Coaches’ poll: Northville, 52; Livonia Stevenson, 51; Novi, 50; Plymouth Salem, 41; South Lyon, 38; South Lyon East, 32.
Northville (6-0, 10-1)
Strength: Commitment to the Process
Top players: junior WR A.J. Abbott, OLB Trenton Guthrie (Western Michigan commit), junior K Jake Moody (ranked No. 11 in the country in Kornblue poll), C Zach Marks, WR Jack Peterson, DL Zach Bates, DB Jack Burke, junior CB Abe Khoury, LB Ryan Nelson and CB Gary Wu.
Outlook: Only 3 starters return on offense, but 6 are back to lead the defense after an undefeated league and conference championship last year. “The success of this year’s football team will be determined by our ability to demonstrate toughness at all times and to play selflessly,” said coach Jeff Burnside. Moody’s outstanding leg could keep the Mustangs in close games if the offense doesn’t punch the ball into the end zone.
Stevenson (4-1, 6-3)
Top players: QB Chris Tanderys (3-year starter, 1,599 yards passing on 57 percent, 17 TDs to 4 INTs), OL/DL Devlen Kuschel (6-4, 275, 3-year starter), OL/DL Anthony Loepardi, RB/DB Nick Poulos (39 tackles), WR Ian Knoph, junior RB/LB Josh page, junior OL Giovanni Agazzi (6-3, 275).
Outlook: “After back to back playoff appearances this group is motivated to take the next step in the state playoffs,” said head coach Randy Micallef. The Spartans hope to do so with 4 starters returning on each side of the ball with many support players who had significant playing time in 2015.
Novi (3-2, 6-5)
Strength: Team chemistry
Top players: QB Alec Bageris (3-year starter, 2,344 yards passing and 22 TD), WR Anthony D’Annibale (55 Catches, 882 Yards, 11 TD), OL Johnny Davis (6-4, 250), OL Adam Guirey (6-4, 280), junior WR Trey Maddox, LB Ian Patterson (leading tackler, 79), LB Connor Moore (6 sacks), LB Scott Latham (48 tackles), DL Ethan Carter (5 sacks) and DB Ryan Welch.
Outlook: The Wildcats have 9 offensive starters returning, with 8 on defense, so experience from last year’s playoff run is huge, but overall team depth numbers are lower than desired. The offensive line is senior heavy, as is the 3-man line backing corps on defense. After getting a taste for the playoffs for the first time in 7 years prior, Novi wants back in.
Salem (2-3, 3-6)
Strength: Offensive line, speed.
Top players: LB Trevor Nowaske (2-time all-conference), junior RB/LB Parker Selby, WR Mason Phillips, DE Davon Gunn, junior OT/DT Alex Howie (6-4, 294), RB/S Jason Arnold, DT Sean Pilon (6-2, 270), NG David Mason III.
Outlook: Coach Kurt Britnell said: “We feel we have a lot of upside potential with many younger guys and Can’t wait to see what they can do. Biggest questions are how a few returning juniors make a jump and impact as well as a couple first year varsity juniors.”
South Lyon (1-4, 4-5)
Top players: QB Carlo Zoratti, WR/S Braxton Blackwell, OL/LB Sanjay Britton, OL/DL Travis Marcus, RB/LB Ryan Pedersan, RB/DL Stone Ruffin, WR/DB Josh Travis (leading receiver), junior OL Trevor Weiss (6-5, 310).
Outlook: With 23 seniors returning the Lions look to be well-experienced in most positions, but depth is a huge problem with only 28 players total on the roster. Five starters return on offense and seven on defense. Staying healthy is key and with the experience they have the Lions can contend for the division title.
South Lyon East (0-5, 1-8)
Strength: Linebackers and secondary
Top players: FB/LB Shane Patterson (3-year starter), OL/DL Joel Trent (3-year starter), RB/SS Anthony Salter, WR/DB Ryan Skvarce, junior RB/LB Jake Waranauckas, OL/DL Will Carter, DL/OL Ryan McKeon, OL/DL, WR/LB Ryan Leckner and OL/LB Mike Machesky.
