Coaches’ poll: 1. Birmingham Brother Rice 47; 2. Novi Detroit Catholic Central 44; 3. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep 41; 4. Warren DeLaSalle 38; 5. Detroit University of Detroit-Jesuit 30.
Brother Rice (12-2, 3-1)
Top players: FS/K Jason Alessi, C Sage Baltrusaitis, DB Christopher Carter, LB Jack Grisan, RB Brian Walker, DE Dominic Perkovic, WR/DB Grant Perry, junior QB Alex Malzone, DT Alberto Sandoval.
Outlook: This is Coach Al Fracassa’s final season, and his players would love nothing more than to send him out with an unprecedented third straight state title. “The kids are working hard and I’m excited about their attitude, but everyone’s out to beat the champions,” he said. “We’ve got some pretty good players, and it’s going to be a tough season, but our kids are up to it.” The 80-year-old Fracassa (416-121-7 in 54 years) has the most victories in state history.
Catholic Central (9-5, 3-1)
Top players: TE/DE Dylan Roney, RB/DB/K/KR Zack Bock, RB/LB David Wright, OG/DT Alex Galiyas, RB/DB Dan Collins.
Outlook: The much-feared Shamrocks have reached the Division 1 state finals the past two years, but Coach Tom Mach knows that’s not automatic. “Our expectations are always high,” he said. “We’re kind of green coming in this year, and we need to get some people some early experience. Everybody’s loaded this year; it’s just a crapshoot once you get to the Central Division (games). You have to bring your ‘A’ game.”
St. Mary’s (11-3, 3-1)
Strength: Defensive line
Top players: FB/LB Jeff Robinson, WR/DB Jalen Watts-Jackson, junior WR/DB Tyson Smith, C/DT Jeremy Schram, junior OT/DT Josh Dabney, FB/NG Julian Jones, RB-Slot/S Mark Zanders, junior TE/LB Mike Linehan.
Outlook: St. Mary’s has made the state finals in five out of the past six seasons, and only a field goal in overtime prevented the Eaglets from becoming a two-time defending champ. “The Prep Bowl and a playoff run are part of our tradition,” Head Coach George Porritt said. “Playing in the Catholic League gets your kids to work hard.” Porritt said be how fast the offensive line evolves and how soon the quarterback issue is settled determines whether the Eaglets will be on a similar path.
DeLaSalle (5-4, 1-4)
Strength: Skill positions
Top players: QB Giovanni Resigno, RB Sam Badalamenti, WR/LB Jared Wangler, WR/DB Mario Agosta, TE Brent Morris, WR/DB Carter Wilson, OL Stephen Garrity.
Outlook: Being the first team below the playoff qualifier cutoff line last season was all the motivation the Pilots need for this fall. “We’ve got a decent senior class and we’re strong in the skill positions,” Head Coach Paul Verska said, “but we’re young. We’ve got about seven or eight sophomores pushing juniors for starting positions. We’ll roll the dice and see what happens. We’re going to be good by the end of the season, especially if those young guys mature.”
U-D Jesuit (2-7, 0-4)
Top players: LB Paris Bennett, OT/DE Jakari Faulkner, CB Dillon Dixon, CB Sheldon Doss, LB Anthony Allen, junior QB Ryan Brand, OT/DT Lloyd Lyons.
Outlook: Oscar Olejniczak returns to his alma mater after nine seasons of coaching in the college ranks. “We’re out to bring some pride back into this program,” he said. “We’re trying to get this program back on track. It’s been nine years since we’ve had a winning record. We’re very excited; we’ve improved a lot from last year. We’ve got a lot to prove.” Olejniczak said he’ll hang his hat on aggressive defense play and “do a lot of different things” offensively.
Coaches’ poll: 1. Detroit Loyola 47; 2. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep 46; 3. Dearborn Divine Child 38; 4. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard 36; 5. Macomb Lutheran North 33.
