In Play with Tom Markowski

Preseason Top 25 Football Teams: Cass Tech, Last year's D-1 Runner-Up, is preseason No. 1 Team

Football   | Tom Markowski

Preseason Top 25 Football Teams: Cass Tech, Last year's D-1 Runner-Up, is preseason No. 1 Team

Detroit – Detroit Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall is confident this season will have a different ending. And he plans to be in the lineup when it does take place.

Hall suffered a broken fibula in the fourth quarter of a regional final against Macomb Dakota and missed Cass Tech’s semifinal against Canton and final against Romeo.

“We’re a team with a different attitude,” Hall said. “Last year we made it to the state championship. People thought we’d win it. We thought it was given to us.”

Romeo never trailed and won, 41-27.

It’s conjecture how Cass Tech would have fared with Hall in the lineup. The fact is Cass Tech did not play well without him and that’s sticks with the six starters who return on both sides of the ball.

Cass Tech lost two games during the regular, both to Detroit King, the second time in the Detroit Public School League title game, another fact that’s disturbing for the Cass Tech faithful, before the Technicians gained momentum by winning four playoff games.

Fellow senior Donovan Johnson scored two touchdowns in each of his team’s final two games. He’ll start at defensive back and running back, and could see time at slot back. As successful as last season was, losing to King in the PSL final and falling in the state final made it seem empty.

“It was disappointing to know we want that far,” Johnson said. “We’re on a mission. This team is faster, more mature. We have a lot of starters back. We just got to get the job done.”

Johnson said the losses to King stick with him. Cass Tech won the PSL title in 2014 and was 12-0 before losing to Saline in the semifinals. Last season Cass Tech was 11-3.

“To me, the (PSL championship) is very important,” Johnson said. “But I’ll take it one game at a time. During King week, I’ll go 10 times harder, 10 times faster.”

Since 2009 Cass Tech has been one of the state’s best teams and coach Thomas Wilcher has had numerous players go on to play at Division I schools. This season is no different. Wilcher estimates there could be as many as 20 players on this team who will go on to play at the Division I level.

“I like this team because they’ll make me work,” he said. “They’ll challenge me.”

Among the top players returning including Jaylen Kelly-Powell (DB/SB/DB) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR/DB), both of whom are State Champs Mr. Football candidates. Both are high-profile recruits with numerous scholarship offers from schools like Alabama, Michigan and Michigan State. Among the top programs that have offered Johnson a scholarship are Arizona, Oregon and West Virginia.

Hall committed to northern Illinois, two-way tackle Jordan Reid (6-4, 300) committed to MSU and tight end-linebacker Zach Morton (6-4, 235) committed to Syracuse.

A number of underclassmen have been offered scholarships as well notably junior DeAndre Square (LB), who has been offered a scholarship by Cincinnati, Kentucky, MSU, Missouri and Wisconsin, and Kalon Gervin (DB/SB), who’s received scholarship offers from Arkansas, California, U-M, MSU, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

These facts can be overwhelming but there is a concern. A total of just two starting linemen return so it might take the new players a couple of games to become acclimated.

 

2. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (12-1), A: The Eaglets are coming off a Division 3 title and though they lost two players who (transfers) would have started it won’t be as difficult to overcome as many might have first thought. The defense will be ahead of the offense for at least the early part of the season as eight starters return led by linebacker extraordinaire Josh Ross, a State Champs Mr. Football candidate. He committed to Michigan. Two players committed to Western Michigan and both are three-year starters. Dwayne Chapman (6-1, 220) will start at linebacker and guard, and Ralph Holley (6-2, 285) will start at nose tackle and guard. Shermond Dabny (CB/RB), Richard Bowens (CB/WR) and Ky’Ren Cunningham (RB) all ran on the winning 800-meter relay in Division 2. John Pearson (6-3, 200) is the third linebacker returning and John McCarthy (6-3, 285) is a mobile offensive tackle. A concern, or at least a question, with this experienced team is who will start at quarterback. Coach George Porritt has senior Logan Karn waiting in the wings or junior Cayden Priestkorn (6-5, 220), a transfer from Lake Orion, from which to choose. Priestkorn has the inside track.

