August 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

High school football preview: Macomb Area Conference

Tight end Daniel Crawford (8) gives Dakota a big target who had 22 catches for 320 yards last season. (David Coates / Detroit News)

Red Division

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 record in parentheses

1. Macomb Dakota (11-1, 5-0), 2. Utica Eisenhower (5-4, 2-3), 3. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (9-2, 4-1), 4. Warren Mott (10-1, 5-0), 5. Sterling Heights Stevenson (4-5, 2-3), 6. Macomb L’Anse Creuse North (8-2, 4-1).

Top four players

■Dakota tight end Daniel Crawford (6-foot-3, 235) is a big target for the defending division champs. He had 22 receptions for 320 yards last season. He will play his college ball at Northern Illinois.

■Dakota defensive end Tony Balabani (6-2, 230) is a force on the line on both sides of the ball. He had more than 60 tackles last season to help his team to an 11-win season and was also an all-state wrestler. He will play at Western Michigan.

■Eisenhower defensive end/receiver Logan Fredal (6-3, 220) is the first four-year varsity player in school history. A strong two-way player, he made 61 tackles last season and is being recruited by several Division II schools.

■L’Anse Creuse North safety/running back Trevor Conklin (6-0, 225) has great speed and is a big-time hitter on defense. He is being recruited by MAC and Division II schools.

Top four story lines

■Anthony Kiner has done an outstanding job in his two years at L’Anse Creuse North, taking over a program that had a 20-game losing streak and going 7-2 during the 2012 regular season and 8-1 last year, earning state playoff spots both years. North shared the Blue Division title with Grosse Pointe South last season and will now move up two divisions to compete in the Red. It should be interesting to see how well North can compete against programs which own the top enrollments in the state (Dakota, No. 1; Eisenhower, No. 2, and Stevenson, No. 4).

■L’Anse Creuse North isn’t the lone newcomer to the Red. Mott also moves up to compete with the big boys after going 10-1 last season, winning the White division title with a 5-0 mark. It was Mott’s first unbeaten regular season in school history.

■Chippewa Valley is loaded with talented receivers, with Sean Bunting hauling in 24 passes for 500 yards last season, Kyle Muller averaging 30 yards a reception and three-star junior Stefan Claiborne getting attention from national powers with his hands and 4.5 speed.

■Stevenson has a new head coach in Kevin Frederick, the former head coach at Whittemore-Prescott. Frederick guided Whittemore-Prescott to a 44-18 record in six seasons, earning playoff spots each year, including an upset of two-time defending state champion Traverse City St. Francis in 2010. Stevenson was 4-5 last season, 2-3 in the division.

White Division

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 record in parentheses

1. Romeo (7-4, 3-2), 2. Grosse Pointe South (6-4, 4-1), 3. Port Huron (5-4, 4-1), 4. Utica Ford (1-8, 0-5), 5, tie, Utica (4-5, 2-3), New Baltimore Anchor Bay (4-5, 3-2)

Top four players

■Romeo quarterback Paul Hurley took over the starting job midway through last season and led his team to a playoff win over Lake Orion, completing 27 of 38 passes for 296 yards, capped off with two fourth-quarter TD drives in a 24-21 victory.

■Romeo defensive tackle/guard Matt Doan (6-foot-1, 305) is dominant on both sides of the ball. The three-year starter is being recruited by Ball State and several Division II schools.

■Utica running back Kumehnnu Gwilly (6-2, 190) made a name for himself in his first year of organized football last season, using his power and speed (4.6) to run for 750 yards in a half-dozen games.

■Port Huron linebacker/tight end Ravin Randall (6-1, 220) has good size and speed and has a nose for the ball from his linebacker spot. He owns a 4.0 GPA and is being recruited by Ivy League schools.

Top four story lines

■Romeo dropped from the Red to the White and will carry a string of 10 straight state playoff appearances into this season. After a 3-2 Red showing, Romeo should be the team to beat in the White, led by three-year varsity players Doan and middle linebacker Nathan Conner.

■South moved up to the White after earning a share of the Blue title while earning a playoff spot for the fifth straight year. Expect South to pound the ball on the ground with four of its five offensive linemen returning to open holes for 800-yard rusher Sam Hunter.

■The only thing in the way of a White title last year for Port Huron was a close loss to Warren Mott in Week 8. The outcome ultimately also put an end to the program’s run of six straight playoff appearances. Port Huron has its entire offensive line back, along with three members of its defensive line, including 5-10, 250-pound Dominic Trevino, leaving coach Ryan Mullins believing his team has the potential to challenge for the league title and get back to the playoffs.

■Anchor Bay has a new head coach in Mike Powell, who is no stranger to the MAC. Powell was head coach at Warren Cousino. Powell inherits a program which went 4-5 last season, 3-2 in the White.

Blue Division

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 record in parentheses

1. Grosse Pointe North (6-4, 3-2), 2. Fraser (3-6, 1-4), 3. Warren Cousino (1-8, 1-4), 4. Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse (1-8, 1-4), 5. St. Clair Shores Lakeview (3-6, 2-3), 6. Roseville (1-8, 0-5).

