Coaches poll: Grand Blanc, Brighton, Howell, Hartland, Pinckney, Milford.
Grand Blanc (7-3, 5-0)
Strength: Offensive line
Top players: 3-year starting WR Matt Mastromatteo, QB Tre’Von Avery (2178 passing, 975 rushing, 30 TDs), OT Nick Williams, LB Autonio Roland (53 tackles), OL Luke Rients, CB DeAundre Simpkins and DT Thomas Tucker.
Outlook: Four offensive line starters return to protect the always dangerous Tre’Von Avery, whether opening holes or settling into pass protection. “I expect us to compete for our league title and get to the championship game but we’ll have to get through a talented Brighton team,” said Coach Joe Delaney. “We’ll need some kids to embrace different positions but if they do that we could be very strong again this year.”
Brighton (7-3, 5-0)
Top players: Junior RB Joey Clifford (1350 yards, 10 TDs), 3-year QB/DB Nick Brish, 3-year TE Alexx Zielinski, junior OL Brendan Klaus, DB J.D. Ham and LB Tyler Trisch (108 tackles).
Outlook: With 10 starters on offense and 9 on defense, the team is going into 2014 with the feeling of “unfinished business” after finishing second in the league and going two games deep in the playoffs. “We have a solid senior class and you win with your seniors,” said Coach Cliff Kiefer. “You go as far as your seniors are going to take you.”
Howell (5-4, 3-2)
Strength: Passion to play
Top players: 3-year RB/DB Evan Siemen, junior OL Dan Collins, DL Drake Flett, WR/DB Michael Betx (5 INTs), LB Jared Pietila and DB Nick Swartz.
Outlook: The Highlanders have less than half its 2013 starters returning, but Coach Aaron Metz sees a huge upside with those who do return. “What stands out is our kids just love to play,” he added. “It doesn’t matter who we go up against. A key is to take care of the ball. We got hurt last year in a couple games by turnovers. But if we win the turnover ratio we’ll be highly successful this year.”
Hartland (3-6, 1-4)
Top players: FS Brett Oliver, 3-year DL Jake Economou, OL Jared Gohl, OL Patrick Evans, junior QB N. Marshall, junior DL Andy Maschke and junior TE Nathan Skene.
Outlook: Hartland should be as much brains as it is brawn with lots of returning football intelligence. “As the season went on we improved as a team with the youth we had out on the field,” said Coach Brian Savage. “So we need to pick up where we left off last year. We have five playoff teams on our schedule this year so it’s always a tough challenge in the KLAA, where we bang on each other. “
Pinckney (7-4, 3-2)
Strength: Line of scrimmage
Top players: C Austin Krause, DB Justin Eagy, DL Jacob Stahl, WR Mason Carruthers, junior OL Nate Houghtelling, QB Josh Hess and DL Josh Woodside.
Outlook: The Pirates like their size and strength in the trenches, but getting experience quickly is imperative. “We lost some key players but we also bring back a lot of talented kids,” said Coach Jakob Gailitis. “This team might have the most personality I’ve seen. They are fun, more energetic than we’ve had in the past. They’re outgoing and they keep the coaches on our toes. It makes for a great atmosphere.”
Milford (1-8, 0-5)
Top players: RB/S Tyler Carrier, RB/LB Chad Comis, junior OL/DL Jackson Hale, OL Dylan Sellers, WR/DB Alex Puente, LB/DL Tyler Lovelace and WR/S Keegan Matthews.
Outlook: New coach Tim Gough takes over a team with 7 starters returning on both sides of the ball, especially up front as four of five O line come back and three of four DLs return. Milford will play up tempo as much as possible to keep opposing defenses off guard. “We want to get better every week, whether that means we improve on offense, or defense, special teams or all three phases,” Gough said.
Coaches’ poll: Canton, Plymouth, Livonia Churchill, Westland John Glenn, Livonia Franklin, Wayne Memorial.
Canton (8-2, 5-0)
Top players: RB Chuck Turfe (1,148 yards, 18 TDs), junior LB Jalen Cochran, QB Greg Williams, LB Jake Pagel (53 tackles), DB Vic Villarini, TE/OT Adam Armesto and OT Collin Caflisch.
Outlook: The Chiefs will try to defend the league title with more starters returning on offense than defense, but Coach Tim Baechler said one of the best team attributes is speed on defense. “Our offensive line is definitely going to be better, as well as the front seven of defense is going to be better,” he added. He wants to see defensive improvement at getting off the field after third down.
Plymouth (5-4, 3-2)
Top players: OT Logan Luttrell, junior OT Michael Jordan (6-6, 285), LB Hussein Youssef, LB Shane Raymond, DB Kalen Dunham, junior RB Cam Stella, QB Deji Adebiyi and LB Kevin Justice.
Outlook: Plymouth is stacked on defense with all but one starter returning, plus seven return on offense. Coach Mike Sawchuk said, “Our kids really have a bad taste in their mouths about not going to the playoffs last season, so we’re refiguring things and going back to the drawing board to right the ship. It’s all started with attitude and buy in, and so far so good.”