3. Macomb Dakota (9-3), A: Greg Baur is the new coach after serving 26 years as an assistant, the last 12 at Dakota. Six starters return on both sides of the ball and the senior class is one of the best in school history. Running back Kaiser Carleton rushed for 1,400 yards in nine games and he’s a tough, physical runner. Brett Droski won the starting quarterback position midway through last season and he’ll have two experienced receiver with which to throw. Jalen Hall (6-3, 175) is more of a deep threat and Eric Sivec is quick out of the slot. Rhami Khlil (G) is the lone returner on the offensive line but there is depth here. Nick Cominos should start at guard. Three defensive backs return and Colin Macklem (CB) is one of the best in Macomb County. Nick Carl (LB) and Chase Fulco (LB) bring experience, and Coty Bastian and Brendan Siwajek return on the line.    

4. Rockford (8-4), A: The Rams tied for the O-K Red Division title and reached the Division 1 region finals with what was a young team. Junior quarterback Jason Whitaker (6-4, 200) started eight games last season and he’s received a few Division 1 scholarship offers. “He understands fully that this is a highly visible position,” Munger said. “He throws it extremely well and we’ll need to protect him.” What the Rams will do is run the ball. At 6-3 Nick Isley is a tall running back and he led the team in rushing. Center Cody Carone (6-5, 307) and tackle Matt Baker (6-1, 240) are the lone returning linemen. Junior Marcus Rentema and Dominic Lamancuso are the top receivers. Rentema also excels in the secondary. Officially four starters return on defense but many more saw playing time. Cole Van Setters and Paul Reinke play linebacker, Rentema and Josh Jefferson are in the secondary. Seniors Parker Anderson (6-1, 240) and Josh Jelinek (5-11, 210) saw playing time on the line. Senior Sam Corey will handle the place kicking duties, always a strength at Rockford. 

5. Oak Park (5-5), A: The Knights lost seven starters and just 11 seniors. This promises to be coach Greg Carter’s best team since arriving in southern Oakland County. The five offensive linemen all return led by Michigan-commit JaRaymond Hill (6-5, 280). Junior Marquan McCall (6-4, 320) is an athletic lineman who has been offered a scholarship by U-M, Michigan State and Tennessee. Dylan Stackhouse (6-2, 225) is a three-year starter at linebacker and is an outstanding running back but he missed much of last season due to an injury. Junior Robert Daniel (DB) is a three-year starter and both he and Stackhouse have been offered a scholarship by Mid-American Conference schools. The big change will be at quarterback where sophomore Dwan Mathis (6-5, 180), a transfer from Belleville, will start. Kentucky and Bowling Green have offered Mathis a scholarship.

6. Detroit Catholic Central (9-3), A: The Shamrocks were tied with Romeo entering the fourth quarter in a Division 1 region final last season before losing steam. That experience will pay serious dividends as seven starters return on offense plus an eighth who started part time. Sophomore Austin Brown (6-0, 185) is back at quarterback and has a ton of savvy. Watch him. He plays more like a senior. The tight ends (Jackson Ross, Jack Morris) return as do two linemen, Blake Bueter (6-4, 260) and William Butler (6-1, 235). The backfield remains intact and senior Nick Capatina (5-7, 175) should get most of the carries. Cameron Ryan (6-0, 210) and Matt Young (6-0, 225) are juniors and both are excellent blockers. Bueter, Ross and Morris all will likely start on the defensive line. Two are back at linebacker led by junior Isaac Darkangelo. The secondary is inexperienced but will be capably handled by Chris Jakubik (6-2, 185) and Matt Harding (6-1, 185). Both will play receiver.