Top four players

■North junior linebacker Lawrence Bryant (6-0, 225) was a dominant player during his sophomore year, making 106 tackles, including 14 for lost yardage. He also intercepted three passes and will be a threat at running back this season.

■North quarterback Dan Robinson (6-2, 200) is a multi-sport athlete (baseball) and is being recruited for both sports by Central Michigan. He has 4.5 speed and is a dual threat quarterback, throwing for 1,150 yards and rushing for 800.

■Fraser linebacker/defensive end Marcus Bowers (6-0, 215) has been a starter since his freshman year. He caused havoc last year, making 70 tackles while also having a hand in forcing several turnovers. He is being recruited by Ivy League schools and is also considering Air Force.

■Fraser quarterback Dylan Walker expects to continue right where he left off at the end of the ’13 season. He started the final four games and helped his team average 30 points during that span, including a 4 TD passing night in a win over Sterling Heights.

Top four story lines

■Half of the teams in the Blue are new to the division this season with Lakeview moving up from the Gold and Roseville and Cousino dropping from the White. Grosse Pointe North could be the team to beat in the Blue with rival South moving up to the White. North had lost to South four straight years, preventing it from a division title.

■Brad Nettles takes over as Cousino’s head coach, replacing longtime coach Mike Powell, who moved on to New Baltimore Anchor Bay. Nettles, who was head coach at Richmond in 2010, will be aided by offensive coordinator Pat McAleer, who has been in coaching since 1969, and strength and conditioning coach, 77-year-old Bud Dobo who is in his 55th season.

■Fraser coach Pat Threet has been encouraged with his numbers during his fourth year in the program, pointing out he has 64 players on its roster, almost doubling the total from his first season. Fraser has eight returning starters on defense and seven on offense, trying to take another step up the ladder after a 1-8 season in 2012 and 3-6 mark last season.

■Frank Sumbera enters his 34th year as head coach at Grosse Pointe North. He returns 30 players, including 10 starters, expecting big things from junior running back/linebacker Lawrence Bryant and quarterback Dan Robinson. Sumbera earned career win No. 200 during a 40-32 regular-season finale victory over St. Clair, also putting North in the state playoffs where it lost in the first-round to Detroit East English.

Silver Division

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 record in parentheses

1. Madison Heights Madison (11-1, 5-0), 2. Clintondale (9-1, 5-0), 3. St. Clair Shores South Lake (4-5, 3-2), 4. Warren Fitzgerald (2-7, 1-4), 5. St. Clair Shores Lake Shore (4-5, 1-4), 6. East Detroit (2-7, 2-3).

Top four players

■South Lake junior running back Martell Pettaway (5-9, 180) used his 4.5 speed to rush for 1,383 yards and 17 TDs last season. He has already been offered a scholarship by Michigan State.

■Madison running back Juan Johnson (5-9, 180) matches Pettaway’s 4.5 speed and equals the excitement he creates every time he touches the ball. Johnson can play multiple positions, including receiver, strong safety and kick returner. He recovered two fumbles, had an interception and scored the winning TD in a 27-20 Division 6 district title game win over Flint Beecher.

■Madison quarterback Matthew Crews (6-1, 190) helped his team win division and district titles last season. He threw for 1,500 yards and 12 TDs to take some pressure off the running game led by Juan Johnson.

■Lake Shore quarterback Will Bobek (6-5, 185) will try to help his team earn a winning record after completing 65 percent of his passes last season while throwing for 1,343 yards and 14 TDs. He is being recruited by Ivy League schools.

Top four story lines

■Coach Drake Wilkins will have outstanding skilled players in running back Juan Johnson and quarterback Matthew Crews back to help Madison in its attempt to repeat as division champs. Johnson is fully healthy after being hampered by a leg injury two years ago.

■Clintondale moves up to the Silver this season after going unbeaten during its MAC Bronze division championship and a trip to the state playoffs. Coach Dave Schindler expects big things from 6-4, 240-pound junior defensive end/tight end Josh Eldridge in an attempt to knock off Madison as league champ.

■South Lake coach Nick Marrogy found out a little late that his team really had a winning season, getting the news from the MHSAA earlier this month that Clintondale played with an ineligible player in Week 9, resulting in South Lake getting the win to go 5-4 instead of 4-5. The news was a little too late, preventing South Lake of a possible playoff spot.

■While Clintondale moves in the division, Warren Woods-Tower and Madison Heights Lamphere depart. Tower has moved up to the Gold after a 4-1 showing in the Silver and Lamphere moves down to the Bronze following its 1-8 record in 2013.

Gold Division

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 record in parentheses

1. Marine City (13-1, 4-1), 2. St. Clair (11-2, 5-0), 3. Marysville (5-5, 3-2), 4. Warren Woods-Tower (6-4, 4-1), 5. Port Huron Northern (2-7, 2-3), 6. Sterling Heights (1-8, 0-5).

