to be good.”


Walled Lake Northern Knights
Last season’s record: 8-3
League: Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division
Returning starters: 12
Opener: at Bloomfield Hills High, 7 p.m. Aug. 29

Offensive keys: Northern’s offense scored 69 points in Week One last year and never looked back.

By the time the season was over, the Knights averaged 38.1 points per game and scored 41 or more on four separate occasions.

Six starters are back from that group who will try to pick up where it left off.

“Depth is key for us,” coach Brett Moore said. “We have plenty of talent. We also need some of our newer guys to step in and do a good job for us.”

Brendon O’Connell was not a full-time starter last season, but the senior quarterback came in during the first playoff game to lead Northern to victory, and then started in the team’s 28-25 loss to Rochester Adams in the district final.

“We have some big expectations for him,” Moore said. “He’s a smart kid with a good pedigree.”

Chris Cliff is back at receiver, while Jamie Demers will anchor the offensive line and AJ Chuchla is the top runner back in the mix.

“Our speed and our skilled players are real strong,” Moore added. “Another key for us is getting the offensive line on the same page.”

Defensive keys: Trying to figure out Northern’s defense from a year ago is a bit perplexing.

In some games, the group allowed hardly anything.

In others, like against Waterford Mott and Walled Lake Western, Northern’s offense scored 58 and 35 points, respectively, but lost both games.

“Defensively, we’re going to be better,” Moore said of a group that gave up 23 points per game in 2013. “Our defensive line is going to be real good. The secondary is strong. We had to replace a couple linebackers, but we’re getting there.”

Northern returned six starters to the defense.

Kyle Boerner is set to anchor the defensive line, while Louis Grodman is one of the top defensive backs to return.

Moore said the strength is up front.

“Our defensive line is key,” he added. “Most teams in our league are run-first, so it’s huge if we can control that aspect of the game.”

Coach’s outlook: In Northern’s first nine years of existence, the program limped to a 24-57 record, with two winning seasons and no playoff appearances.

In the past two years, the Knights are 16-6 and have reached consecutive Division 1 district finals.

The goals this year are to maintain that success.

“The North Division is probably as strong as it’s ever been,” Moore said. “But we feel real strong how we’ve gotten ready and how we’ve prepared for this season. We plan on being a contender, and we want to be back in the playoffs again.”