Livonia Churchill (2-7, 2-3)
Top players: 3-year starter LT Matt Skibinski (6-5, 270, Miami of Ohio), S Steve Szymanski, QB Brian Alsobrooks (1,700-plus passing, Eastern Mich), LG Nick Davis (6-3, 295), DT Armon Perham, WR Tim Dulin, CB/WR Shakur Lockett and TB Armonde Yetts.
Outlook: The Chargers hope to stay fresher all game than opponents by having just one, two-way player. Not finishing even close to .500 last year after going undefeated in 2012 regular season is a motivational factor. Coach Bill DeFillippo said, “We play a challenging schedule, as does everyone in our division, so our margin for error is slim.”
Westland John Glenn (6-4, 3-2)
Top players: OT DeShawn Baker-Williams (Central Mich), DT Renardo Brown, LB Leon Crawford, DE/DB Andre Brown, OT Edward Springborn and OG Anthony Williamson.
Outlook: 13 starters return to lead the Rockets this season, and “it’s probably the most talented team I’ve had as a head coach,” Tim Harden said. “If we come together and play unified and with discipline, we should be able to hit some high goals and expectations. The guys have been great in practice and working their butts off, so that’s got us excited.”
Livonia Franklin (4-5, 2-3)
Strength: Work ethic
Top players: WR Charles Keith, RB Nathan Rodgers, RB Dan Huber, DE Mitch Gonyaw, LB Dante Ufferman and juniors DB Jake Mushinski and DL/OL Joe Fortin.
Outlook: A focal point is the lack of experience on each line, but the Patriots return 5 starters on each side of the ball. “Experience is our biggest weakness but we have high expectations to compete in our division and be successful,” said Coach Chris Kelbert. “The work ethic of this team has been great and I think we can make up a lot with our determination. We will play very hard for 4 quarters.”
Wayne Memorial (0-9, 0-5)
Top players: junior QB Joe Bob Walker (6-5, 225), TB/SS Angelo Wiggins, TE/DE Jacob Miller (6-7, 240, transfer in), WR Juan Wise, WR/CB Julian Jones, OT Cody Markland; and juniors LB Kyle Brooks, TB Malik Bryant and WR Danny Delleh.
Outlook: The Zebras’ program has struggled of late and lost two key players to transfers. But new coach Tim Finnerty said, “The kids can sense that we’re going in a positive direction, becoming a competent football team. We hope that when people come to see us they’ll see a team that’s risen a level in ability on the field.”
Coaches’ poll: Walled Lake Western, WL Northern, WL Central, Waterford Kettering, Lakeland, Waterford Mott.
Walled Lake Western (9-2, 5-0)
Top players: Four captains and 3-year starters DB John Witkowski, DL Nathaniel Charter-Harris, RB James LaLonde and C Matt Jenkin. Also, DL Zach Johnson, LB Cooper Dayton, WR Marcus Bailey and OL Mitch Schwocho.
Outlook: Having won the KLAA North two of the last three years, Western is always a target. “It’s a positive that we’ve done well in the league, because it maintains confidence in our kids throughout the entire program,” said head coach Mike Zdebski. “But we need the offensive line to develop some physicality, that’s our No. 1 objective.” Western has also sent its last three kickers to college programs so that area needs attention in 2014.
Walled Lake Northern (8-3, 3-2)
Top players: QB Brendan O’Donnell, junior RB AJ Chuchla, WR Chris Cliff (3-year starter, holds school records for catches and yards) , OT Jamie Demers (33 ACT score), C Jacob Boerner, RB Kevin Vos, LB Jordan Anstandig, junior DB Adam Rabaut, DE Kyle Boerner and DB Louis Grodman (32 ACT).
Outlook: Opponents will not have to worry about Northern picking up the pace. The Knights plan to set it. “We’re fast,” said Coach Brett Moore. “Get tackled, get right up and run another play. A lot of people talk about it, but we’ll put up points. Last year we had 60 points a couple times. Overall our team speed is phenomenal. We want to throw the other team off base, wear them down the second half.”
Walled Lake Central (2-6, 1-4)
Top players: 4-year starter QB/DB Nick Krumm, 3-year OL Cody Patterson, RB/DB Parker Krupic, RB Zach Goor (1,000-plus rushing soph. year) and junior TE/DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji.
Outlook: Central boasts that 40 of the 53 players are multi-sport athletes, and 14 are returning starters providing good experience. Coach Bob Meyer said, “With all the returning players, we have very high hopes. Our record wasn’t very good but we were in most of the games with an opportunity to win more. The key for us this year is staying healthy and finishing off games.”
Kettering (6-4, 3-2)
Top players: 3-year starting RB/LB Austin Wood, RB/DB Danotiss Smith, RB/DB Keiron Payne, OL/LB Jon Yudasz, WR/DB Johnny Talley and RB/LB Evan King.