Loyola (13-1, 6-0 Intersectional)
Top players: OT/DT Kajohn Armstrong, OT/DT Chris Davis, FB/LB Alan Taylor, junior TE/LB Darryl Clemons, junior FB/LB Paul Engram, QB Garrett Schaller, WR/FS Darrell McIntyre, WR/CB Keith Graves.
Outlook: Loyola was moved up a division after winning the Prep Bowl and reaching the Division 7 state finals, yet Coach John Calahan says the Bull Dogs welcome the challenge. “We’re extremely competitive; we’re looking forward to this, we’re ready,” he said. “We were very young last year and have nine starters back on defense, eight on offense.” Quarterback Schaller, a transfer from Lapeer East, will add another dimension to the Loyola offense.
Notre Dame Prep (9-2, 3-0)
Strength: Skill positions
Top players: TB/LB/KR Jermaih Johnson, junior WR/S Anthony Gunn, QB Brenden Newvine, FB/DE Alex Stuart, Slot/CB Max Schwegman.
Outlook: Coach Kyle Zimmerman counts “experience in big games” as key for the Fighting Irish, who return six starters on each side of the ball. “We’re talented at the skill positions,” he said. “We’ve got some kids that make big plays, that can really hit the home run, so to speak.” Johnson, who’s in his fourth varsity season, rushed for 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns last year, and Schwegman was a state finalist in the 200-meter dash on the track last spring.
Divine Child (4-5, 1-2)
Top players: DL Brock Bacher, OT Paul Stempien, OL/LB Tommy Popiel, junior LB David Daskal, LB Brandon Ebert, OT John Filiatraut, junior QB/LB Collin Goslin, TE Ryan Seurynck, S Anthony DiPonio, FB Mike Flory, WR Cameron Bardelli.
Outlook: The Falcons are upbeat this season, armed with a strong linebacking corps, plenty of depth in the trenches and a senior class that saw lots of action as underclassmen and finish last season on an up note. “I like what I see so far,” Head Coach Steve Robb said. “I think we’re going to be improved over last year. Whether that translates to wins and losses on our schedule, I don’t know.”
AA Gabriel Richard (11-2, 2-1)
Top players: MLB Nate Winnie, TB/S DJ Neumann, OLB Ken Kowalski, junior OLB Matt Johnson, WR Kevin Fosha, QB Kevin Masini, TB/CB Hayden Staub.
Outlook: The Fighting Irish graduated 22 seniors – nine of whom are playing in college – off a team which reached the Division 5 semifinals last fall. “Every year when you come back it’s a new team,” Coach Brian Lemons said. “We use (last year’s playoff run) to prove to the kids that its possible to compete at the state level.” While Gabriel Richard has experienced linebackers and a defensive secondary, Lemons expects it will take his young linemen a little while to catch up.
Lutheran North (5-4, 0-3)
Strength: Senior class
Top players: QB Will Kruse, RB/LB Trevor Mason, OT/DE Austin Bass, RB Jon Taykowski, MLB Seth Majeski, OG/DT Matt Kennedy.
Outlook: Coach Ryan Wesley is high on his senior class, which includes eight players with three or more years of varsity experience. On the downside, low numbers are a concern. “We only have 26 players when we’re completely healthy,” he said. “If we get one injury, we’re in a tough, tough situation.” Kruse — a starter since the 2010 playoffs — leads a multiple-formation offense featuring Mason, who had 1,300 all-purpose yards and was the Mustangs’ leading tackler.
Coaches’ poll: 1. Allen Park Cabrini 52; 2. Royal Oak Shrine 50; 3. Madison Hts. Bishop Foley 49; 4. Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes 44; 5. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook 38; 6. Riverview Gabriel Richard 37.
Cabrini (6-4, 5-1)
Strength: Defensive speed
Top players: FB Pat Sekerak, QB Nick Shirey, RB/LB Nick Lazorka, WR/CB Jacob Mackie, OT Josh Geschke, TE/DE Justin Berthiaume, OG Chris Gottlob, junior RB/LB John Cyster, junior DT Christian Jackson.
