Coaches’ poll: 1. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 46, 2. Novi Detroit Catholic Central 45, 3. Warren De La Salle 41, 4. Birmingham Brother Rice 35; 5. University of Detroit-Jesuit 33.
St. Mary’s (12-2, 3-1)
Top players: RB/LB Josh Ross, OG/NT Ralph Holley, RB/LB Shermond Dabney, WR/CB Richard Bowens, OL/LB Dwayne Chapman, OL/DL John McCarthy, TE/LB John Pearson.
Outlook: The Eaglets should look an awful lot like the squad that earned a Division 3 state title last year, since George Porritt and his staff don’t have many holes to fill. “We’ve got a good group coming back on defense, and we’ve got to play great team defense, especially early in the year as our offense gets up to speed,” he said. “We’re working at finding a starting quarterback and our offensive line needs to stabilize.”
Catholic Central (9-3, 3-1)
Top players: TE/DE Jack Morris, OT/DT Blake Bueter, TE/DE Jackson Ross, LB Tyler Moreland, RB/DB Nick Capatina, RB/LB Matt Young, Soph. QB Austin Brown, Jr. FB Cameron Ryan, Jr. MLB Isaac Darkangelo.
Outlook: The Shamrocks developed young players en route to a regional appearance in 2015, and that leaves the program in good shape this fall. “We have backs that have experience, but our defense is a bit younger,” said Coach Tom Mach, entering his 41st season. “The offense will have to hold the ball a bit more to give our defense time to jell. We don’t have a lot of leeway for development, but we’re used to that.”
De La Salle (6-4, 3-1)
Top players: RB/DB Allen Stritzinger, DB Kevin Lee, LB Steve Killop, DE John Fisher, P/K Trentin Piwinski, Jr. FS Brendan Madigan, WR/DB Ryan Anderson, RB Vinnie Pelione.
Outlook: It’s a season of change at DeLaSalle as new coach Mike Giannone arrives from Macomb Dakota. Giannone will bring in some new offensive sets, and the Pilots should have the skill players to pull it off – provided their injury list isn’t as extensive as it was at the end of last season when their top game-breakers were sidelined. “Most good teams are three injuries away from being mediocre,” Giannone said.
Brother Rice (2-7, 0-4)
Strength: Defensive line
Top players: TE/DE Carter Dunaway, WR Matt Jordan, Jr. WR/DB Caleb Jackson, DE Jack Saylor, CB Nick Massey, Soph. RB Marcellus Gaines, Soph. QB Mariano Valenti
Outlook: The 2015 Warriors couldn’t fill the deep holes left by the 2014 graduating class and suffered through their first sub-.500 season in 30 years. As they try to rebound, at least they now boast more experience with 16 starters back. “It’s tough – you do the best you can to respond,” Coach Dave Sofran said. “I think we should have a shot at the playoffs. We feel positive, but you never know until you play.”
U-D Jesuit (6-4, 1-3)
Top players: WR-QB/S Scott Nelson, WR/DB A.J. Thomas, OL Joe Ziedas, jr. OT Carlos Vettorello, LB Brian McNamara, QB Michael Sims.
Outlook: The Cubs took several steps toward respectability last year by winning a division game, earning a playoff bid and playing eventual champ Detroit King close in the pre-district. “We want more,” Coach Oscar Olejniczak said. “We just don’t have the numbers that the other Central teams have, but we have to push through it.” The league granted the UD-Jesuit “schedule relief,” meaning the Cubs play just two division foes.
Coaches’ poll: 1. Detroit Loyola 30, 2. Ann Arbor Richard 26, 3. Dearborn Divine Child 25. (Note: Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, a former Catholic Double-A member, is competing as an independent this year).
Loyola (10-3, 3-0)
Top players: TE/LB Kailen Abrams, FB/DE Delbert Martin, soph. RB Anthony Robinson, OL Teron Johnson, RB Hunter Harris, OL/DL Marcus Edmonds, QB/DB Price Watkins.
