Coaches’ poll: 1. Cass Tech 39, 2. King 35, 3. East English 34, 4. Osborn 28.
Cass Tech (11-3, 2-1)
Strength: Senior leadership.
Offense. Top players: Senior WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, senior S Jaylen Kelly-Powell, senior OT Kelvin Ateman Jr., senior OG Jordan Reid, senior DE Zach Morton, senior CB Donovan Johnson, senior QB Rodney Hall, senior RB Tim Cheatham, junior LB Ramani Williams, senior DB Donovan Williams, senior DB Willie Reid and sophomore RB/LB Jaren Mangham.
Outlook: The Technicians will be seeking their seventh consecutive trip to at least the Division 1 semifinals plus their second straight trip to the Division 1 finals with redemption on their mind. They dropped last year’s state title game to Romeo, 41-27. They definitely are prime for a return to the finals with five-star wideout and the nation’s No. 1 receiver in the class of 2017, Donovan Peoples-Jones. While Peoples-Jones is expected to anchor the offense along with senior quarterback Rodney Hall, four-star senior safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell should do the same for the defense. With such star power and a strong supporting cast, Cass Tech is a legit Division 1 title contender.
King (14-0, 3-0)
Top players: Senior CB Ambry Thomas, senior OLB Cepeda Phillips and junior DB/WR Jaeveyon Morton.
Outlook: The reigning Division 2 state champs, who are led by four-star senior cornerback Ambry Thomas, will have a new head coach roaming the sidelines this season. Legendary King coach Dale Harvel, who spent 30 fine years with the Crusaders, passed away tragically in late July after suffering a heart attack at a 7-on-7 scrimmage. He will be succeeded by Tyrone Spencer, who previously served as Harvel’s defensive coordinator. “I expect our team to be tough, to play hard this year and to give great effort, win, lose or draw,” Spencer said. “I really believe they will do that because they’re a competitive bunch of guys, even though a lot of them are young.”
East English (9-3, 1-2)
Strength: Offensive line.
Top players: Senior QB Delvin Washington, junior RB/CB Zahmaine March, junior C Tyrone Sampson, junior G/DE Orniska Webster, senior OT/DT Jaylin Phillips, senior WR/DB Samuel Womack, senior DT Tukeemo McGee and junior Desjuan Johnson.
Outlook: The “blue-collar” Bulldogs, as head coach Rod Oden labeled them, got sweet revenge against Warren De La Salle in last year’s playoffs by defeating the Pilots a season after they had taken out East English in the district championship en route to claiming the school’s first state title. East English will now seek revenge against King, who defeated the Bulldogs in both the regular season and in the Division 2 regional championship. With 14 returning starters, this blue-collar bunch could make history by leading the school to its first ever state semifinal appearance.
Osborn (2-7, 1-2)
Strength: Skill positions.
Top players: Sophomore QB Isiah Watts, junior RB Derrick Jones, senior WR Ramon Gates, senior WR Antonio Jackson, senior LB Anton Brown and junior DL/LB/OL Christian Stewart.
Outlook: Former Harper Woods Chandler Park junior varsity head coach Marlon Baker enters his first year at Osborn, which last qualified for the state playoffs in 2008. Baker knows it will be an uphill battle for the Knights in the toughest division in the PSL, yet he believes his team will compete every single week. “I think we’re going to be that team that’s going to shock a lot of people,” Baker said. “We’re going to contend every game, and I think we’ve got all the skills. It’s just how far our offensive line is going to take us.”
Coaches’ poll: 1. Mumford 39, 2. Renaissance 34, 3. Cody 32, 4. Western 31.
Mumford (4-5, 2-1)
Strength: Defensive line.
Top players: DE Greg Johnson, DL Bryant Evans, LB Brandon Green, DL Aaron Woods, OT Andre Bailey, QB Omar Pagan, RB Cerell Lewis and WR Lavien Fields.
Outlook: In his fourth year on the job, head coach Donshell English hopes to get the Mustangs back on track after they took a step back last year and finished 4-5, missing out on the state playoffs for the first time since 2012. Mumford’s defensive line should play a significant role in getting the school back to the postseason.
Renaissance (5-4, 2-1)
Strength: Defensive end.
Top players: Senior QB Jason Johnson, senior RB/S Cam’Ron Starks, junior DE/TE Vernon Rush, junior DE Brian Buckson, junior OT/OG Damareion White and junior LB/S/HB/TE Abdur Boyer.
Outlook: The Phoenix only have three seniors returning, but have a strong junior and underclassmen group that will try to get the Phoenix back to the state playoffs after missing out in 2015. If head man Lou Beatty gets the most out of QB Jason Johnson and fellow senior Cam’Ron Starks, the Phoenix could be in store for a big season with the two-headed monster of Vernon Rush and Brian Buckson on the defensive line. Rush and Buckson are the two guys whom Beatty considers to be his “defensive pillars.”
Cody (2-7, 2-1)
Top players: DE Jayssaor Ball, LB/RB Zyaire Gardner and junior C Gerard Sims.
Outlook: After a disappointing 2015 campaign, Cody hopes to bounce back and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. “I expect us to be a lot stronger, and a lot more disciplined this year,” head coach Calvin Norman said. Norman expects to have better defensive and offensive lines in place than in previous years, which he believes will enable the Comets to improve upon their 2-7 finish last season.
Western (2-7, 0-3)
Strengths: Wide receiver and defensive back.
Top players: Senior DB/WR Brent Watson, senior DB/WR Devin George and DE Antonio McCance.