7. Clarkston (7-3), A: Look for Clarkston to run the ball often. Coach Kurt Richardson has all five offensive linemen returning plus running back Michael Flugel (6-0, 190), a junior. The key will be how J.T. King handles his new position at quarterback. A starter at safety as a junior, King was elected a captain and will be looked upon as the leader. Center Carter Gale (6-0, 250) is one of three seniors on the offensive line and guard Noah Nicklin (6-3, 275) is one of two juniors. Alex Adams might switch from tackle to tight end. All four return in the secondary led by Jake Bushman and Kyle Gentry. Brendan Baker is the lone starter back on the defensive line and there are two linebackers returning, notably Nick Stallworth (5-10, 240). Zach Mansour is the latest in the line of superb kickers at Clarkston. He’s received Division 1 scholarship offers and he could be asked to handle all of the kicking duties.    

8. Muskegon (9-3), A: The loss of tackle A.J. Reed (transferred) will definitely hurt the Big Reds. The good news for Muskegon fans is the offensive line has depth. Center Devin Sanders is one of 12 starters returning. Guards Tyler Birmingham (6-1, 315) and junior Kaleb McMahon (6-6, 280) will help pave the way for players like Kalil Pimpleton (QB/SB), A.J. Melton (RB), Andrew Ward (RB/LB) and LaDarius Jefferson (LB) who will play quarterback at times this season. Pimpleton, who committed to Virginia Tech, will also return kicks. Jaden McGough and Jacorey Sullivan (DB) are the top receivers. Defensively Ward (6-1, 210) is the leader. He’s been offered a scholarship by Arizona, Nebraska and Washington State. D.J. Jackson will move from linebacker to tackle to make room for his brother, Eli. Defensive end Derek Spann (6-1, 210) squats 530 pounds. The secondary could be weak early. Muskegon’s junior varsity was unbeaten. 

9. Ann Arbor Pioneer (7-4), A: Progression has been steady under coach Jari Brown, now in his fourth season. He returns five starters on offense and eight on defense, and many are three-year starters. Antjuan Simmons (LB/RB) is a four-year starter and one of the state’s best. There’s plenty of depth at running back so Simmons will get a rest there. Two-way end Derrick Hubbard (6-2, 200) committed to Western Michigan. Jordan Nwugu (6-2, 230) is another two-way end who might end up at an Ivy League school or the Air Force Academy. Nose guard Justin Collier (5-10, 235) will see time at fullback and junior Nate Yuhas is likely to get his first start at quarterback on Aug. 27 against Muskegon. Jordan Harris (5-8, 170) and Cedric Benton (6-1, 175) will start in the secondary and at receiver.

10. Canton (10-3), A: Turnovers cost the Chiefs a spot in the finals but they’ll be in the running for another long playoff run with six starters returning on both sides. Markus Sanders and Reid McDonald both return in the backfield. Sanders rushed for 2,485 yards last season. Tackles Dave Gunnis and Jake Warner, tight end Brennon Pelland return on the offensive line, and Michael Mays started all four playoff games. Seniors Jake O’Donnell and Joel Foster will compete for the quarterback spot. O’Donnell started eight games last season. Lou Baechler (LB), coach Tim Baechler’s son, led the team in tackles last season as a sophomore. McDonald started half the games at linebacker and both Warner and Gabe Teichman are returning starters on the line. The secondary is led by returners Colin Troupe and Eddie Lang.

11. Southfield for the Arts and Technology (first season), A: If nothing else the Southfield/Southfield-Lathrup merger has created depth. Nineteen players return from Southfield High but coach Tim Conley said there is much competition for nearly every position. Sophomore quarterback Sam Johnson is secure at his spot. He’s received 20 scholarship offers. Guard Eric Eldridge (6-4, 340) committed to Ball State and Conley said “he’s phenomenal”. Five seniors will likely start on the offensive line. Lorenzo McCaskill (LB) is perhaps the best athlete and junior receiver Brandon Gray (6-5, 185) could be one of the area’s best. Defensive end Andre Carter (6-4, 235) has 16 scholarship offers and he’s a junior. Look for junior Eric McArn to receive much of the carries from his running back spot.  