Outlook: The Bull Dogs have won 22 straight league games, won the last four Prep Bowls and made four consecutive deep playoff runs, bowing out in the state semifinals last year. Opponents don’t expect them to slow down now, after so many new players got their feet wet last season. “We have a smaller roster but we’re more experienced,” Coach John Calahan said. “The kids are looking forward to it.”
AA Richard (5-5, 0-3)
Top players: QB Jack Gaderick, OL/DE Alex Wilder, RB Josh Krettlin, OL Brendan Fredericks, CB David Hebda, CB Henry Hebda, FB/DE-LB Matt Carrado, TE/LB Brian Victor.
Outlook: Gabriel Richard should be able to build on 2015, when the Fighting Irish squeaked into the playoffs under a first-year head coach. Most starters are back, including 6 rising jr.s on defense. “We’re only missing three starters from last year, and I feel really good about this group,” Coach Mike Girskis said. “We’ll be a lot stronger this year, even though we’ve probably got the hardest schedule we’ve ever had.”
Divine Child (4-5, 1-2)
Top players: Jr. QB-WR Quinn Blair, OL/DL Liam Soroghan, RB/DL Jordan Jones, jr. OL/DL Aidan Hutchinson.
Outlook: Although Coach John Filiatraut said “there’s no easy road in the AA,” he’s hoping his Falcons will return to the level they were at in 2014, when they won seven games. “We have the potential to play good, sound football,” he said. “If we limit our turnovers and penalties and play disciplined football, we will be strong.” Divine Child christens a new field this fall and will finally play home games at its school.
Coaches’ poll: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook 40, 2. Macomb Lutheran North 34, 3. Riverview Richard 33, 4. Allen Park Cabrini 29.
Cranbrook (9-2, 6-1)
Top players: RB/LB Jaylen Allen, QB Tyler Santangelo, jr. OG/DE Christopher Smith, jr. RB Aaron Wiggins, LB Tristan Knoer, soph. WR Kobi Russell, LB Dan Russell, soph. DB Torrell Williams, C Garrett Faulkner.
Outlook: What’s not to like? Cranbrook is coming off its first playoff win since 2008, has more kids out than ever, and is eligible to play in the Prep Bowl this fall. “The confidence level has changed so much,” Coach Joe D’Angelo said. “This group has brought respectability back to Cranbrook football. Now, we’re going into games believing we can win. It’s nice to see the school get excited.”
Lutheran North (4-5, 3-3)
Strength: Football IQ
Top players: WR/CB Daric Craig, QB Charles Kruse, C/DT Ryan Pini, jr. WR/DB Joel Vandermeer, RB/LB Joe Karle, OG/DE Gavin McKenzie.
Outlook: The Mustangs showed an upturn in 2015 and Coach Ryan Wesley says this experienced group has the skill level to raise it another notch. “We have plenty of seniors who have been starting since they were sophomores,” he said. “We’re looking to find the fire and prove to ourselves we can win. We run a ton of sets, but our kids are among the smartest out there and we plan to use that to our advantage.”
Riverview Richard (7-4, 5-2)
Top players: Jr. OL/DL Devin Slaughter, OL/LB Jac Lemieux, jr. WR Eric Wigginton, WR/CB Anthony Brown, K Zach Loewengruber, Slot/MLB Brennan Holberg, jr. QB Devin Gleason, soph. QB Kyle Alonte.
Outlook: The positive energy is also there at Gabriel Richard, which has had three straight winning seasons, two playoff experiences and put in a new field last year. “We need to get off to a fast start and use that momentum,” Coach Tom Michaelsen said. “We’ve got a lot of guys competing for positions, and hopefully that competition translates into victories.”
The Pioneers are younger, but their numbers have increased.
Cabrini (2-7, 1-6)
Top players: RB/DB Kyle Kessler, jr. QB Matt Bzura, WR/DB Trevor Kimes, OL Josh Fust, jr. OL Sam Solis, WR/DB Ben LePage, soph. OL Noah Hamid.
