Shelby Township, UticaAugust 21, 2012
Shelby-Utica News: A look at local prep teams as gridiron season nears
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
Utica Eisenhower Eagles
Last season’s record: 11-2
League: Macomb Area Conference Red Division
Returning Starters: 16
Despite Bob Lantzy not patrolling the Eagles’ sidelines for the first time in the program’s history, there won’t be a ton of changes at Ike. New coach Chris Smith takes over, but he’s been with the program for the past 15 years as the defensive coordinator. He’ll look to veteran quarterback Joe Zerafa, a senior entering his third year as Ike’s signal-caller, to lead the offense. Smith added that the offensive line is strong, but some playmakers will have to step up after the departure of a few key players from last season’s state semifinalist team.
Like on offense, a big concern of the Eagles on defense will be who steps up to make plays, especially in the secondary and at linebacker.
Smith noted that the team has “a lot of depth,” owing partly to a very good JV team last year.
Ike’s defense allowed just 9.2 points per game last year, the best mark among teams playing in the MAC’s top five divisions.
“There’s high expectations, but that’s not a problem,” Smith said. “We look forward to the challenge of playing in the MAC Red. Every kid is excited.”
While Smith admitted “it’s strange” not having coach Lantzy around, the staff is full of veteran coaches who have been at Ike “a long time,” something that has helped make his and the program’s transition of head coaches easier. He said there wouldn’t be many changes at the MAC powerhouse.
“It’s been successful for 40 years. The things that he did, I learned under,” Smith said. “There may be a few tweaks here and there, but no major changes to the things that we do.”
Utica High Chieftains
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Macomb Area Conference White Division
Returning Starters: Seven
The Chieftains are implementing a new pistol spread offense, and coach Anthony Smith said quarterback Jack Flater “will be key in decision making and offensive consistency.”
The coach added that a big question mark will be Utica’s young and inexperienced offensive line.
Smith said another question mark will be the front seven of the defense, especially after graduating three linemen who are playing college ball this fall.
But, he noted, the secondary is a strong unit.
“Our back four will be as athletic as any in the league,” the coach said.
“We will be a lot more competitive this season,” Smith said.
The coach added that he expects more success on offense as the Chieftains look to improve on the 9.3 points per game they averaged last year.
Some new squads will get the chance to figure out Utica’s new-look offense, as the MAC White Division saw some of the biggest changes during conference realignment. Warren Mott, Port Huron High and Anchor Bay join the league, where last year’s champ, Cousino, Roseville High and Utica remain. Utica Ford II, L’Anse Creuse North and Grosse Pointe North all changed divisions.
Macomb Lutheran North Mustangs
Last season’s record: 4-5
League: Catholic High School League AA Division
Returning Starters: 12
New coach Ryan Wesley expects “really good line play” from the Mustangs’ front five and tight ends.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to grind the ball down the field,” the coach said. “We need them to be our strength. We’re ready to pass at any time, but our goal is that our running game will wear teams out.”
North has an experienced quarterback in junior Will Kruse, who enters his third year with the varsity. His weapons include a “strong, fast” running back in junior Trevor Mason and a “quick, athletic” receiving corps led by junior Jonathan Taykowski.
Wesley said the key on defense is matching up physically with their opponents week in and week out.
Leading the way on this side of the ball is another player entering his third year on varsity in senior strong safety David Craig. Junior Vince Petitta joins Craig in the secondary, where they’re expected to do “great things.” In front of them are a trio of linebackers in Trevor Mason, Seth Majeski and Jonah Taykowski. Wesley described the group as being “aggressive at getting to the football.”
“Enthusiasm is high right now, and we hope that continues through adversity,” Wesley said during the preseason. “Our playbook is completely in after two days of practice, and even though we’ll do some tweaks here and there, we’ve got everything we need except competition. I think the kids are hungry and ready to go.”
Warren De La Salle Pilots
Last season’s record: 9-3
League: Catholic High School League Central Division
Returning starters: 14
Depth will be key for a De La Salle team that has made the Michigan High School Athletic Association state playoffs nine of the last 11 years.
Coach Paul Verska projects he’ll have a roster of 65 players, including nine returning offensive starters and eight others who have the potential to make an impact on that side of the ball.
The Pilots will run multiple offensive sets, according to Verska, and will be led by quarterback Shane Morris, a 2013 University of Michigan commit.
Verska also expects key contributions from running back Josh Cox (a Central Michigan University commit), wide receivers Cordell Crosby, Brent Morris and Mario Agosta, and offensive linemen Andrew DiFranco, Kyle Anderson and Chris Desrosiers.
De La Salle averaged 25.5 points per game last season — 31.7 in wins.
The Pilots will run a version of the 4-3 defense, designed to adjust to every offensive formation and defend the run or pass.
Five starters return to anchor the unit, and Verska has tapped four others who can make an impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive players to watch include linebackers Jordan Avgousti, Allan Jefferson, Joe Fisher and Sam Badalamenti. Cox, who plays in the defensive backfield, is expected to contribute, as well.
De La Salle’s defense allowed 17.8 points per game last season.
“We went 9-3 last year, and I think we should be improved in 2012. We have a great senior class and return nine starters on offense and five on defense.”
Warren Michigan Collegiate Cougars
Last season’s record: 11-1
League: Michigan Charter School Conference
Returning starters: Nine
Coach Alfredo Calderon said his group must stay healthy if it hopes to duplicate, and surpass, last year’s success.
Michigan Collegiate lacks depth, according to Calderon, with nine playing on both sides of the ball, and is working in a new quarterback, so avoiding injuries will be key. Michigan Collegiate returns four of five starters on its offensive line.
Calderon said wide receiver Teo Redding, a player with a verbal commitment to Bowling Green who Calderon dubbed one of the best wideouts in the state, should excel this season. Wide receiver Brian Jones and running back Parish Jordan will be counted on, as well.
In the 2011 regular season, the Cougars scored at least 35 points in every game.
Health and avoiding injuries is key for Michigan Collegiate’s prospects on defense, according to Calderon. He added focusing on sure tackling will be a sticking point, too.
The defense — and the team as a whole — is fast, but not as speedy as previous teams. The unit is physical, aggressive and hard working, as well, according to the coach.
Linebackers Jamel Smith and Kevin Stitts, along with defensive lineman Arimus McKinney, anchor the defense.
The Michigan Collegiate defense recorded five shutouts last season.
“Our goal is always a state championship. We play in Division 6, and I think we can accomplish that. We have a tough schedule this year, and we play some schools that are a lot bigger than us, but we have really good players.”
Sterling Heights Parkway Christian Eagles
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Returning starters: 10
Coach Todd Francis, who employs an option attack, said the play of the offensive line is vital to the team’s success. He said the group has been working hard together so far this season.
Francis, in his fourth year, said he’s looking at center P.J. Dysarczyk and offensive guard Roger Marlock to lead that offensive line.
Francis emphasized the importance of his defense to maintain its attacking style. The Eagles will run several blitz packages,
Francis said linebacker Phil Lapinski will be called upon to lead the unit.
“We’re really young all over the field. We only have nine upperclassmen on the 31-man roster.
“I’m interested to see what this team has.”