Clawson, Royal Oak
Published August 27, 2013
Royal Oak Review high school football preview
Royal Oak High
Royal Oak Shrine
Madison Heights Bishop Foley
Prep football teams will be back on the gridiron beginning Aug. 29. Here’s a rundown of each local team, along with a couple of the neighboring private school squads.
For all the previews from our local teams, including Bishop Foley, Brother Rice, Country Day, Cranbrook Kingswood, Oakland Christian, Lutheran Northwest, Notre Dame Prep, Southfield Christian and St. Mary’s, visit our website at www. candgnews.com and click on the Sports link.
Royal Oak High Ravens
Last season’s record: 1-8
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning starters: 10
After the first four games last season, the Ravens averaged just more than a touchdown a game, but in the final five contests, Royal Oak found its footing, scoring 34.6 per game in that span.
Coach Ryan Irish hopes that momentum continues.
“With our offensive line primarily all returning, I think we need to run the football well,” he said, adding that Andrew Jenson at center, Cullen Conway at guard and Juxin Alushi at tackle will all be counted on.
In the backfield, Jacob Gastoiax is the primary ball carrier, moving to the position after playing quarterback last season.
“He’s just a hard-running kid. He’s able to set up blocks and understands our offense and where the ball needs to be,” Irish said.
A major emphasis this offseason has been the defense. The Ravens allowed more than 46 points per game last season, something Irish plans to improve on considerably.
“We’re tackling better, and that’s always been an issue we’ve had. We haven’t been good at tackling here, but I’m not sure the kids knew how to do it. Now, the guys are able to it,” the second-year head coach said. “Once the kids become confident that they have the ability to tackle, they become better tacklers, because they know they can do it.”
Irish said the team is further ahead of where it was at this time last season.
“I felt like we had a good football practice the first day of pads. The guys got tackled, the kids ran hard, guys blocked hard. I know it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but we’re practicing better. When I can hear (the pads hitting), I know we’re playing football then.”
Irish said the squad was competitive in the first half of each game last season, often leading at the break, but that it needs to learn how to finish if it expects to make major strides this season.
“That’s my expectation now: to play for four quarters, not for two, but for four,” Irish said.
Clawson High Trojans
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Macomb Area Conference Bronze Division
Returning starters: 10
Scoring points hasn’t been an issue at Clawson since Jim Sparks took over. If the 2013 offensive line can develop on the fly, the same should be true this fall.
“We have some retuning as starters, but guys that will probably be in different positions,” Sparks said. “The talent is there, but it’s going to be gaining experience as quickly as possible.”
If the line does its job, the skilled players are certainly in place to do theirs.
Ty Sparks is back under center, starting for the second season. As a sophomore, he set a school record when he threw 21 touchdown passes while totaling 1,682 yards in air.
Marquian Johnson is back after an All-State junior season at the receiver spot.
He finished with a program record 12 touchdown receptions to go with 661 yards.
Steven Kline led the rushing attack with more than 600 yards and year ago, and he’s back for more.
Olivia Paquette will handle the kicking duties for a third straight year. The senior has 71 career points to fall back on.
“Early on, the offense is going to be essential for us,” Sparks said. “We expect to be able to move the ball.”
Only four starters are back on the defensive side of the ball, so they will be key.
“We don’t have a ton of depth, so guys have to stay healthy,” he added.
Three of the defensive linemen will be starting for the first time.
Clawson allowed a little more than 24 points per game in 2012, including 34 in a six-point loss to East Detroit in the regular-season finale.
That 34-28 loss kept the Trojans out of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“Our schedule is pretty tricky, in the way it sets itself up,” Sparks said. “We have some games we will likely be favored in to start the year (against Harper Woods, Center Line and New Haven), but then you go through the meat grinder in the middle.”
Clawson faces Marine City (8-2 last year), Clintondale (9-1) and St. Clair Shores South Lake (6-4) all in a row.
“I think we can compete for a league title,” Sparks added. “Clintondale was great last year, and will be just as good. But all things considered, with who we have back, I think this is a team that needs to compete for the division, and then get back to the playoffs.”
Royal Oak Shrine Knights
Last season’s record: 5-5
League: Catholic League Intersectional Division
Returning starters: 10
Shrine’s offensive output of 218 points last year was the lowest for the program since the 2002 team scored 114 during a 2-7 season.
Trying to improve on that number must be done by a unit replacing seven starters, most notably quarterback Connor Francek and running back Joe Nagle.
“There’s no doubt these guys can do the job,” coach John Goddard said.
Fullback Chris Kelly, a player Goddard called the “heart and soul of what we do,” returns for his senior season and should provide the needed leadership.
After starting at receiver a year ago, Tim Niehaus will be the team’s quarterback.
Jordan Gee takes over the top spot in the backfield.
Unlike the offense, more than half of last year’s starting defense is back in the mix for 2013.
Like the offense, Kelly will anchor the squad from his linebacker spot.
“Defensively, I think we’re going to be pretty solid,” Goddard said. “We’re starting some younger guys, but with Kelly there, our down linemen back and our ends back, we’ll be all right.”
Asked if the defense would have to carry his team, especially early on, Goddard simply shrugged, saying that is always the case.
“I think that’s how we do it every year,” he added. “The emphasis of this team is always on the defense.”
If he was concerned at all at the challenge of replacing so much talent this fall, Goddard didn’t show it.
“Our goals don’t change every year, no matter the personnel is,” he said. “We want to win the league, play in the Prep Bowl and make a run in the state playoffs.”
Shrine has made the state playoffs in 12 of the past 13 years.
“People change — the goals don’t,” Goddard said. “This team has a chance to do everything we always talk about.”