Troy Athens football rising to new heights

By: Christian Davis | Troy Times | Published September 22, 2015

 Troy Athens’ Joey Stark hands off to Jake Vincent Sept. 18 against West Bloomfield High. In the battle for first place in the OAA Red, Athens fell 28-17.

Troy Athens’ Joey Stark hands off to Jake Vincent Sept. 18 against West Bloomfield High. In the battle for first place in the OAA Red, Athens fell 28-17.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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TROY — There’s a self-belief that permeates from the Troy Athens locker room to the football field.

“It’s a quiet confidence that I love,” coach Josh Heppner said. “They understand that they’re the underdogs, that they’re always going to be the underdogs. They understand that there won’t be people that actually know how hard they work … but they believe in each other and they take care of each other.”

The confidence has led to some victories that the program hasn’t seen in a long time, like the road trip to Lake Orion High Sept. 4 that led to a 21-14 win — only the second victory ever against the Dragons and first since 2000, in 24 tries.

The Red Hawks then followed the win with a victory at Oxford High, a program Athens had never bested.

“These guys have taken true ownership of what we’re trying to do,” Heppner said. “It’s business when they step on the field. They want to win, execute and get out, but they want to do it effectively.”

Athens is 2-2 overall, matching its win total of each of the previous three seasons. In the Oakland Activities Association Red Division, the Red Hawks are 2-1, with its only loss coming Sept. 18 to undefeated West Bloomfield High 28-17.

Heppner said he doesn’t believe in moral victories, but that Athens held the Lakers to their lowest point output of the year.

“I think that was one of the best teams we’re going to face, and it’s going to make us better in the long run,” Heppner said. “We’re going to take away a lot of positives from this.”

Seniors Kevin Hazen, Curtis Hemingway, John Staron and Brendan Genereau, along with junior Joey Stark, are captains.

Hazen said it’s the players’ belief in each other that makes them tough to beat.

“It’s all of us working together as one. We’re like one big family. We fight together and we work hard together,” he said. “You can see the confidence in them.”

When it comes to the play calling, there’s been a change this season, as Heppner named assistant Steven Mitzel offensive coordinator. Heppner has taken on the defensive duties after previously calling the offense.

“They feel like they can stop anyone, and they’re not intimidated. They respect our opponents … but (we have a defense) that can hang with anybody, and I think they’ve proved that,” Heppner said.

Hazen has made an impact from his linebacker spot with 18 tackles, six of them for losses. Hemingway (linebacker) leads in tackles with 25 and Louis Kassak (defensive back) has two interceptions.

On offense, Stark leads the way as a first-year starter with 645 yards passing and eight touchdowns. He’s also rushed for two scores.

“I knew he was going to hit the ground running and do well,” Heppner said. “He’s a true leader and executes the way you’d want him to. I was ready for him to take over the last minute of the last game last year.”

Jeremiah Lawton is the top target with 231 yards on 12 catches with two touchdowns. Genereau has three receiving scores on nine catches and 95 yards.

Jake Vincent has made his mark on the ground and through the air with 175 rushing yards and two scores along with 180 receiving and three touchdowns.

Heppner said he’s not surprised by accomplishments early on, and that he had a sense that this team could be special during summer workouts.

“They’re focused, they believe in a system and they believe in each other,” he said. “As much of a cliché that it is most of the time, they’re living it, and you see it on the field.”

Catch the Red Hawks against Bloomfield Hills High at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 at home.

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