Outlook: East returns six on offense and seven on defense; a good sign for still one of the newest programs in the state. “Our players gained a lot of experience and we look to keep getting better every day,” said coach Joe Pesci. “Strong seniors and experienced leaders and we have several juniors and sophomores that are ready to contribute this season.”
Coaches poll: Walled Lake Western, 57; Waterford Mott, 50; Walled Lake Northern, 48; Lakeland, 43; Waterford Kettering, 41; Walled Lake Central, 38.
Western (5-0, 12-1)
Strength: Explosive skill players
Top players: SE/DB Cody White (Michigan State commit, 13 games, 49 receptions, 927 yards, 18.9 avg., 8 TDs), OL/DL Rob Hudson (6-8, 310, Div. 1 offers), DB Jack Dodge, SE Kam Ford, QB Johnny Tracy (transfer from Brother Rice), LB Matt Alati, and junior OL Joey George.
Outlook: After going four games deep into the playoffs last year and reaching the semifinals, returning starter numbers for 2016 are thin with just three on offense and five on defense, but the skill positions should shine. Games against cross-overs Canton and Northville are critical to starting the season of right.
Mott (3-2, 6-4)
Strength: Experience and Speed
Top players: LB Trey Christian (95 tackles), junior LB Dominik Rowell (88 tackles 5 sacks), OL/DL Bryce Locke, OL/DL Quentin Logan, RB/DB Tyreese Mays (985 yards, 7 TDs), OL/DL Brendan Kennedy, DL Nathan Stoddard (5 sacks), WR/DB Zac Loll (28 catches, 350 yards, 7 TDs), junior LB Jared Wheeler (70 tackles), DB Marcos Quintero, LB Josh Course.
Outlook: Mott has good experience returning with 7 starters on offense and 8 on defense, but for success there is an expectation of contributions from young talent. The coaching staff is excited about the overall team speed and work ethic that has been shown thus far.
Northern (4-1, 6-4)
Strength: skilled positions and defense
Top players: RB Miller Carlock (1,000-plus yards), QB Dylan Moser (all-conference RB last year), WR Grant Seyburn, LB Dylan Buchan (leading tackler), LB Luke Lawley, LB Nick Dunlap, WR/DB Jack Valentine, OL/DE Paul Forhan.
Outlook: Coach Brett Moore is pumped up about his line backing core and defensive backs, with their combined experience, speed and athleticism. The team has plenty of rookies at many positions, so a top goal is to just showing improvement each day.
Lakeland (1-4, 4-5)
Top players: RB/DB Matt Lowe (all conference, 3-year starter), RB/LB Hunter Roberts (all conference), QB Alec Remirez, junior OL/DL Alex Laverenz, junior OL/DL Ryan Allen, WR/DB Liam Bradley and LB Noah Howard.
Outlook: all but one loss last year was close in score so attitudes remain upbeat for getting over the hump in 2016. Seven starters return on offense and six on defense, but no job is secure with talent coming up to compete for playing time from last year’s JV conference champ. “We have more cylinders firing now this year than we had last year,” said coach Joe Woodruff.
Kettering (1-4, 4-5)
Strength: speed, defensive front 7
Top players: LB Ty Swallwell, OL Brandon Egres, LB Kyle Piotrovsky, RB/LB Jimmy McFadden (transfer from Mott), RB/DB Tony Walker.
Outlook: Youth dominate at key skill positions this season, but the kicking game should be greatly improved after special teams play was costly at critical times last season. Only two starters return on defense and one on offense.
Central (1-4, 1-8)
Top players: QB Jack Gulvas, LB Jason Weber, CB Jacob Downey, OL Nick Jovanovski and K Poff Midgley (15 field goals).
