Brother Rice safety Jason Alessi grabs an interception against Detroit King during a Division 2 state semifinal game in November. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to Detroit News)
Jason Alessi was a lacrosse player with no interest in playing football, in high school or college. An All-State lacrosse player at Birmingham Brother Rice, Alessi committed to Michigan to play soccer after his sophomore season — and that’s where he thought his future would be.
“I played football my freshman year on the freshman team,” he said. “Then I quit.
“I wasn’t that thrilled about football.”
But during his sophomore year, the football team needed help. The kicking was deplorable. His classmates pleaded with Alessi, a kicker and a punter, to come back to the team and bail them out.
“We lost like three games on missed kicks late in the game,” Alessi said. “So I came back.”
Alessi helped solve the kicking woes and Brother Rice went on to win what would be the first of three consecutive Division 2 state titles.
Alessi came out the next season and became a starter in the secondary, and kept his kicking duties, as well. He had five interceptions that season and so college coaches took notice. He went to the Cornell football camp the following summer and the recruiting picked up. Akron offered a scholarship. The Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy came calling. Michigan offered him an opportunity as a preferred walk-on.
And after the season, Yale showed interest. One assistant coach made a home visit. Then assistant coach Steve Vashel, Yale’s secondary coach, made a home visit. The wheels were in motion.
Alessi made his official visit in early December and he committed.
“I’m real lucky,” he said. “My dad went on the visit with me and he was very happy I chose Yale.”
Small in stature, receiver gets huge opportunity
At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Corey Lacanaria of Brother Rice was one of the best receivers, for his size, in the state. Those who watched Brother Rice play never saw him drop a pass. His junior year he had 50 receptions. This past season he had 65.
Still, the only scholarship offers he received were from Division II schools.
“The height,” he said. “That’s what kept (the Division I schools) away.
“And I did have a drop. But I was concussed that game. It was against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s this year. I saw it on film. I don’t remember it.”
Lacanaria caught on with a Division I school. He signed with Ball State on Wednesday. It was the Division I school to offer a scholarship.
“They saw me at the Ohio State camp,” he said. “They kept after me. On Jan. 25 they offered. Two days later I committed.”
Cass Tech's big day
Eight players from Detroit Cass Tech signed with Division I schools on Wednesday. Six others signed with schools in a lower division and another signed with a junior college.
“It is a proud day,” coach Thomas Wilcher said. “The most important thing is academics. The parents stress academics. Some turned down schools to go to another school based on education. When they come here the parents have it slotted to go to college.”
Topping the list is defensive back Damon Webb who signed with Ohio State. Six signed with schools from the Mid-American Conference and Deon Drake, Jr., signed with Michigan State.
Southfield's biggest day
Southfield had 13 players signed and a 14th, Malik McDowell, remains committed to MSU.
“It’s the most ever,” coach Tim Conley. “We’ve been working up to this. The most we had in the past was 11 (2008). Usually it’s one D1 and a bunch of D2s.
“Social media has changed things. It’s crazy. And we’ve started to use Rising Star, a recruiting service. They help us contact coaches. Not in Michigan, we can get them, but schools like Morgan State and others.”
Four signed with Division I schools. Linebacker Jordan Cry was the one who signed with Morgan State.
Wayne State signed one of the top linebackers in the Grand Rapids area, a quarterback from Macomb County and two receivers from in-state.
Rockford’s Randy Garvin had 57 tackles, including 14 for loss, to lead Rockford to its fifth consecutive OK Red Division title.
"I'm really looking forward to going to Wayne State,” Garvin said. “It has a hospital right on campus and I want to maximize my education (with pre-med).”
Also signing were Macomb Dakota quarterback Tyler Crowell, Muskegon Mona Shores receiver Logan Smith and Lake Orion receiver Corey Ester.
Almont punter Peter Deppe (6-1, 185) signed with Northern Illinois. Deppe averaged 44 yards per punt this past season, converted 36 of 40 extra points and was named to The Detroit News first team Division 5-6 All State.