With five teams making the playoffs last year, the Kalamazoo Valley Association was as strong as ever in 2011. Expect more of the same in 2012 as the KVA continues to be one of the stronger leagues in this part of the state.
Constantine advanced all the way to the state finals at Ford Field last year and that’s after Olivet made a run to Detroit for the state championship game the year before.
Along with Constantine, the Eagles made a return to the playoffs last season as well as an improving Parchment team and perennial power Schoolcraft.
And all of those teams followed league champ Pennfield, who went undefeated in the regular season and advanced to the third round of the postseason.
The KVA will again open the season with games being played at Waldo Stadium on the campus of Western Michigan University during the first weekend of play. All games this year will be played on Saturday.
Delton Kellogg vs. Constantine will kickoff the action at 10 a.m. with Pennfield vs. Kalamazoo Hackett at 12:30 p.m. Kalamazoo Christian will face Galesburg-Augusta at 3 p.m. and Olivet will face Maple Valley at 5:30 p.m. with Parchment and Schoolcraft in the nightcap at 8 p.m.
* Head coach: Ryan Bates (2nd season)
* 2011 record: 3-6
* Top returners: Cole Ritchie (sr., RB/LB), Zach Leinaar (sr., QB/S), Dakota Warren (sr., OL/DL), Devin Kalee (jr., OL/DL), Austin Storm (jr., OL/LB), Austin Smith (so., TE/LB)
* Outlook: After going 3-6 last season, Delton Kellogg continued a stretch of missing the playoffs each season since 2001. During that stint, the Panthers were over .500 only twice, so the goal this year to start moving toward being a winning program and then find a spot in the top half of the KVA.
To do that, Delton Kellogg will rely on an experienced offense as they have a core group returning, including senior quarterback Zach Leinaar and running back Cole Ritchie, as well as linemen Dakota Warren, Devin Kalee and Austin Storm and returning tight end Austin Smith.
“We will be competitive in the KVA this year. With a league as tough as the KVA, it will be a tremendous task to compete, however we are pushing to be in the hunt and get to the top of the league,” Bates said.
* Head coach: Tony Smith (1st season)
* 2011 record: 0-9
* Top returners: Richie Waite (RB), Jesse Ring (RB), Luke Ragotzy (SE), Mike Thweatt (TE), Jake Hopkins (T), Kyle Mallwitz (LB), Jared Shorb (LB), Cody Dunithan (G), Jacob Storteboom (T), Jacob Colwell (DB), Zach Godde (G), Tramell Orr (RB), Adam Replogle (G)
* Outlook: First-year coach Tony Smith faces a major challenge to try and turn around a struggling program as he enters his tenure as the coach at Galesburg-Augusta. The Rams are looking at a 29-game losing streak to start this season with three straight 0-9 seasons, with the last win coming before any player in the program even entered high school.
To get a win and end that streak, G-A will rely on a core group of returning players. Skill position players make up the bulk of that group with Richie Waite, Jesse Ring and Travell Orr coming back with experience in the backfield as well as receiver Luke Rakotzy and tight end Mike Thweatt.
A solid group in the trenches could also help the Rams turn it around with returning linemen Jake Hopkins, Jacob Storteboom, Cody Duithan, Zach Godde and Adam Replogle.
“We expect to break our 29-game losing streak and be competitive throughout the season,” Smith said. “We have a small junior class, but they will complement the seniors very well. We are working to become a better defensive team through being more physical than in the past.”
* Head coach: Brian Lincoln (4th season)
* 2011 record: 1-8
* Top returners: Keegan Yost (sr., DE), Garrett Miller (sr., RB/DB), Tyler Hickey (sr., QB/OLB), Matt Wehr (sr., LB/OL), Tommy Mudge (sr., DB/WR), Brandon Erwin (sr., RB/DB), Diego Pesina (sr.,DT), Ryan Nisse (sr., RB/DB), Dayton Ashley (sr., OL/DL)
* Outlook: After going 1-8 the last two seasons, Maple Valley has struggled in recent years and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005. The Lions have had six straight losing seasons following an era where Maple Valley had winning years every season from 1994 to 2005.
If Maple Valley is going to make an improvement in the win column, the Lions are going to rely on a large group of returning players. That experience includes nine players who saw playing time on defense and seven more on offense. Leading that group will be returning senior quarterback Tyler Hickey as well as returning running back Garrett Miller on offense.
“We are looking for the first winning season here at the Valley since 2006. We have all the right tools to have a very successful season. The work ethic and team unity have been off the charts thus far. This is the type of team that gets a coach excited to come to practice everyday. If we can keep everyone healthy we believe we can have a winning season,” Maple Valley coach Brian Lincoln said.
* Head coach: Dean Peters (27th season)
* 2011 record: 7-3
* Top returners: Trent Strang (sr., DB), Nick Coolidge (sr., DB/RB), Austin Visger (sr., LB/RB), Ric McKim (sr., DE/OT), Don Kyre (sr., DT), Shane Loney (jr., LB), Tanner Myers (jr., OT), Shane Loney (jr., RB)
* Outlook: Olivet has made the playoffs for eight of the last nine seasons and if the Eagles are going to make another run to the postseason they are going to do it on the ground. With a new quarterback and some inexperience in the receiving group, Olivet is going to try and move the ball with its running game in 2012. Senior Terry Strang takes over as the quarterback after starting as a free safety last year. He will be able to hand the ball off to All-KVA player Nick Coolidge at running back as well as returning fullback Austin Visger.
“We will change from being a balanced run/pass attack to being more run-game oriented,” Olivet coach Dean Peters said. “We have lost several very talented receivers and quarterback over the last few years. We are trying to find some receivers who can make big plays for us. Our experience goes to our offensive line and our linebacking group.”
A big part of that offensive line is three-year starter at tackle, Donnie Kyre. Kyre, at 6-foot-2, 250-pounds, has already committed to play at Central Michigan University, where he was recruited to play defensive tackle because of his overall strength and a motor that doesn’t quit.