OAK PARK – The sophomores are out in force this fall for the Oak Park High School football team. Getting big contributions from five sophomore starters, the Knights have surprised the pack to be undefeated, sporting a perfect 4-0 record and sitting in first place tied with Farmington atop the Oakland Activities Association White Division at the midway point of the season.
“We have a very strong sophomore class and they’ve been doing a great job for us,” Oak Park head coach Greg Carter said. “They have a lot of talent and they’re getting a lot of fast experience.”
The best of the bunch is cornerback-running back Johnny Kelley, one of the top-rated players in the state’s Class of 2015. Kelley has speed and instinct on each side of the ball and has proved a genuine playmaker in his first season on the varsity gridiron. “Johnny is a special player,” said Carter of Kelley. “His upside is tremendous.”
While Kelley represents the sleek and slick in the Knights’ sterling sophomore contingent, the others represent the grit and grime. Carter starts four sophomores who play on both sides of the line; Shaheed Bellamy (offensive tackle-defensive tackle), Jameer Butts (center-nose tackle), Derek Harris (offensive guard-defensive end) and Ricardo Smith (offensive guard-defensive end). Bellamy and Butts are stout run-stuffers on defense and have helped clear the way for Kelley and standout senior tailback Malik Washington in a punishing Knights’ rushing attack. Before it’s all said and done on their prep careers, Harris and Smith could wind up forming the most fearsome defensive end tandem in their league. So far this year they’ve been giving opposing quarterbacks fits with their frenzied pass-rush tactics.
Thanks to Carter’s batch of talented tenth-graders the future is obviously bright for the Knights on the football field, but that’s only been a recent development. This season is the first time in 14 years Oak Park has opened its schedule 4-0. The Knights haven’t made the playoffs since 2005.
“We’re getting things turned around here and these guys (the sophomores) are a major reason why,” Carter said. From the time he took the reins on his first head coaching job in 1990 at Detroit De Porres, Carter has made a reputation for mentoring players on to the next level. Over three dozen of his former players have gone on to play major college football, including current University of Michigan Wolverines Devin Gardner and Cameron Gordon, whom he coached while at Inkster in the mid-to-late 2000s.
Owner to one of the best winning percentages in MHSAA history, Carter has raised four state title banners and coached in eight state championship games. Oak Park is seeking its first-ever OAA division crown this year. First place in the OAA White will be on the line when Carter and his Knights lock horns with Farmington at home at 6:00 on Friday night.