12. Grand Ledge (12-1), A: The Comets reached the Division 1 semifinals last season and coach Matt Bird returns 32 players including six starters on offense, two on defense. Let’s mention four on offense. Junior quarterback and Bird’s son, Nolan, is 6-1, 180 pounds, and has drawn interest from Division I schools. Antonio Rush started at cornerback and will be the main ball carrier this season. He had a number of big runs as a backup. Cole Johnson (6-5, 255) is back at tackle and he could end up at an Ivy League school. Receiver Xavier Farr (6-0, 175) made a number of big catches a year ago and he’ll also start in the secondary. Junior Calvin Johnston (DB/LB/TE/P) is a three-sport athlete whose drawn interest from Division I schools. He has a 31-inch vertical. There’s depth at linebacker, Nate Lalumia is the top senior, and on the line. The Comets have one of the state’s top place kickers in senior Dylan Ross.

13. Utica Eisenhower (7-4), A: If the Eagles can find suitable replacements on the offensive line they could make a long playoff run. Junior Derian Doherty (6-3, 265), the son of former Michigan State lineman Rob Doherty, is one who will surely fill in nicely. Seven starters return on defense including four linemen. Sammy Vultaggio (6-2, 265), Noah Lunetta (5-8, 180) and Logan Smith, the son of coach Chris Smith, are the best. Ryan Chargo is the top defensive back, Danny Smyk the top linebacker. Junior Matt Wittwer (6-3, 175) is a two-year starter at quarterback and is a Division I recruit. Slot back Jack Provencher (5-11, 195) is the best all-around athlete. He runs the 100-meter dash in 11.0 seconds and he’ll move from safety to linebacker.

14. East Kentwood (6-4), A: The Falcons were ranked No. 9 in the preseason in 2015 and coach Tony Kimbrough said this team is better. “We have a good nucleus back,” he said. “This is a talented group.” Evan Maday (6-1, 180) is back after a fine junior season. He’s an intelligent quarterback with a strong arm. The Falcons have a few track athletes at the receiver spot including Andre Welch (5-8, 170), Byron Durr (DB) and Brandan Browley (5-11, 185). Running back Angel (A.J.) Jeffreys is also a track athlete. The offensive line is big, athletic and a tad young. Turner Ruby (6-4, 290) returns at center as does Kameron Donaldson (6-1, 260) at guard. Sophomores Mazi Smith (6-3, 305) and Logan Brown (6-6, 275) have been offered a scholarship by Wisconsin. Michigan is taking a hard look at Smith and it offered Brown a scholarship. Logan Brown (6-6, 275) and Smith will play on the defensive line and at linebacker Ontre Little and Job Mayhue, one of the few juniors who will start, are stalwarts. 

15. Walled Lake Western (12-1), A: Cody White (DB/WR) is the big name returning as he committed to Michigan State. But for the Warriors to be successful the offensive line must be rebuilt and senior Johnny Tracy (6-3, 205), a transfer from Birmingham Brother Rice, must have a big year at quarterback. Joey George will move from guard to center and defensive tackle Rob Hudson (6-8, 310) will also play offensive tackle at times. The defensive line has two more 300-pounders in Ben Weiss and Zach Fodal. Defensive backs Jack Dodge (nine interceptions) and Kam Ford received college scholarship offers. Western’s outside linebackers, Matt Alati (155 pounds) and Justin Thomas (165), aren’t big but they play with intensity.

16. Hudsonville (7-4), A: Observing what coach Dave Lidgard returns on offense look for the Eagles to remain low to the ground. Running back Dalton Agers (5-10, 195) rushed for 950 yards last season and he’ll run behind returning linemen Lane Potter (6-3, 275), a center and a state qualifier in wrestling, and tackle Calvin Luurtsma (6-4, 275), a three-year varsity player. Add to this two returning tight ends in Bryce Akins (6-3, 210), a tremendous blocker who runs precise pass patterns, and junior Hunter Stearns (6-1, 215) who also plays lacrosse. Both will play on the defensive line and both have a 4.0 grade-point average. Then there’s the team’s top athlete, Jack Mandryk. Mandryk suffered a broken arm last season and was moved