Troy Times high school football preview

Troy Times | Published August 27, 2013

 Troy Athens’ Lucas Bezerra makes a tackle in a scrimmage with Grosse Pointe South Aug. 22 at home. The Red Hawks return 10 starters and look to improve upon last season’s record.

Troy Athens’ Lucas Bezerra makes a tackle in a scrimmage with Grosse Pointe South Aug. 22 at home. The Red Hawks return 10 starters and look to improve upon last season’s record.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Game on

Troy High
8/29 @ Romeo High
9/6 vs. Rochester High
9/13 vs. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek
9/20 @ Pontiac High
9/28 vs. Lake Orion High
10/4 @ West Bloomfield High
10/11 vs. Clarkston High
10/18 @ Troy Athens
10/25 TBD

Troy Athens
8/29 @ Warren Mott
9/6 @ Lake Orion High
9/13 vs. Pontiac High
9/20 @ Clarkston High
9/27 vs. West Bloomfield High
10/4 @ Rochester Hills Stoney Creek
10/11 vs. Rochester High
10/18 vs. Troy High
10/25 TBD

Auburn Hills Avondale
8/29 @ Redford Union
9/6 vs. Birmingham Seaholm
9/13 vs. Royal Oak High
9/20 @ Birmingham Groves
9/27 vs. Berkley High
10/4 @ North Farmington
10/11 @ Hazel Park High
10/18 vs. Ferndale High
10/25 vs. Ypsilanti High

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
8/29 @ Dearborn Heights Robichaud
9/6 vs. Hamtramck High
9/13 vs. Ortonville-Brandon
9/20 @ Flint Powers Catholic
9/27 vs. Detroit Loyola
10/5 @ Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard
10/11 vs. Macomb Lutheran North
10/18 @ Dearborn Divine Child
10/25 TBD

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 Brother Rice, Country Day, Cranbrook Kingswood, Oakland Christian, Lutheran Northwest, Notre Dame Prep, Southfield Christian, Royal Oak Shrine and St. Mary’s, visit our website at and click on the Sports link.

Troy Athens Red Hawks
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning starters: 10 

Offensive keys:

The Red Hawks averaged just more than 17 points per game last season, but were held to seven or fewer in three contests. Coach Josh Heppner is counting on senior quarterback Jake Nelson to help put points on the board.

“(He) runs the option better than any quarterback I’ve ever seen. Jake is a tremendous athlete who can be a threat at any position,” Heppner said.

Junior Alex Mussat, a transfer from Troy High, may also see time at quarterback, along with receiver.

“Alex has great accuracy and strength with his throw. He also has a great amount of athleticism that has yet to be revealed,” the coach said.

Senior tight end Lucas Bezerra, has committed to Western Michigan University, Heppner said.

“(He’s) very strong, smart, aggressive football player. He has the ability to single-handedly change the course of a game. He’s a big-time player who will be called on quite a bit this year offensively,” Heppner said.

Up front, Jake York returns to right tackle, where Heppner calls him one of the team’s most consistent linemen. He’ll be looking to open up holes for feature back Craig Bazin.

Defensive keys:

Athens looks to improve on defense, where it let up nearly 30 points per game last season.

Senior defensive lineman Luke Spinek is tasked with stuffing the run and putting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

“Luke was one of our consistent defensive linemen last year,” Heppner said. “He has a great nose for the ball and leads the defensive line in true fashion. We are expecting big things from him this year.”

Heppner feels the same about junior linebacker Brennan McHugh

“Brennan has the leadership skills and tenacity on the football field that all coaches love,” Heppner said. “Brennan will be a big factor in the middle of our defense.”

Coach’s outlook:

Heppner admits that last season was a disappointment, especially after coming off of a playoff appearance in 2011.

This time around, he’s counting on a “never-say-die” attitude and chemistry to be the difference.

“Overall size in numbers will be low for us this year at all levels, but much of the off-season has been spent building relationships with our players and coaches that will carry us back to the level of play expected of championship football teams,” he said.

Troy High Colts
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning starters: Nine

Offensive keys:

Last season was the lowest amount of total points Troy had put on the board since 2005.

The Colts are expecting a more high-powered attack with quarterback Jay Darish returning to the helm.

“We’re counting heavy on him to do really good things,” coach Gary Griffith said. “Jay has a great arm. He’s played quarterback forever, so it’s not like he’s learning a new position. He’s able to change plays at the line, and he reads coverages very well.”

Up front, Damian Howard-Doney anchors the young line.

Defensive keys:

The Colts return six starters to the defense, led by linebackers Davis Strobridge and Eric Soreide.

“Between those two, we feel pretty good inside,” Griffith said.

