West Bloomfield Beacon: The journey begins

Prep football season set to begin as teams set out on weekly quest toward Ford Field

West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 28, 2013

 St. Mary’s coach George Porritt talks things over with his squad before the scrimmage Aug. 17. The Eaglets reached last year’s Division 3 final, but fell in overtime. Nine starters are back in the mix as St. Mary’s takes aim at its fifth straight title game.

St. Mary’s coach George Porritt talks things over with his squad before the scrimmage Aug. 17. The Eaglets reached last year’s Division 3 final, but fell in overtime. Nine starters are back in the mix as St. Mary’s takes aim at its fifth straight title game.

Photo by Samantha Sergi

Game on
The 2013 Michigan High School Athletic Association football season officially kicks off Aug. 29. Here’s a look at the local teams’ schedules. For a list of all the prep schedules, visit www.mhsaa.com.

West Bloomfield High
8/30 @ Jackson High
9/6 vs. Clarkston High
9/13 @ Lake Orion High
9/20 vs. Rochester High
9/27 @ Troy Athens
10/4 vs. Troy High
10/11 vs. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek
10/19 @ Pontiac High
10/25 ­­TBD

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
8/30 @ Oak Park High
9/6 @ Toledo Whitmer (OH)
9/13 vs. Detroit Consortium
9/20 @ University of Detroit Jesuit
9/27  vs. Warren De La Salle
10/4 vs. Birmingham Brother Rice
10/12 @ Novi Detroit Catholic Central
10/18 @ Davison High
10/25 TBD

Walled Lake Northern
8/29 @ Livonia Churchill
9/6 @ Plymouth Salem
9/12 vs. Waterford Mott
9/20 @ Walled Lake Western
9/28 @ Walled Lake Central
10/4 vs. Waterford Kettering
10/11 vs. White Lake Lakeland
10/18 TBD
10/25  @ South Lyon

Walled Lake Central
8/29 @ Saginaw Heritage
9/6 @ Livonia Stevenson
9/12 vs. Waterford Kettering
9/20 @ Waterford Mott
9/28 vs. Walled Lake Northern
10/4 @ White Lake Lakeland
10/11 @ Walled Lake Western
10/18 TBD
10/25  @ Hartland High

Walled Lake Western
8/29 vs. Bay City Western
9/6 @ South Lyon East
9/12 vs. White Lake Lakeland
9/20 vs. Walled Lake Northern
9/27 @ Waterford Kettering
10/4 @ Waterford Mott
10/11 vs. Walled Lake Central
10/18 TBD
10/25  @ Northville High

C & G Sports Staff

Prep football teams will be back on the gridiron beginning Aug. 29. Here’s a rundown of each local team, including returning starters, offensive and defensive keys, and what each coach is expecting from their squad.

West Bloomfield High Lakers
Last season’s record: 2-7
League: Oakland Activities Association Red Division
Returning starters: Eight

Offensive keys:
After last season, coach Ron Bellamy knew his team needed to make a commitment to get bigger and stronger, especially on the line.

“The key for us is going to be the offensive line. We have some pretty athletic guys that we’re really excited about, but it’s going to be about up front,” Bellamy said. “The line is coming along. That’s, by far, the toughest position to coach up, especially in our league. We’re playing some pretty good football programs with big kids. For us, we’ve never had a massive line.”

Bellamy added that the squad has been hitting the weights hard since the beginning of the off-season in hopes of competing with the larger teams in the division, like Clarkston High and Lake Orion High.

“We’ve been trying to win in the weight room,” Bellamy said.

Defensive keys:
An added benefit of beefing up the offensive line is that many of the players also find themselves in the defensive front seven.

“I’m excited about our defensive line up front and some of the things that we can do,” Bellamy said. “The goal for us was to get bigger. Last year, we took the approach of going with faster, smaller guys up front. What we found out after evaluating things was that we were just getting worn out. With these linemen in the weight room all offseason, we’re trying to take some pressure off of our linebackers.”

Coach’s outlook:
Last season, Bellamy said there were some cohesiveness issues, mostly because the squad had six underclassmen playing major minutes.

“Being so young, you’re not going to have immediate results,” the coach said.

Bellamy expects a different story this time around.

“We’ll be prepared every week — that’s a given,” he said. “I can’t sit and say how many wins we’ll have, but we’ll compete every day and every game.”

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Eaglets
Last season’s record: 11-3
League: Catholic League Central Division
Returning starters: Nine

Offensive keys:
It’s a new year, but the attack method the Eaglets will run with this season is the same as always. And after scoring 489 points last year, including 37 in the Division 3 state-final loss, plenty of weapons are back in the mix.

“As a team, it’s going to come down to how we run the ball, as always,” said coach George Porritt, now in his 25th season with St. Mary’s. “We’ve got some good guys along the line — seniors we can depend on.”

Replacing Grant Niemiec and Parker McInnis in the backfield will be the first challenge. The cousins were virtually unstoppable while carrying the ball a year ago.

But Jeff Robinson, Mark Zanders and Chris Crump are all back to help after seeing time in 2012.

As of the first week of camp, Porritt said the team was still deciding on a starting quarterback, but added he wasn’t going to shy away from throwing the ball a bit more if the opportunity presents itself.

Defensive keys:
Before running into Drake Harris and Grand Rapids Christian in the D-4 final, St. Mary’s had allowed more than 24 points in a game just once.

The 40-37 overtime loss at Ford Field essentially came down to an elite player, Harris, simply taking over.

The defense will have to step up again this season, considering how strong, talented and deep the Catholic League will be.

