Clarkston’s championship hopes a year ago began to dissipate before they had time to bloom.
Ian Eriksen, who had gained 2,167 yards and scored 33 times as a junior in 2012, was trying to overcome Achilles and ankle injuries when he suffered a partially torn meniscus and underwent surgery after Clarkston lost the opener to Rochester Adams.
About the only person associated with Clarkston football not ready to sound the fire alarm was junior quarterback D.J. Zezula. That was because he knew something no one else did.
He was ready to be The Man.
“Everyone knew Ian was the powerhouse, the workhorse on our team, and when we needed something to get done — we needed some yards — we put it in his hands,” Zezula said. “When he went down that switched over to the quarterback. When we needed some yardage I had to throw or I had to run.”
But Clarkston has never been known as a passing team — in a 2011 win over archrival Lake Orion, for instance, it threw only one pass until its final possession.
Yet Zezula was supremely confident he was capable of leading the Wolves until Eriksen returned late in the season.
“I always knew I was, I just didn’t think the coaches knew I was 100%, and I didn’t blame them,” Zezula said. “Ian was a year older than me, so every other year I played with him, and it would be split. He’d get the ball 60% of the time and I’d throw it or run it 40% of the time.”
“The year that I was alone, I was the guy. I did everything.”
Last season Zezula did nearly everything — passing for 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns and running for six more scores as the Wolves scored touchdowns in bunches.
Eriksen played some in Week 7 and was back full-time in Week 8 when the Wolves steamrolled Lake Orion, 49-28. That is when Zezula realized the Wolvers were bound for Ford Field and the state championship game.
“When he came back, I was on fire and he was on fire,” Zezula said. “When we scored 49 points against Lake Orion, we thought: ‘Wow, this offense is like a collegiate offense.’ Everyone knew right there: Watch out for Clarkston.”
Clarkston won its first state championship with a convincing 32-14 victory over 10-time state champ Novi Detroit Catholic Central.
Eriksen is now a freshman at Eastern Michigan, and five other players from that team are playing Division I football.
Zezula is now a senior. Despite the losses from the title team, he is remarkably confident in No. 2 Clarkston’s chances to repeat as state champs as it opens the season Thursday night by hosting perennial powerhouse No. 11 Macomb Dakota at 7 p.m.
Part of his reason for his unbridled optimism is that, again, he knows something others don’t.
In December 2012, Zezula underwent surgery for a microfracture in his right knee, which was not entirely successful. He had another surgery in December that went much better and he feels terrific.
“That’s a big reason why Ian got so many carries,” Zezula said. “I couldn’t run as well. My knee was terrible, but now it’s insanely better; it’s 100%. I can do everything. This upcoming year is the first year I’ve been 100% since seventh grade. People have no idea what I can do at 100%.”
We are about to find out.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
Meet the Wolves
Top players: QB D.J. Zezula, 6 feet, 190 pounds; OT/NG Adam Matich, 6-4, 250; TE/LB Cole Chewins, 6-7, 225; slot Shane Holler, 5-10, 185; DB/slot Merrick Canada, 6-2, 195; OT Chris Trimmer, 6-0, 260; C Lance Linton, 6-1, 240.
State playoff record: 23-16.
Coach: Kurt Richardson 211-79, 29th season at Clarkston.
Overview: The defending Division 1 state champ lost several key players, but there is plenty of experience returning, beginning with Zezula at QB. Chewins is going to gain a lot of yards after the catch. Linemen Matich, Canada, Trimmer and Linton will help make up for the loss of Ian Eriksen, the best back in school history.