Outlook: Five starters return on each side of the ball but the team will need to play near-perfect games to finish better than last year. It’s good for the Vikings to be back home after stadium construction caused many away games and practices.
►Related: No. 2 Walled Lake Western
Coaches’ poll: Canton, 58; Plymouth, 51; Livonia Franklin, 48; Livonia Churchill, 45; Westland Glenn, 35; Wayne Memorial, 32.
Canton (3-2, 10-3)
Strength: Experience, intelligent players
Top players: OT Dave Gunnis, RB Markus Sanders (3 year starter, All-State, 2,495 yards rushing as a junior), TE Brennon Pelland, OG/DT Jake Warner, junior DB Colin Troupe, junior LB Lou Baechler (leading tackler with 85, and 2 INTs).
Outlook: All players above were all-league last year. Six starters return on each side of the ball for the team that got hot in the playoffs and reached the state semifinals. “The keys for us is to eliminate the big play on defense, create turnovers, and win on third down,” said coach Tim Baechler. “We must take care of the football and control the game with the offense.”
Plymouth (5-0, 6-4)
Strength: Line play and linebackers
Top players: RB/LB Darius Timmons, C/DL Joe Supernois, OL/DL Austin Scheffer, WR/DB Isaac Emminger, OL/DL Matt Wayne, WR/DB Chase Timko, LB C.J. Wieloch, LB Spencer Zwarka.
Outlook: Plymouth swept every opponent in the South last year but didn’t last long in the playoffs. “We had a lot of talent last year, but we didn’t maximize it,” said coach Mike Sawchuk. “Hopefully, they’ve learned from that and are ready to buy in 100 percent. If they do that, we could have some fun.” The team has depth in the interior line on both sides, plus at linebacker and running back. Seven starters return on both sides.
Franklin (3-2, 9-4)
Strength: Competition at all positions
Top players: RB/DB Chris Nehasil, TE Ke’Mauri Heard, OL/DL Bobby Madley, OL/DL Jax Gasaway, OL/DL Dan Domzalski, RB Jacob Clark, junior RB Issac Moore, junior LB Jacob Mass, WR Jake Giacobbi.
Outlook: Franklin, a Div. 2 state semifinalist last year after an unexpected but fun run, returns 8 on offense plus 7 defensive starters. A great group of underclassmen with strength, combined with the solid senior class, makes for more optimism in 2016 as well.
Churchill (3-2, 5-5)
Strengths: experience, skill players, team speed
Top Players: WR/DB Jamal Allen (3 year starter, Toledo commit), WR/DB Mike Hill, QB Evan Cummins, RB/DE Javante Van Buren, junior RB Omar Morris, WR/DB Jacob Chantres, LB/TE Logan Freier, DB Jake Osen, OL Mason Heilman, DE Vionte Springfield.
Outlook: with Allen and Hill (all-conference) on the outside, and all-conference Cummins tossing the rock, Churchill’s passing game could be lethal. The offense returns 6 starters, the defense, 7. No less than 6-playoff teams are on the schedule.
Glenn (1-4, 1-8)
Top players: OL/DL Brandon Carreathers, LB Curtis Tamlin, OL Daijon Parker, WR/DB Bobby Powell, WR Roq Williams, junior QB Matt Nutt.
Outlook: Glenn’s resolve will be tested with just four players returning on offense and two on the defensive side for a program that’s struggled for several years.
Wayne (0-5, 0-9)
Strength: speed and backfield
Top players: junior WR/DE Reggie Micheuax (6-3, 212, all-conference), RB/s Bryan Struppa, RB/DB Josh Mitchell, junior QB Ger’Donte Williams (transfer from Cass Tech), OL/DL Anthony Calloway (6-1, 275), OL Louis Powell (6-3, 340), OL/DL Ronald Heard, RB/LB Mordica Blakley, RB/S junior Davion Carr.