Top four players

■Marine City running back/cornerback Jarrett Mathison (5-11, 170) has great vision and can quickly cut to find open holes. He rushed for 1,270 yards to lead his team to the Division 4 state championship. He showed his ability to make the big play by returning a kickoff 91 yards for a TD in the 49-35 state title game win over Grand Rapids South Christian. He had 103 yards rushing in the game and intercepted two passes.

■Marine City quarterback Alex Merchant (6-1, 190) threw for 2,009 yards last season, including a 208-yard, 3-TD performance in the state title game win. He is being recruited by several Division II schools.

■Tower quarterback Darius Jordan (6-0, 175) is a dual threat quarterback, throwing for 1,000 yards and rushing for 1,000 more last season to help his team to a state playoff spot. He has 4.5 speed and is being recruited by Division II schools.

■St. Clair fullback/linebacker Larry Ochadleus (6-1, 190) will move to quarterback this season after helping his team win division, district and regional titles last season. He replaces Jared Tobey who rushed for more than 1,400 yards. Ochadleus showed his running ability with a 120-yard effort in a district opening win over Detroit Old Redford.

Top four story lines

■After a first-round exit in the state playoffs in 2012, Ron Glodich had a long playoff run in Year No. 2 as head coach of Marine City, guiding it to a state championship. Now, Glodich eyes a division title after Marine City lost its lone game to St. Clair 43-33. He has six returning starters on offense, including 6-3, 300-pound all-state offensive lineman Kenton Rivard and 6-3, 260-pound guard Griffen Lictawa, along with quarterback Alex Merchant and running back Jarrett Mathison. The program has advanced to the state playoffs 16 straight years.

■St. Clair has to replace Gold division MVP running back Bo Meldrum and quarterback Jared Tobey from an explosive offensive team. Coach Bill Nesbitt will have Larry Ochadleus replace Tobey and expects junior Riley Gleason to do a good job while taking over for Meldrum. Ochadleus will have a big weapon in 6-7 tight end Clarke Lamb who is recovering from a knee injury.

■Tower went from a sub-.500 team to earning its first state playoff appearance in seven years, averaging a school-record 32 points a game before losing the postseason opener to Detroit Jesuit. Tower could reach the playoffs again with quarterback Darius Jordan and receiver Jimmy Schindler returning to form a strong combination in the passing game.

■Tower is a newcomer in the Gold, moving up from the Silver where it had a 4-1 division record last year, finishing second behind Madison. Port Huron Northern dropped from the Blue. St. Clair Shores Lake Shore and St. Clair Shores Lakeview left the division with Lake Shore dropping to the Silver and Lakeview up to the Blue.

Bronze Division

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 record in parentheses

1. Clawson (7-3, 4-1), 2. Madison Heights Lamphere (1-8, 0-5), 3. Warren Lincoln (4-5, 2-3), 4. Mount Clemens (4-5, 3-2), 5. Center Line (0-9, 0-5), 6. New Haven (2-7, 1-4).

Top four players

■Clawson likes to throw the ball a lot, 75 percent of the time and that’s a big reason quarterback Ty Sparks set a number of school records last season, including most completions (159), most yards (2,299), most TDs (23), most yards in a game (413) and longest TD pass (91). His 63.3 percent completion rate was yet another school mark.

■Center Line receiver Jacob Brooklier (6-4, 200) had a big junior season last year, grabbing 48 receptions, then worked just as hard in the weight room during the off season to pack on 30 pounds to prepare him for his final season.

■Cam Campana (6-3, 180) proved to be a physical presence at linebacker last season, making 82 tackles while intercepting two passes and recovering two fumbles for Clawson. Coach Jim Sparks will move Campana to his natural strong safety position this year.

■Ryan Walker (6-4, 200), a transfer from Walled Lake Western, is expected to give Center Line a big boost under center. Walker is big, strong and has a good arm which should aid an offense that struggled to score during the second half of games last season.

Top four story lines

■Center Line hasn’t won a game the last two years and Jim Carlisle feels things will change in Year No. 3 as head coach. Why? Center Line was either leading or tied at halftime in six games last season. He expects them to finish better. He will also be aided by the addition of Walker at quarterback who has two outstanding receivers to work with in Jacob Brooklier and 6-3, 180-pound Paul Kessler.

■Clawson will be the team to beat in the Bronze this season with Bronze champ Clintondale moving up to the Silver. Clawson still has Clintondale on the schedule and will try to end a two-game skid in the series when the teams meet Oct. 3 in Clintondale.

■Mount Clemens has a weapon in Noah O’Brien, who is capable of kicking 40-yard field goals. O’Brien is ready to do whatever coach Harold Penn asks of him, including playing quarterback/middle linebacker and handling the kicking and punting duties.

■Jason Hann returns to New Haven where he becomes the third different head coach in as many years at the school. Hann was on Utica’s coaching staff the previous four years and is a former New Haven defensive coordinator before that.