Rocks ready to climb standings

Rocks ready to climb standings


Rocks ready to climb standings


Salem’s football program continues to grow and get stronger, but sixth-year head coach Kurt Britnell knows most people measure progress only one way — by looking at the standings.

The Rocks’ quest for six wins, a state playoff berth and respect begins 7 p.m. Thursday against Plymouth on the varsity turf field at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.

“Our goal is to win (the opener),” said Britnell, whose 2013 team went 3-6. “Our expectation is that we will win. Mike (Sawchuk) does a great job over there, we know those kids and obviously with the players being friends, they played Little League for so many years.

“… Probably it’s going to come down to the same thing it came down to last year, it’s who makes the less mistakes. We made more last year and they beat us by a touchdown. And that was with seven starting sophomores.”

One of those sophomores now is a grizzled junior, quarterback Alex Nicholson.

How Nicholson performs and guides the Salem offense will obviously go a long way in whether the Rocks can finally grab a playoff berth.

“His biggest thing we need to see improvement from is decision making,” Britnell explained. “A lot of quarterbacks, they want a big play right now. He’s got to play within himself. Play disciplined, let the athletes and athleticism of the players around him help him.

“For example, hit the hitch instead of a corner. Hit the dump off to the back that’s got great speed and let him run versus trying to force the issue. If he can play within himself, and within the scope and scheme of what we’re trying to do, I would expect some big things from him.”

Options abound

Britnell said Nicholson expects big things from himself, too. “He is a fierce competitor and wants to win so badly.”

Ready to be called upon is junior quarterback Luis Carrion, who the coach said “is progressing well, understands what he can and can’t do.”

The passing attack has the potential to be lethal, what with a promising receiving core of seniors Joey Miazek, EJ Joseph, Brayden Abundis and junior Calin Crawford along with sure-handed tight ends Christian Pearson (junior), Brendan Wright (junior) and Trevor Nowaske (sophomore).

“A lot of speed there, athleticism,” Britnell said. “Calin’s probably our biggest playmaker, he’s got great hands and offensively just always seems to be making plays. You can’t cover everybody.”

Don’t expect the Rocks to merely throw the ball, either.

Senior fullback Devin Cameron along with juniors Jacob Miller, Dominic Hodge and Deston Langford look primed to chew up plenty of yards on a regular basis.

Salem’s big, physical offensive line is a key ingredient to how successful Nicholson’s group will be. Junior Tommy Rudnicki will line up over the ball, with seniors Ben Howie and Ryan Broughman at guard and senior Luke Callahan at one of the tackle spots.

Britnell is still determining who will start at the other tackle.

“(Junior) Eric Daniels is going to be in the mix, (junior) D’Angelo Meredith,” he said. “We’re averaging 220, we got some big boys up there.”

Handling kicking and punting duties will be junior John Kwiecinski, rated 39th overall (and second among juniors) by Ann Arbor-based Kornblue Kicking.

One downer for the Salem offense is the loss of wide receiver Shaw Lyall to a torn knee ligament. Lyall was a top performer as a sophomore, both at wide-out and defensive safety.

“He tore his knee up at the U-M camp,” Britnell noted. “He was a two-way starter for us. It hurts.”

Lining up

One benefit of having a bigger roster is limiting the need for players to do double duty on offense and defense.

Some of that will still continue, but two-way linemen such as Howie, Callahan and Broughman now are expected to be part of a deep rotation on the defensive line.

Juniors Martez Gibbons and Tommie Terrell-Davis (both 6-1, 340) are very agile for their size while seniors Ty Traylor and Anthony Gueorguiev are ready for the trenches.

Handling linebacker chores will be Cameron, Nowaske, senior Everett Czarnota, junior Deston Langford, senior Jacob Sydlowski, and Pearson.

“Everett and Devin are big and physical,” Britnell said. “They have a lot of experience. They’re definitely the leaders of the defense.”

In the secondary, junior Freddie McGee III and Joseph are set for the corners with Crawford and sophomore Jason Arnold ready at safety.

Also in the mix will be Abundis and Miller.

Tune things out

Britnell said the current group is bigger in numbers, with about 50 on the varsity and some 140 over the three levels (freshman, junior varsity, varsity). It is “as strong as ever, athletic as ever and speed-wise the best ever” during his tenure at the helm.

Now, the key will be to help those players remain focused and achieve some big things on the football field, too.

“Every year we have sort of a theme,” Britnell continued. “This year it’s ‘Avoid the Noise.’ It’s pretty cliche, but it’s true. Whether you start the season 3-0 and everybody tells you how great they are, or if you’re 0-3 and everybody tells you how bad they are. You just got to stay focused on what we do as a team.

“… You’re going to hear it, but you got to avoid it and just focus on what our mission is here. So far I think they’re doing it.”


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