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Welcome to football season!

Fall is in the air. The local apple orchard is open and some kids are dreading the beginning of school. Not all of them are though! Football teams have been working hard and are prepping for their first game. All of the work done before school ended and during the hot summer months will be paying off (or for those who didn’t work hard, they’ll see the consequences of their actions as well). During this week, most teams have had their scrimmages, or will, and are excited about the prospect of a new season. Anything is possible at this time of year.

Before we can get into this season, we have to take a look at last year’s winners. They deserve one last note of recognition for their fantastic seasons which culminated in a victory that will stay with them forever and become legendary in their families and communities. Congratulations! If you dwell on last season you doom this season though. There are huge targets on your back and all of your opponents want to get a win over the defending state champions.

For the first time ever, there were four repeat state champions. Macomb Dakota (Div 1), East Grand Rapids (Div 3), Menominee (Div 5), and Saginaw Nouvel (Div 6) all repeated as champions. With the parity that exists in high school football, that is quite a feat.

Division 1 – Macomb Dakota

They pulled off record setting numbers against Livonia Stevenson, but they graduated quarterback Mitch Lovett, Mike Kwiatkowski, Kyle Demasters, and Rodney Hush. They will have a hard time filling those positions, but Mike Giannone had to fill holes last season as well. With a large school and back to back state championships, there should be plenty of young men hoping to get on the playing field (210 football players including the two freshman teams). Things weren’t all smooth for Dakota this off season though. They had to endure a court case of an individual who threatened to blow up the school and kill individuals as a result of some hazing on the football team over the course of two seasons.

Dakota is riding a 22 game win streak and have won a lot of games in recent seasons. They know that replacing Lovett with Mike Romanchik at QB will be instrumental in their continued success. Couple that with an offensive line that should be big, they have the ingredients for another successful season. Giannone says that junior Greg Martin (6’3” 300lbs) could be the best linemen to ever play at Dakota. The Macomb Area Conference Red Division has better be ready when they play the Cougars if they want a chance at winning the conference!

Division 2 – Detroit Martin Luther King

MLK was the first team from the Detroit Public School League to win a football state championship last season when they beat up on Midland High. This year, they move up from Division 2 into Division 1. Many of their star players, including USC freshman Nick Perry have graduated and moved on. James Reynolds coached up his squad and made history, now he needs to keep winning using the same method he’s always used; “Listen to me or ride the bench.” He’s not concerned though. The same method has worked the entire 41 years that he’s coached.

This season could end with a showdown between the Crusaders of Detroit Martin Luther King and the team mentioned above, Macomb Dakota. They have plenty to replace, but guys like Dontavias Bryant, a 5’8” 205lb fullback/linebacker and Orlando McCord, (a 6’4” 230lb tackle on both sides of the line) should lead the guys in the right direction. This team will be on the young side, but Coach Reynolds refuses to use that excuse. When you have a coach that’s been at it for this long, he knows what he’s doing and how to get the best out of the players that he has. Expect a tough team again this season that could make a big splash in Division 1 if they can get their young team playing at a high level.

Division 3 – East Grand Rapids

What a game they won for the state title last season! It fit that old cliché; saving the best for last. It was a 14-14 tie at the end of regulation and ended up going into a fifth overtime to decide the Division 3 champion. It was the longest game in Michigan high school football playoff history. Fittingly, they square off against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s to open the season.

The Pioneers lost their quarterback Cal Blair and career extra points kicking record holder Michael Wilson. Those losses will be tough to fill, but they retained the state finals MVP (in my opinion) in running back Joe Glendening. He rushed for 2,055 yards last season. Peter Stuursma can coach, that’s for sure. He’s proved it by winning state championships in 2002, ‘03, ‘06, and ‘07. Coach Stuursma has faith in his players and they seem to come through for him in the clutch. In my opinion, that is the mark of a great coach.

Division 4 – Marine City

No one gave Marine City much of a chance against Detroit Country Day back in November. How wrong they were! Led by QB Brendon Kay (now at Cincinnati), they dismantled Country Day and shut down RB Jonas Gray (Notre Dame). It will be tough in the secondary for the Mariners because they lost three starters, all of whom started three years. Marine City won’t be sneaking up on anyone, being that they are the defending state champions. I’m sure all of their opponents remember what happened last season and will be gunning for a little “payback.”

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The cabinet isn’t bare for Coach Tony Scarcelli. He will have eight returning starters on offense and four on the defense. His program is established (45-5 in the past four seasons) and the players know what is expected of them. The Macomb Area Conference Gold Division wasn’t one of the strongest last season so a repeat as Conference Champions is very possible. When (or should I say if) they get to the playoffs, it could go any which way. The playoffs are a crazy time of year!