In the secondary, Danny Wunderlich and Justice Bigelow lead the unit.

Coach’s outlook:

Griffith said one of the focuses this year is competing for the Red title.

“It’s going to be tough. Clarkston is loaded, Lake Orion is always good and (Rochester Hills) Stoney Creek is coming along, but we think we can compete with those teams,” he said.

Auburn Hills Avondale Yellow Jackets
Last season’s record: 9-2
League: Oakland Activities Association Blue Division
Returning starters: Eight

Offensive keys:

Scoring points has never been a problem for the Yellow Jackets. Last season, they averaged 33 points per game, scoring more than 40 in five games.

This time around, they have plenty of help in the backfield with running backs Chase Lalla and Josh Holloman.

Lalla is a two-year starter and averaged 9.7 yards a carry last season. Holloman rushed for more than 800 yards and had 12 touchdowns. He was timed at a 4.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a camp over the summer.

Up front, Kanwal Bal is in his third year starting on the line.

Defensive keys:

Avondale allowed more than 22 points in only three games last season, in large part due to its defensive line, which is once again stacked with size and experience.

Seniors Paul Czartorski and Mitch Williams are both going into their fourth year of starting and are joined by three-year starter Tiroca Battle. The trio also brings bulk, averaging 273 pounds between them.

Coach’s outlook:

Coach Steve Deutsch believes his team has what it takes to win the division, but it has to stay healthy.

“We can’t afford an injury. Numbers are up in the program, but we have a small varsity,” he said. “How fast we fill holes and leadership left by an outstanding senior class will determine our success.”


Pontiac Notre Dame Prep Fighting Irish

Last season’s record: 9-2
League: Catholic League AA Division 
Returning starters: 12

Offensive keys:

The weapons are there.

Now, it’s a matter of protecting them and giving them time to operate.

That’s more or less what Prep coach Kyle Zimmerman said before camp started when speaking about his 2013 offense and the potential it holds.

“We’re going to be young up front, but all the guys in the skill spots are back,” Zimmerman said.

Prep scored 320 points last year, down from 409 in 2011, but still the second-most in program history for a single season.

Running back Jermaih Johnston returns after rushing for more than 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall.

Quarterback Brendan Newvine is also back after taking over before the playoffs started last year.

So, it comes down to the guys up front.

“Truthfully, this is one of the biggest offensive lines we’ve had,” Zimmerman said. “They are just young and need to get some experience.”

Defensive keys:

While younger in the corner spots, the Fighting Irish have plenty of veterans up front, which is where the team’s strength likely will reside.

“Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks has to happen,” Zimmerman explained. “The front seven is real solid with a group of guys that has a lot of experience. If we can stop the run and avoid the big play over the top, we’re going to be in good shape.”

Prep allowed just 12.8 points per game a year ago and should be just as strong this fall.

Coach’s outlook:

Following an 8-1 regular season, Prep cruised past Livonia Clarenceville 41-20 in a Division 4 playoff opener before falling to Country Day 14-12 in a game that came down to the final plays.

“That left a sour taste in our mouth,” Zimmerman said. “We came up shorter than we felt we could have, and should have, but we had a great offseason, and now we’re at a level where we feel we can get back to where we were and then make a run at a D-4 title.”

Madison Heights Bishop Foley
Last Season’s record: 5-4
League: Catholic League Intersectional Division
Returning starters: Eight

Offensive keys:

While winning battles at the line of scrimmage may be right near the top of most coaches’ wish lists, talent at skill positions isn’t a bad luxury to have, either, and Foley coach Sean Cobb may have just that in his inaugural season.

“My biggest keys will be that I’ve got some pretty good skill-position players,” he said. “My quarterback will be key — that’ll be Brendan McMahon. I’ve got two fullbacks (Stephen Redding and Alex Williamson) — two big, bruising guys. I’m hoping for good things from them, too.”

The play of Nick Gwisdalla, David Balaze, Piotr Lewalski and Brian Wille could also play a big role in helping the offense click.

Defensive keys:

Given that, according to Cobb, Foley is short on numbers, some of the key players on offense are also expected to be defensive contributors. And with players seeing action on both sides of the ball, Cobb has given some thought as to what it is likely to take to have success.

“It’s going to take good conditioning prior to the season, which we are working on,” he said. “With them going both ways, I’ve got to have them well conditioned.”

Coach’s outlook:

According to Cobb, the more he sees of his players, the more he likes them. And while he expects that his squad will be competitive, that expectation comes with a contingency.

“Just like anybody else’s football team, if there are injuries to key players, it’s going to be a tough road to haul,” Cobb said. “We’ve just got to stay healthy.”