Top 25 HS Football Teams: Clarkston, Muskegon Ranked as Michigan's BestFootball  |
1. Clarkston – If the adage winning breeds confidence rings true for Clarkston this season there’s no reason the Wolves won’t make another long run in the state playoffs in November.
Coach Kurt Richardson never said he felt pressure to win a state championship for his alma mater but there’s no doubt he took tremendous pride in knowing he was at the helm last season when Clarkston won the school’s first state football title.
Clarkston, 13-1 last season, has been selected by State Champs as the No. 1 team in the preseason for 2014.
Clarkston was a team that improved week by week last season and played its best football in its five playoff games. An injury early in the season to its star running back Ian Eriksen (now at Eastern Michigan) forced Richardson to rely even more on then junior quarterback D.J. Zezula and Zezula responded. He threw for over 2,300 yards, 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions. In Clarkston’s 32-14 victory over Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 final Zezula was 10-for-15 for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
With three offensive linemen returning plus a tall tight end who committed to a Division I school Clarkston will again have one of the state’s top offenses.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of an experienced quarterback like Zezula. He’s a three-year starter and is also a college prospect as a baseball player. And he’s intelligent. Among the schools he’s considering for football include Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
There are a number of reasons why Clarkston is State Champs’ No. 1-ranked in the preseason but the return of Zezula is perhaps the most important.
“He’s had a good winter for us,” Richardson said. “He did his time in the gym, throwing. He’s throwing better.” Also look for Zezula to be more involved with the running game.
Tight end Cole Chewins (6-7, 225) will also start at linebacker as will Jack McKillop and Will Scarlett
Adam Matich returns on the offensive line and will start at nose guard. Merrick Canada and Joe Popp are two of the top cornerbacks in Oakland County.
Clarkston’s junior varsity hasn’t lost a game in two years so there are quality players waiting to get their shot.
2. Muskegon: The football machine on the state’s west side will continue to churn as four offensive linemen return plus one of the top receivers in the state.
Replacing quarterback Deshaun Thrower (Stony Brook) will challenge Coach Shane Fairfield and his staff. Look for senior Shawn Pfenning to start at quarterback and for the Big Reds to concentrate on the ground game for the first half of the season. Cameron Copeland could also see playing time at quarterback.
Jalvin Walker will move from center to tackle and the best returner could be guard Derices Brown (6-1, 257). The third junior in this threesome returning is tackle Juanye Johnson (6-4, 275).
Receiver Joeviar Kennedy also started on the state championship basketball team and Caleb Washington is a short (5-7) but powerful running back.
Linebacker T.J. Smith led the team in tackles (106) last season and Brandon Oliver will move from linebacker to defensive line. Two other starters return on defense and the line will receive an added boost with the addition of tackle Khari Cunningham (6-0, 265), a transfer from Muskegon Orchard View.
3. Birmingham Brother Rice: The three-time defending Division 2 champions won’t miss a beat offensively with the return of quarterback Alex Malzone (Michigan commit) and four other starters.
Three linemen return including guards Spencer Dickow and Matt Hendry, and tackle Mark Miller.
Grant Perry returns at receiver and defensive back, and he might draw double teams. If that’s the case that’ll create opportunities for receiver Delano Madison who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg. Madison will also return kicks. Madison committed to Western Michigan.
The running back spot will likely be filled by committee. Justice Sanders might get the start early but Bobby Dixon and Brandon Thomas will have opportunities to carry the ball as well.
Defensively the Warriors will take a step back. Jack Dunaway and Sean Kubit-Miller are returning linemen but the secondary will feature new faces and the top three linebackers were lost to graduation. Juniors Jeff Timko and Riley Maher are expected to start at linebacker and the last of the Pickens brothers, Beau, will likely start in the secondary.
The pressure of following Al Fracassa as head coach will definitely hang over the head of Dave Sofran. But Sofran has been around this program for 20 years or so and he’s had pressure on him before.
4. Oak Park: Coach Greg Carter returns nine starters on defense and eight on offense, including Chauncey Loman who split time at quarterback. John Kelly (RB/DB/K) is one of the state’s top players and has the ability to impact a game in many ways.
Oak Park was 6-5 last season and all of its losses were by eight points or less.
“The majority of our kids were juniors and sophomores,” Carter said. “This is my best team in the three years I’ve been here. Our success will d