Division 5 – Menominee

I could go on and on about Coach Ken Hofer and his single wing offense. I’ve done it before. Fact is I’ll probably do it again. Has anyone else noticed the resurgence in our state of single wing teams? It’s not at the level of the 1950’s, but I can count ten in the state who are running it. The 73 year old Hofer knows how to coach. His teams play fundamental football. They don’t turn the ball over. Penalties aren’t a huge issue. They can tackle, block, and play with discipline. Last season in the championship game, they played a very good and well coached team in Jackson Lumen Christi. Outside of the fact that they took it to the Titans on the first drive of the game (I’m sure it’s hard to simulate that single wing if you’ve not been schooled in it) where they went and scored, it was a close game into the fourth quarter.

Menominee lost a few players this season, but with their system in place, they should be alright. The Maroons have a *tough* schedule with games against Wisconsin Mequon Homestead (state runner up last season and champs in 2006) and when Ken Hofer plays his son Chris, the head coach at Kingsford. I’ve heard rumblings that they won’t be as good because their offensive line is suspect, they lost the heart of their team in Ethan Shaver, lost a lot of their defense, and might be on the slow side, but I wouldn’t count them out yet. Old Hofer has a few tricks up his sleeve, I’m sure. Their 28 game win streak is on the line!

Division 6 â���“ Saginaw Nouvel

Nouvel dominated sports in the past couple of seasons. They have won girls basketball state titles, football titles, and were named the best athletic program in the state of Michigan by Sports Illustrated in 2008. This week before the Lions game, WNEM TV5 in Saginaw played a half hour showcase of local high school football, Michigan State and MRod’s team, as well as the Detroit Lions. It was recorded at Nouvel and Coach Michael Boyd talked of how he and the squad have forgotten about their championship. They choose to focus on this season and move forward.

The Nouvel Panthers have a full schedule this season. They are playing two teams from Canada and will play Flint Hamady in the annual Red Feather Game at Saginaw Arthur Hill’s Memorial Stadium. They lost a fair amount from their championship team last season, but the Panthers have a strong junior class playing varsity so they shouldn’t miss a beat. Being that they are #5 in winning percentages and have won back to back state championships, it’s hard to discount them. I have not been able to find much information about the players this season and I’m still a bit ahead of the previews so I’m sorry I don’t have more information.

Division 7 – Mendon

Beating Traverse City St. Francis for their 10th State Championship kept with tradition in Mendon. They seem to win the title just about every other year. Last season they won a game that was within reach for Saint Francis with five minutes left in the game. The Hornets lost their stud linebacker Joe Smith to graduation and running back Kyle Maurer (like every other school) but when Coach John Schwartz is at the helm (191-35 in 19 seasons), everything should be alright. They will be bringing back a few players with championship game experience. Junior to be C.J. Nightingale, for instance, had a 43 yard interception for a touchdown before halftime to score the first points of the game. This was huge for Mendon going into the break.

If I follow my theory that I stated in the second sentence talking about Mendon, I would say they won’t win it this season. It would be mighty silly of me to count Mendon out though. Other than their hiccup in 2006, their only other losing season in the past 25 seasons was back in 1984. The Hornets will reload using their underclassmen and should be strong again this season. I would expect guys like Nightingale to become leaders for their team and push them forward into another winning season. Only time will tell though.

Division 8 – Crystal Falls Forest Park

After winning the first two Class D State Championships back in 1975 and ’76, they had a drought. The Trojans had made the game eight times, but lost all of them. Not this past season, though. They were able to beat Fulton-Middleton in a close game. It came down to keeping the ball away from Fulton-Middleton at the end of the game after recovering an onside kick. They will lose a few players like Fred Hubbard and Kyle LaVacque, but are returning a lot of players. That experience coupled with four straight appearances in the state championship game will give them an edge.

Coach Bill Santilli coached the UP West All Stars in their football game this past June. He has a fantastic record as proved by all those championship game appearances. I know this is ludicrous to talk about, but their striped socks are kinda cool! How many teams do you see wearing black and red striped socks? It will be tough to replace all of their offensive specialists from last season. The starters in the backfield (and WR’s) all graduated. Tradition at a school like Crystal Falls Forest Park plays a huge role and all high school football players dream of making the play to win a state championship. Will they have the opportunity to allow a high school student-athlete (because they are *ALL* students first and foremost) to make a dream come true?

If you have a question, comment, or a suggestion for an upcoming “Game of The Week,” make sure to email us and put Preps as the subject!