Outlook: Cabrini aims to build on the momentum of reaching the Prep Bowl and Division 5 playoffs in 2012. “The kids have put in a lot of hard work in the off-season and were very dedicated,” said Coach Mark Shea, adding the Monarchs will tweak their offense to fit the skills they have. “For the first time, I actually have some size,” Shea said. “We were pretty much a running team last year, we’re trying to be a bit more balanced and put in a little bit more of a Spread.”
Shrine (5-5, 2-4)
Top players: Junior QB/DB Tim Niehaus, junior FB/LB Chris Kelly, RB/DB Jordan Gee, junior OT Kenny Kruliski, junior C Troy Button, junior OG Will Arce.
Outlook: Due to a thin senior class, the Knights’ lineup will be dotted with experienced underclassmen. “I still think seniors and senior leadership is very important, but you play with the hand you’re dealt,” Coach John Goddard said. “Our juniors are a very good class. Our seniors, they’re very good kids but there are so few of them.” Niehaus moves over center from wide receiver; the contrasting running styles of Kelly and Gee could prove troublesome for opposing defenses.
Bishop Foley (5-4, 3-3)
Strength: Senior class
Top players: WR/DB Nick Gwisdalla, QB/DB Brendan McMahon, OL/LB Brian Wille, OL/DL Piotr Lewalski, WR/LB David Balaze, DL Tyler Gholston, FB/LB Alex Williamson, K/P Garrett Schilling.
Outlook: Sean Cobb, formerly at Rochester Stoney Creek, takes the reins of the Ventures’ program and is encouraged with the first look at his team. “If we stay healthy we’re going to be competitive because we’ve got some real competitive players,” he said. McMahon will shift from wide receiver to quarterback this fall, yet Cobb said the Ventures will “keep it simple” on offense. “We’re going to be a very repetitious team,” he said.
Our Lady of the Lakes (9-3, 4-2)
Top players: TE/LB Phil Lipinski, OL/LB Nick Halaas, QB Noah Allen, RB/DB Nathan Schick, OL/DL Roger Narlock, WR/DB Dylan Thompson, WR/LB Cole Kasperowicz.
Outlook: The Lakers’ are the division’s unknown quantity after hiring a new coach, graduating 17 seniors and seeing co-op players from Everest Collegiate leave to start their own program. Coach Josh Sawicki insists everything is under control, even though the Lakers will have 10 new starters on offense. “The better we mesh, the better we will play,” he said. “We have size at the positions where you need it, and we have good team speed with our secondary and our linebackers.”
Cranbrook (2-7, 0-6)
Top players: RB/LB Joe Myrick, QB-WR Brad Fraser, OT/DT Joe Files, TE/DL Elvin Wiles.
Outlook: The Cranes – still seeking their first playoff berth since joining the Catholic League from the Metro Conference —
suit up a largely-unproven lineup but could jell under the guidance of new Head Coach Joe D’Angelo, who led Country Day to a pair of state titles. “We don’t have a lot of returning players and we will play young kids, but they’re pretty good kids,” he said. “We’ll be counting on them. They’ve got to believe. If they start winning, it could be an exciting year.”
Riverview Richard (2-7, 1-5)
Top players: Junior RB/DB Tyler Blaszczak, OG/MLB Joe Lavine, junior RB/DB Tyler Riney, OT/DT Pat McBride, OT/DT Colton Jarret, RB/DE Devin Dickow, sophomore QB/S Jake Lipetzky.
Outlook: The Pioneers will go with a sophomore quarterback after graduating four-year starter David Richie. Richard’s defense, with eight starters returning, should lead the charge until the offense gets up to speed. “We need to lean on our defense early, limit turnovers and punt the ball better,” Head Coach Tom Michalsen said. “This league is wide open and anything can happen. It’s going to be a fun season; there’s good competition all the way to Week 8.”