Clawson, Royal OakAugust 22, 2012
Royal Oak Review: 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.
Check back in the paper and online throughout the season for more football coverage, including photos, game previews and recaps, team and player features, rankings and picks.
And don’t forget to follow along with us on Twitter and Facebook for live updates from select games.
Clawson High Trojans
Last season’s record: 6-4
League: Macomb Area Conference Bronze Division
Returning starters: Four
After scoring 257 points last year, good for fifth in the entire MAC, Clawson bid farewell to nine of its 11 offensive starters.
The two back in the mix, senior linemen Marlon Harris and Matt Suter, will have to anchor the unit while the younger guys get up to speed.
“They are going to be the key,” coach Jim Sparks said of the two returning starters. “I’m real confident in the skilled guys we have on offense, but most of them haven’t seen the field a lot. They are going to need some time to get that expeirence and get that game feel.”
Sparks stressed the need for patience with his offensive guys, something he’s not entirely used to.
Last year’s impressive 257 points were even less than 2010, when that team set a school record for points in a single season with 347.
The offense won’t be the only group full of new faces, though.
Clawson’s defense also brigns back just two starters in senior nose guard Mitch Herndon and insinde linebacker Jared Martin.
“Our strength will be up front; those seven guys have to carry us,” Sparks said. “We’re going to lean on them a lot.”
Clawson’s defense allowed 159 points last year, also fifth best in the entire MAC.
The Trojans will have some time to get the young group going. Their first three opponents of the season — Harper Woods High, Center Line High and New Haven High — combined for just a 7-20 record last year, and none of the three were particularly strong offensively.
But come week four, the Trojans better be ready for a Marine City High team that was 13-1 in 2011 and averaged 40 points per game.
Coming off consecutive playoff appearences, and six straight winnings seasons, 2012 may be the toughest challenge Sparks has had yet.
It’s, at very least, his youngest team.
“But you know what, I like that,” he said. “It’s exicitng when you don’t have a ton of kids back because you have the chance to see that improvement right from the start. From the first day of practice to the second day, I saw us get noticably better. …. That’s going to be the key for this team. If we improve as the season goes on, I expect us to be in the hunt for a Bronze title and in the mix come playoff time.”
Royal Oak Shrine Knights
Last season’s record: 9-2
League: Catholic League Intersectional Division
Returning starters: Eight
Graduation depleted much of Shrine’s offense from last year, leaving third-year starting quarterback Connor Francek as the only returning skill-position player.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have played, just not started,” coach John Goddard said. “Connor runs the option real well, and he can throw the ball, so he’ll have to lead us.”
With Raymond Brown, the team’s leading back last year, among the handful who graduated, role players such as Chris Kelly will have to be key.
The Knights were stellar defensively all season in 2011, allowing seven total points in the first four weeks and 125 all season, including a 40-0 loss to Detroit Loyola in week nine and a 29-0 Division 7 district final loss to Loyola.
Like the offense, though, much of the power behind that defense has graduated.
“Up front, the kids are going to have to perform,” Goddard said. “In our defense, it’s that simple. We have to keep guys off the linebackers or we will be in trouble.”
Sophomores Will Arce and Ken Kruleski will be two keys up front, while senior Joe Nagle, who led the team in tackles last year, is also back in the mix.
Shrine has missed the playoffs just once (2002) since 1999, and even with a younger team, Goddard expects the program to continue its success.
“One of the traditions of our teams has always been getting better as the year moves on,” Goddard said. “We may have to be a little patience with youth we have, but these guys have it in them to have another great season.”
Royal Oak High Ravens
Last season’s record: 1-8
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning starters: Seven
In recent seasons, the Ravens have struggled to put up points, and new coach Ryan Irish is going back to basics to make it happen this season.
“When you’re not a good football program, which we haven’t been in recent years, then football is kind of simple. If you’re not doing the things up front right, you’re not going to be successful,” he said. “Our offensive line has to be better than it was last year. We can draw up all the fancy plays we want, but if we can’t block better than the other team, we won’t be successful.”
Royal Oak is counting on its only returning lineman, Tyler Beerer, to anchor the unit.
Like the offense, the Ravens’ defense is also counting on its players up front.
“We have to have great D-line play. You just can’t do anything, your defense crumbles, if your defensive line doesn’t do its responsibility,” he said. “We’re pretty young, realistically, and in the process of growing.”
The Ravens have a completely new line from last season after Alex Sims was moved to linebacker.
The Ravens had their first win last season since 2008, something Irish knows hangs over the heads of his players.
“How I’m looking at it, this is a program that hasn’t had a lot of success. So I look at the little things as wins. Last year, we ended up with 28 guys on varsity; this year we have 45. So I look at that as a win,” he said. “We’re trying to work really hard to make it cool again to play football. We’re coaching our tails off to make them better.”
Royal Oak moved to the Blue after competing in the Red with larger schools the past five seasons.
“I’m excited to be in the Blue because they’re all teams that are in our neighborhood. My kids know kids from Berkley, from Ferndale and Avondale,” he said. “The other thing I like is that this league puts up points on the board. They score. In the Blue, it’s not 10-7 games. It’s kind of concerning because we have to stop some people, but I’m excited because I think we’re going to be in games that are meaningful.”
Bishop Foley Ventures
Last season’s record: 4-5
League: Catholic League Intersectional Division
Returning starters: Six
The Ventures are looking to three-year senior starters Gabe O’Neil and Dominic Henry-Davis to help their offense roll in 2012.
Foley coach Tim Sagert considers O’Neil to be one of the top wide receivers in the league, and his play could account for a lot of the points scored by the Ventures.
A good running game can serve as an excellent source for keeping defenses honest, and Sagert will be relying on Henry-Davis to fill that role as the team’s fullback.
Henry-Davis is a two-way player, and his role as one of the team’s linebackers means he will also be asked to help shut down the running game of opponents.
Safety Nick Gwisdalla and cornerback Brendan McMahon are also expected to play a big role on defense.
Change is the order of the day for the Ventures. Along with a host of new players, Sagert has overhauled his coaching staff, bringing in five former players — Ryan Coughlin, Ian Coughlin, Chris Synagoga, Nick Harris and Juwan Shakespear — to help guide his team.
Sagert said he has been pleased with the atmosphere that has been created during practice sessions, in part as a result of the enthusiasm his coaching staff has brought to the practice field.
“I think I needed to put a little jolt in my program, so I brought back some kids that can bring me a little bit of excitement,” Sagert said of his assistant coaches. “The tempo of my practices and the workouts has been night and day from the last couple seasons. “Our weakness and our strengths are about the same. My weakness is I have a very young team — our numbers are a little down. But the strength would be that we’re a very enthusiastic young team.”