“With five starters back, defense is something we’re going to key in on,” Porritt said.

The strength for the Eaglets should be up front, with Julian Jones, Josh Dabney and Darian Turner all back to reclaim starting spots.

The linebacking crew is a bit young, but the secondary is experienced, as well.

Coach’s outlook:
The Eaglets have been to the last four state championship games, but 2011 was the lone title in that span.

Porritt said returning to the finals, and winning, is always a main goal.

At the same time, there is plenty to worry about first.

“It’s kind of the same approach as always,” he said. “We have a tremendous schedule, a great Catholic League challenge. It’s always a goal to win a state title, but there is a lot to take care of before then. We want to win the league, play in the Prep Bowl and try to make the postseason. That’s where it starts.”

Walled Lake Western Warriors
Last season’s record: 9-3
League: Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division
Returning starters: 17

Offensive keys:
In the seven weeks leading up to the 2012 Division 2 regional playoff game with Birmingham Brother Rice, Western had avereged more than 40 points per contest.

The 42-12 loss last November to what turned out to be the eventual state champ has put a greater emphasis on the Warriors’ ability to score, and score at key times this season.

“It’s a lot like baseball. Some teams can hit, but those timely hits make the difference,” coach Mike Zdebski said. “Schematically, and for the experience, I think that was a very beneifcial game. We lost to the state champ, and we competed right with them. If we were able to get some more timely plays, things may have been different.”

That’s the goal in 2013.

With eight offensive starters back, including quarterback Kyle Bambard, and running backs Malik Green and James LaLonde, moving the ball shouldn’t be a problem.

“The key will be catching it, and doing so consistently,” Zdebski said. “We can run the ball, but when teams bring their relatives and friends out of the stands to try and stop our running game, we have to be able to move it through the air.”

Defensive keys:
With nine starters back on a defensive unit that was productive, the Warriors shouldn’t have any problem limiting opposing offenses.

“The big thing is our secondary and their ability to keep everything in front of them,” Zdebski said. “We can’t let anything get over the top.”

Zdebski said the entire defensive line in back in the mix, and the linebacking core should be as solid as it was a year ago.

“The nice part (about the experience) is that they have been in big games and understand what it takes,” Zdebski said. “Having that many starters back is going to be big for us.”

Coach’s outlook:
Since going 3-6 and missing the playoffs in 2009, Western has been to the postseason three times while compiling a 25-7 overall record.

More of the same is expected this fall.

“We’re going to be competitive,” Zdebski said. “There isn’t a team we can’t play with on our schedule. The key for us is finding a way to be the better team on that given night. If we can do that, I think this is a team that has as good a chance as anybody to win each time we step on the field.”

Walled Lake Northern Knights
Last season’s record: 8-3
League: Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division
Returning starters: 11

Offensive keys:
Northern’s offense was, more or less, unstoppable in 2012. The Knights scored 460 points, setting a program record, while reaching the playoffs for the first time in their history.

A 41-27 victory against Howell High in the opener also earned Northern its first playoff win ever.

Duplicating that type of consistent scoring will certainly be tough, but not impossible.

“It all comes down to the system we run,” coach Brett Moore said. “If we protect the ball and do the things we are capable of doing, we’re going to score some points again.”

With three starters back on the offensive line, Moore said the group “is going to be huge for us.”

Defensive keys:
Despite their overall success, the Knights did allow more than 27 points per game last season. A lot of that had to do with how frequently the offense was scoring, but Moore said he’d still like to see the number come down.

And it starts up front.

“Our defensive line looks as good as it has been in years,” he said. “We have six guys back in the mix, and we want to improve a lot on the amount of points we allow.”

Moore said the defensive backfield is the youngest and most inexperienced part of the defense.

“They have to learn on the fly,” he added.

Coach’s outlook:
The 2012 season was memorable and historic for Northern. Now the challenge is maintaining that level of success.

“I think we will be in the mix again,” Moore said of the league race and a playoff spot. “We graduated some great kids, but a lot of starters are back and ready to do this again. … The expectations to make the playoffs every year and contend for a league title is something we want.”

Walled Lake Central Vikings
Last season’s record: 3-6
League: Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division
Returning starters: 11

Offensive keys:
Of the 11 starters Central has back this season, seven are on the offensive side of the ball. Coach Bob Meyer cautioned looking too much into that, though, because of the seven back, six were of sophomore or freshman status last year.

“They’ve been in big games, but they are still young pups,” Meyer said. “It’s a lot different having younger guys coming back, compared to senior starters.”

Still, after scoring 468 points in 2010 and 378 in 2011, the Vikings scored just 162 a year ago.

“We should be a lot better,” Meyer said. “The attitude has been great. They are learning and working hard.”

Junior Nick Krumm returns for his third season starting at quarterback, while junior Zack Goor is back for a third year to start at running back.

Senior captain Clay Turner will anchor the line at center.

Defensive keys:
Meyer said many of the same keys that apply to the offense will do so to the defense, as well.

But, he added that an improved offense should assist the defense in ways it did not a year ago.

“There were too many times we gave the ball right back or put our defense in a tough spot on the field,” Meyer said. “I think as the offense gets better and possesses the ball more, our defense is going to be vastly improved.”

Central allowed 30.6 points per game in 2012.

Coach’s outlook:
Last year’s 3-6 season came after a three-year run with a 27-8 overall record.

Meyer said the good old days should be back — and soon.

“I think this is going to be a very, very good year,” he said. “This is a playoff team that can do a lot of good things.”