Outlook: this is the second year for a new system and coaching staff. Team attitude is much improved. Multiple players attended summer camps which hadn’t happened before. “We are faster and our football IQ has improved dramatically,” said coach Donald Anderson. “This season will have a more wide open offense than last year but still stressing the run.”
Coaches poll: Brighton, 55; Grand Blanc, 50; Howell, 48; Hartland, 40; Milford, 39; Pinckney, 37.
Brighton (4-1, 9-2)
Strength: youth with experience
Top players: junior WR Rudy Rameriez, junior WR Matt Buschman, junior RB Luke Helwing, junior OT Andrew Meyer, LB Jack Aigner, junior QB Cameron Tullar, DB Trevor Hopman, DB Austin Ford.
Outlook: Howell could have one of the biggest squads in the state at 76 players, but most of the top talent is in the junior class so youth coming through and playing well is at a premium. Ten starters on defense graduated from the team going two games into the playoffs last year and winning the KLAA West Division. The offensive backfield will be run by committee.
Grand Blanc (2-3, 4-5)
Strength: skill players, line
Top players: WR Blake Bogan (3-year starter, 50 catches, 794 yards, 7 TDs), WR Dennis Smith, OL Will Larose, OL Brendan Lemley (6-2, 245), junior OL Joel Linden (6-3, 285), RB Chris Riley, DB Brett Anderson (45 tackles, 4 INTs, Ball State commit), LB Kendrick Green, LB Cole Kemper and LB Kullan Jamieson.
Outlook: “I am very optimistic about this group,” said coach Joe Delaney. “We have some very good skilled players on offense, to go along with a very experienced line. Kevin Corriasso has been outstanding thus far at QB.” Defensively, Anderson and Green should lead the young players who have size and speed.
Howell (3-2, 5-5)
Strength: Defensive front 7
Top players: OL/DL Wil Manson (3-year starter), QB Ryan Brennan, RB Joey Gossett, LB Caleb Gordish (3-year starter), LB Logan Russo (3-year starter), DE Mitch Susalla.
Outlook: Turnout for football in Howell this year was more than 60 players, the largest in 10 years, led by a strong group of seniors. With five of the front seven defensively coming back, plus QB Brennan and RB Gossett returning to the backfield, “we have the experience to be a very solid team if our offensive line comes together,” said coach Aaron Metz.
Hartland (4-1, 6-4)
Strength: skilled positions
Top players: OL Hayden Huttula, OL Ben Glasco, QB Brad Ekonen, RB Jack Slavin, DL Nico Candela, junior DL Ethan Martin and junior DB Jake Moyer.
Outlook: With seven starters retruning on each side fo the ball, Hartland is gunning for its third consecutive West division title. Coach Brian Savage said: “The KLAA is one of the toughest leagues in the state. Any team that makes the playoffs from the KLAA has been battle tested. Our conference and division are loaded with high quality football teams and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Pinckney (2-3, 4-5)
Strength: defensive line
Top players: TE/DE Wes Smith (3-year starter, 8 sacks), OL/DT Adam Sieler (6-5, 320), WR/S Dolyn Meinecke (3-year starter), WR/CB Nick Cain, OL/DT Jeremy Tobey.
Outlook: the team’s most-noticeable personnel losses were the QB and three starting offensive linemen, “so hopefully the defense will carry us while the offenses grows,” said coach Jakob Gailitis. Stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback are top priorities. Team should be competitive but numbers are thin.
Milford (0-5, 1-8)
Strength: Skilled positions
Top players: QB Zack Jones, LB Derek Horne, FB Conner Jensen, RB Joe Bravo, RB Josh Bravo, OL Tommy Lucas, DB Brenden Perrett, LB Anthony Perez.
Outlook: Coach Tim Gough said: “Our team needs to play an entire game. We competed well through the first half last year. We now have a ton of experience and its time to put a whole game together.”