Outlook: Last year was a Kettering highlight reel as the Captains scored a school record 380 points, plus the current crop of juniors went 8-1 as a JV squad. “It really helps the school culture and lets the students feel positive about the Captain logo, the Captain name,” said Coach Kyle Schultz. “We expect to take the next step and compete for a division championship, make the playoffs and win playoff games.”
Lakeland (4-5, 2-3)
Strength: Team chemistry
Top players: OT Dave Hope, C Nate Raab, RB Mike Kutzleb, LB Ryan Wonders, LB Nick Fus and S Jason Wooster.
Outlook: To Coach John Maltese, the North division is totally up for grabs by any of the teams, including Lakeland, whom he says has very natural team chemistry as a solid foundation. “I think league-wide it will come down to a handful of plays per game,” he added. “I think falling a little short of expectations the last couple years added to (our great) team chemistry, and I have a bunch of motivated football players.”
Waterford Mott (4-5, 1-4)
Top players: 4-year starting QB Dakota Kupp (school record passing, game at 30-for-44, 6 TDS), 3-year starting LT Logan Terao, junior RT James Shadwell, junior C Eric Bilkovsky, 3-year starter OG/DL Jack Aleman, WR Joey Staskiewicz, junior WR Avery Carter, DE Louy Compton and junior RB Corbin Moore.
Outlook: 18 of 22 starters return to give Mott a huge edge in experience, yet several are still juniors. Kupp missed four games last year and the linemen have gained a lot of weight and strength on both sides of ball. Coach Chris Fahr said, “If we just continue to make strides, and work to be great every day, we’ll be okay with the outcome, whatever it is.”
Coaches’ poll: Northville, South Lyon, Novi, Livonia Stevenson, Plymouth Salem, South Lyon East.
Northville (8-2, 5-0)
Strength: Work ethic
Top players: OL David Moorman (Wisconsin), OL Zach Graham, DB Kevin Bak, TE Ryan Roberts (N. Illinois), RB P.J. Schnepp, junior OL Alex Angelas, LB Lee Moore and LB Jack Ernst.
Outlook: last year was the best league outcome for the Mustangs since 1961, so with 9 returning starters Northville hopes to keep rolling. Coach Matt Ladach said, “We had as good of an off-season as we’ve ever had at Northville. The kids are giving tremendous effort. If their work ethic is any indicator of the success we’ll have this season, I’d say it’s going to be a great season.”
South Lyon (6-4, 4-1)
Top players: QB/NG Anton Skupin, WR Eric Stephenson, junior RB Trevor Tank, WR/DB Tim McPhee, DB Nico Woods and LB James Donahue.
Outlook: With 8 starters returning on each side of the ball the Lions depth is a strong start to a season that hopefully will go past the first week of playoffs. “There is good unity, that’s what stands out to me with this group,” said coach mark Thomas. “They practice hard, they give us everything they’ve got and we have a lot of good athletes that play well together.”
Novi (4-5, 3-2)
Strength: Physical strength
Top players: 3-year starting OL Steve Davis (6-0, 280) and RB Matt Sabo, OL Joe Haddad, QB Rohit Mogalayapalli, 3-year starting junior RB Emanuel Jackson, DE Nick Meadors, 3-year starting S Christian Durham and CB Zac Siriani.
Outlook: Several players return to the starting lineup for the third straight year, giving Coach Jeff Burnside a lot of experience to lead. “We got to 4 wins last year but didn’t finish the job and that’s what we want to do this year,” he added. “Not just make the playoffs but have success in those games as well.”
Livonia Stevenson (5-4, 2-3)
Top players: RB/DB C.J. Weiss (tied school record 3 INTs one game), junior RB/DB Austin Petrie, DL Bradley Scott, LB Mario Fererra, DL Connor Vaughan and LB Robert Schneider.
Outlook: A team point of pride is that 30 of the 50 players are well-rounded multi-sport athletes, which hopefully will help make up for a very low number of returning starters. Coach Randy Micallef said, “We are an athletic team, we’ll be more competitive. We’re not overly big but we have experience on defense. We are young in spots but we’ll get them up to speed.”
Plymouth Salem (3-6, 1-4)
Strength: team speed
Top players: junior QB Alex Nicholson (1400 yards, 18 TDs), OL Ben Howie, OL Lucas Callahan, LB Devin Cameron (55 tackles), junior SS Shaw Lyall (out with injury) and junior CB Freddie McGee.
Outlook: Salem has more players on the roster than any time in the previous 5 years, which will allow linemen to not have to play both ways and stay fresh. “We’re more athletic this year, too,” said Coach Kurt Britnell. “If we can get the one or two plays that went against us in a few games last year to swing our way, our record will improve. Defensively we are bigger up front and more physical.”
South Lyon East (1-8)
Top players: TE Trent Willenborg, OT Brendan O’Brien, QB Zach Powers (122 comp., 1,561 yards), S Ryan Bohen and CB Justin Kaminski.
Outlook: The Cougars return 5 starters on offense and just 2 on defense, making experience a tough trait to fall back on. East is the only Division 3 team in the Central that’s loaded with four Div. 1 programs.