Warren Woods Tower quarterback Deric Astrauckas runs through a drill during an August practice. The Titans are after a third straight playoff berth, which would be one shy  of a school record.

Warren Woods Tower quarterback Deric Astrauckas runs through a drill during an August practice. The Titans are after a third straight playoff berth, which would be one shy of a school record.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Warren Woods Tower football pushing for playoff success

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Warren Weekly | Published September 20, 2019


WARREN — In each of the last two seasons, the Warren Woods Tower football team has advanced to a district final, only to see its season end in that round.

Coach Al Gulick sees advancing in the postseason as a hot topic in his locker room.

“There are things that we changed in our preparation phase this summer to help, but I still believe some of it comes down to luck when you get that playoff spot,” said Gulick, whose team sat at 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the Macomb Area Conference Gold Division at press time. “Every team is good at that point. We have to find ways to take advantage of an opponent and use any bit of luck — in other words, breaks — that come our way.”

The Titans have started fast this season with the goal of winning another MAC Gold title and securing a third straight playoff trip. Tower has put up 41.3 points per game and allowed 9 points per contest.

Gulick said winning a second straight division title will be tough, as Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse and Sterling Heights High are greatly improved, and St. Clair Shores Lake Shore and Warren Fitzgerald routinely field competitive teams. Gulick expects Eastpointe High to make some noise, too.

Gulick, who is in his fifth year leading the team, attributes the start to offseason conditioning and study, along with the coaches doing a good job of preparing the players each week.

“I like to think that we’ve developed a culture of winning here and that the kids now see what it’s going to take to be competitive week to week,” Gulick said.

That culture of winning and preparedness has shown in the play of first-year starting quarterback Deric Astrauckas.

Astrauckas, a junior, has done a great job of filling in for 2019 Tower graduate Matt Bills. Bills, now playing at the University of Michigan, ended his prep career with more than 6,100 yards and 84 touchdowns. Astrauckas has piloted what has been a high-flying offense thus far.

“Every single season we have to replace seniors who were maybe great athletes or talented players, or great leaders. It’s part of the sport,” Gulick said. “(Astrauckas) and all of our new guys have prepared for this opportunity and are making the most of it.”

Astrauckas admitted that he put pressure on himself to perform well this season. He didn’t lack for confidence, but Astrauckas said he didn’t know what to expect.

“But after the first two games, I really settled in and knew how to handle things,” Astrauckas said. “I knew my coaches and teammates would have me prepared for the season. And we as a team know how hard we have to work in order to win a division championship and how much harder we have to work to hopefully win a district championship.

“I think we are willing to do whatever it takes to win. We know the sacrifice of many things it comes with. Our conditioning, practices and even film days are always 100%. We make sure of that.”

Lightening the load for Astrauckas is senior running back Henry Brown, who last season recorded more than 2,000 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Omari Embree, senior wideout DeAngelo Lane and freshman running back Ryan Radvansky give the Titans playmaking at the skill positions. Tower’s offensive line — led by seniors Kellin Morrison, RaShawn Merriweather and Dan Schulte, freshman Jon Haygood and sophomore Andre Tobar — has improved with each game, Gulick said.

Many of those players are part of what’s proving to be a stingy Titans defense.

Gulick said the defensive play is related to the scheme.

“The kids love what we do (on defense),” Gulick said. “We’re able to find (guys with decent speed) and aggressive kids who like to tackle, and they love to run around and make plays.”

Gulick said he’s excited to see how his team competes the rest of the way. He recognizes that there could still be some growing pains on the horizon, as the Tower roster includes freshmen, and a number of sophomores and juniors with no varsity experience.

“But I’ve tried to build this program into one where from week to week we’re competitive,” Gulick said. “If opposing teams and coaches can’t take us lightly when preparing (to face us), then I like our chances.”

Tower’s next game is against Hazel Park High at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 on the road.