Outlook: In his second season guiding the Monarchs, Allen Park native Ken Briere says they can improve if they win the close games – something that has been Cabrini’s downfall in recent years. “We have to finish,” he said. “What everyone has over us is numbers, but it’s not something to cry about. Last year we were senior-laden but our younger guys got more playing time, which will help this year.”
Coaches’ poll: 1. Madison Heights Bishop Foley 50, 2. Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes 42, 3. Royal Oak Shrine 41, 4. Clarkston Everest Collegiate 35, 5. Marine City Cardinal Mooney 32.
Bishop Foley (2-7, 0-7)
Strength: Senior class
Top players: WR/DB Joe Schmidt, OL/DL Trevor Shankin, FB Cooper Smith, QB Alex Dixon, RB/LB Nolan Gerds, OL Ray Pippen, OL Jacob Doxen, MLB/K/P Evan Finegan.
Outlook: Although the Ventures have lost 14 straight league contests, everyone thinks this should be their year now that a deep senior class has finally matured. Schmidt is a four-year starter in the backfield, while Pippen, Shankin and Doxen all have good size in the trenches. “We always have to instill a winning attitude, but things should come together a bit better this year,” Coach Sean Cobb said.
Our Lady of the Lakes (13-1, 7-0)
Top players: OL/DL Gabe Nickels, TB/S Isaac Oliver, RB/DB Kurt Romkema, OL/DL Nick Imbier, soph. WR Noah Robak, soph TE/LB David Balent, soph. Slot/S Vince Oliver.
Outlook: The Lakers graduated 18 out of 25 players from last year’s Division 8 state finalist squad but have been able to fill the gaps quickly with an influx of new players — many of them upperclassmen. Now, 80 percent of the boys in the school are playing football. “We have outstanding leadership in our senior class,” Coach Josh Sawicki said. “We’re not as worried about them jelling together as much as playing together.”
Shrine (4-5, 2-5)
Strength: Offensive line
Top players: QB Asher Smith, WR/DB Michael Niehaus, FB Beck Benson, OL Max Payne, soph. TB Dan Romano, OL Conner Gum, jr. Slot Josef Mehall, WR Jay Hester, soph. OL Victor Carpenter.
Outlook: The Knights’ 12-year playoff run ended last fall, a season in which Coach John Goddard said every senior on the team missed at least one game due to injury. Thus, the Knights are aiming to stay healthy. “Our numbers are up, but still, with the size of our team, an injury to us is like losing five guys,” he said. “If you’re injury-free in this league, you’ve got a great shot a getting to the Prep Bowl and making the playoffs.”
Everest (5-5, 3-3)
Top players: RB/LB Alex Legg, jr. QB/S Grant Burgess, OL/DL Gunther Schultz, WR/LB Tommy Thibodeau, jr. RB/DB Simon Fenske.
Outlook: The Mountaineers have reached the playoffs each season since starting their program three years ago, so their goal for 2016 is fairly obvious – even though there are just 18 players filling out the roster. “We want to keep that (playoff streak) because it’s pretty special,” Coach Mike Pruchnicki said. “The whole backfield is back, we work hard and we’re disciplined. We have good kids — ‘Eighteen strong:’ that’s what we call it.”
Cardinal Mooney (3-6, 1-2 IFL)
Top players: RB/MLB Wyatt Greenia, jr. WR/S Troy Webster, soph. QB Quincy Greenia, C Owen Sheldon, jr. DT Dozzio Trapiss.
Outlook: The Cardinals rejoin the Catholic League for the first time since 2010 after putting in three seasons as an eight-man squad and playing two more in another league. Coach Jared Greenia said his troops will have to concentrate on the basics in order to excel. “We’re not a run-and-gun team but we can chew away some yards by slowing it down and playing ball control, with a bend-don’t-break defense,” he said.