Outlook: After losing four of their seven games on the last possession last year, the Cowboys expect to turn the corner and win some of those games this season. Although the Cowboys will be very young and inexperienced on the offensive line, they are a primarily veteran bunch which will be led by playmaking wideouts Brent Watson and Devin George. If the Cowboys can buy enough time from their line to hurl the ball to Watson and George on the outside, this could be a dangerous offensive team in 2016.
Coaches’ poll: 1. Denby 39, 2. Central 37, 3. (tie) Pershing 30 and Southeastern 30.
Denby (6-5, 0-3)
Top players: Senior RB Adonte Calhoun, senior FB Giovanni Allen, senior QB Romel Taylor, senior DB/WR Tonato Tutt, junior LB Jaylin Early, senior TE/DE Rahim Ali, senior C Cameron Spicer, junior OT/DT David Blake, junior S/WR Brandon Stevenson and junior RB/DB Armani White.
Outlook: Denby is gunning for its fourth straight playoff appearance, and for its first regional title game appearance since 2006 when it fell to Warren Cousino. “We are very excited about this season and feel we are ready to make that breakthrough in the city and state ranks,” Denby head coach Tony Blankenship said. “If we can remain healthy, we will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Central (6-4, 3-0)
Strength: Interior line/skill positions.
Top players: Senior LB/RB Santangho Reynolds, RB Demetrious Christian, RB Chaim Austin, WR Anthony Baker, WR Rodney Johnson and MLB Darnell Newbold.
Outlook: Central aims to make it three consecutive state playoff appearances in 2016. It also looks to advance past the first round for the first time since 2010 when it advanced all the way to the regional championship against the now defunct Detroit Crockett. First-year Central head coach Lynn Sanders, a 1994 graduate of the school, will use a strong interior line and a talented bunch of skill players to try to accomplish that feat.
Pershing (4-5, 2-1)
Strength: Skill positions.
Top players: Senior OL/DT Airon Reeves, senior LB Jonathan Moore, senior RB Omar Twilley, senior WR Michael Bursey and junior WR Dejuan Seals.
Outlook: After finishing 4-5 in back-to-back campaigns, the Doughboys look to creep above the .500 mark in 2016. They will attempt to do so while using no true No. 1 quarterback. Instead, Pershing head man Kareem Sadler will deploy a QB-by-committee approach. The Doughboys will have a veteran offensive line blocking for their multiple quarterbacks and creating holes for running back Omar Twilley this season, though. With that being said, expect the Doughboys to rely heavily upon their ground game, especially during the beginning of the season.
Southeastern (1-8, 0-3)
Strength: Defensive front seven.
Top players: Junior QB Curtis Murphy, senior OL KeAnthony Mayers, junior C/DT Leon Sims, junior MLB Michael Hargro, junior CB/RB Creed Stegall and senior DE Anthony Hudson.
Outlook: After two straight seasons of losing at least eight games, Southeastern head coach Jason Smith believes the experience of playing on varsity garnered by junior quarterback Curtis Murphy and others who were underclassmen a year ago will pay dividends. If it does, expect this team to get to four wins, which almost occurred in 2015 after suffering three losses of six points or less.
Coaches’ poll: 1. Northwestern 38, 2. Henry Ford 37, 3. Douglass 33, 4. CMA 28.
Northwestern (9-1, 3-0)
Top players: Junior athlete Joseph Dennis, sophomore athlete Calvin Fair, senior quarterback Marcus Smith, senior MLB Delvon Wells, sophomore DE/WR Jason Singleton and senior OL Narico Richardson.
Outlook: What Northwestern had in experience last year with 16 returning starters, they lack this year with only four returning starters on each side of the ball. “Seeing how fast those (young) guys can adjust to being on varsity and playing at this level of football will determine how we do as a school,” Colts head coach Jimmy Hill said. With that being said, it might be fair to expect a little dip in wins from last year’s 9-1 mark, which marked the school’s second ever nine-win campaign and its best finish since going 9-2 in 2007.
Henry Ford (5-4, 2-1)
Top players: Senior DB/WR Ricky Garner, junior QB Antonio Green, senior LB/TE Alton Dawson and junior OL/DL Jalen McKinney.
Outlook: After finishing above .500 for the first time since 2011 with a 5-4 record, the Trojans hope to build upon last season’s success despite having 12 players graduate from last year’s squad. Senior defensive back Ricky Garner will have to be a force defensively, and junior Jalen McKinney will have to be a force on both lines in order for Ford to gain further traction within the PSL in 2016.
Douglass (3-6, 1-2)
Strength: Speed on defense.
Top players: Sophomore DB/RB Jalen Mann, junior starting QB Jalen Randall, senior LT Paul Brown, senior LB/RB Terrell Harris and senior FS Christian Jones.
Outlook: Douglass head man Phil Sherman has an extremely young squad in year number two at the helm for the Hurricanes with only one returning starter. The Hurricanes are coming off a 3-6 campaign after two consecutive one-victory finishes. With all the youth on this year’s squad, a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 might not be in store yet. However, with another step forward taken this year, it definitely could be on the horizon for the ‘Canes.
CMA (1-8, 0-3)
Top players: Senior QB Matthew Webb, senior LB Darius Bell, DL/OL Shannon Johnson and senior LB/RB James Clark.
Outlook: CMA scored a total of 14 points throughout the entire 2015 campaign. They should be in store for an uptick in offense with senior passer Matthew Webb.