Andiamo! MHSAA Football Is Here! Week One Preview

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Here we go! Its FOOTBALL time again in Michigan. All those hours spent lifting weights and running are going to pay off and the lack of time spent doing those things are going to bite some teams. It all gets started tonight and the first games will run through Saturday evening. Earlier this offseason, I had a chat with Hondo. After that, we decided to change the format of my column a bit. You will still get two columns from me every week like I have done every year. The difference is that I will profile four games each week without regard for area. In other words, if the top four games (in my opinion of course) are all in Detroit, you will get those games. Beware though! For you long time readers that know my love for football from the Yoop, I’m hoping that they will force me to write a whole column about our friends from above the bridge. Speaking of Yoopers, I was sad to read that one of the living legends of football in the state of Michigan has retired. Menominee head coach Ken Hofer decided to hang up the whistle this year. At least Mrs. Hofer can root for Kingston and not pretend to be Switzerland when Menominee plays her son Chris Hofer’s squad. Now that we’ve got a bit of housekeeping out of the way, what do you say about talking some HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL???

Mount Pleasant at DeWitt (Friday August 23, 7pm)

The Oilers of Mount Pleasant only lost one game last season. Unfortunately for them, it was the state title game against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. This year’s incarnation of the Oilers will need to learn quick as they have lost eight defensive starters. Running back Michael Tweh returns which will be a huge help to the offense. They are riding a 32 game Saginaw Valley League winning streak so everyone in the newly formed SVL North (the league added the remnants of the old Big Nine and welcomed back Flint Northwestern to go along with the other Flint schools for the SVL South) are looking to knock them down. Coach Jason McIntyre has an excellent program set up and they seem to reload every year. They are hoping that the run to the state title game give them an edge with the extra practices for the younger players. It will be fascinating to see how they do this year and if they can in fact reload and run the table in league play.

For DeWitt, it will be an interesting year. Since Coach Rob Zimmerman took over in 1999, the Panthers have tasted a lot of success. The squad returns four offensive and five defensive starters from last year. Sophomore Jacob Johnson has been given the reins and is already getting looks from big time colleges. Two of their receivers are back including senior Ryan Anderson, who also excels at punting. In their spread offensive attack, having quality receivers is a must. They also have one of the top tight ends in the CAAC Gold Division. Noah Evans started all 11 games and a quality tight end is always a good friend of a young quarterback. This should be a great game. Two high-quality programs facing off will be a win for fans on both sides of the field.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s at Muskegon (Friday August 24, 7pm)

Since I talked about Mount Pleasant, I figured I would also talk about the Eaglets of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Coach George Porritt has been at the helm for 24 seasons. I’m sure he remembers that Muskegon beat them up 31-7 in the 2004 state title game. With so many teams installing field turf, OLSM did as well…but their turf is RED! It only burns the retinas a little bit. Quarterback Matt Linehan (He is the son of Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan) will keep the Eaglets balanced with his running and throwing. Running backs Grant Niemiec, Parker McInnis gained nearly 100 yards apiece and each scored a touchdown in the state title game, so they have plenty of experience. They play in one of the toughest conferences in the state, the Catholic League Central Division in Detroit. Having to contend with Brother Rice and Detroit Catholic Central would be tough for anyone.

After playing in the extremely tough Ottawa-Kent Red Division, realignment has moved them over to the O-K Black Division. It doesn’t mean their schedule is going to be a cake walk though. The line should be good and they also have some depth. That will help early in the season when they are breaking in new starters. John King will be tasked with replacing All-State running back Juwan Lewis. He’s also a starting linebacker. Jalen Smith and the aptly named DeShaun Thrower are battling for the starting quarterback position. Receivers Sherman Hodges and Keondre Craig are pretty quick, so I’m sure Coach Shane Fairfield will use them to stretch the field whenever possible. In addition to the O-K Black league games, they also play Rockford and Lowell in back to back weeks to start the month of September.

Ishpeming at Iron Mountain (Friday August 24, 7:30pm)

Did you really think I’d let my first column come and go without some Yooper football talk? No way! The Hematites are expecting a lot of themselves this season, according to starting running back/linebacker R.J. Poirer. They return players on both sides of the ball and that experience should help them. Coach Jeff Olson is working them hard and will have them ready to go. He likes their attitudes and that they are willing to work to correct the problems that every team goes through before the first game. Last year, they went 9-2 before falling in the Regional Final to an always tough Traverse City St. Francis squad. One interesting note about Ishpeming is Eric Dompierre. Dompierre has Down syndrome and turned 19 in January. His family successfully convinced the MHSAA and all the member schools to change the bylaws so that players with certain disabilities can play past the age of 18.  The former rule dictates that no player can be 19 before September 1 and still applies to everyone else. The Dompierre’s had their wavier granted to allow Eric to finish his high school football career.

Iron Mountain is no slouch. Last season, they won 11 games before falling to eventual state champion Ithaca in the semifinal round, just like they did in the 2010 season. Coach Robin Marttila won the UP Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Class ABC Coach of the Year last season. I’m sorry Mountaineer fans; I don’t have more information than that right now. The Iron Mountain Daily News hasn’t published its Football Preview yet.

Birmingham Brother Rice vs. Detroit Cass Tech (Saturday August 25, 7:30pm AT WAYNE STATE)

In my opening, I mentioned legendary coaches in the state of Michigan. One of them is still going strong. Coach Al Fracassa has been at the helm for 44 seasons, and it’s rumored that this might be his last. His teams have won seven state titles, including a 24-14 win over Lowell in the Division 2 state championship game last season. Although Devin Church graduated, running back Brian Walker had 11 carries in the championship game. Quarterback Cheyne Lacanaria returns to help lead the team. Don’t forget future Spartan linebacker Jon Reschke, he will be leading the defense. The offensive line will clear holes for the running backs, and football people know that a strong offensive line usually brings good things. This is the second time ever that the Division 1 and 2 have ever played each other in the following season, and the first time they have met in the first week of the season. These two teams have only met twice; once in 1976 and again in 2001.

Cass Tech made history of their own last year in multiple ways. They were the first Detroit Public School team to win a Division 1 title. Quarterback Jayru Campbell became the first freshman to lead his team to a Division 1 state title. This team has a very strong offensive line and linebacker crew, just like Brother Rice. On the defensive line, Kenton Gibbs and Miles Felder will be tough to deal with for every team they play. Cass Tech is a squad that reloads every season. They have been good for many years and sent many players to college on scholarship. Coach Thomas Wilcher is a heck of a coach. He will have his squad ready to go.