2016 record in parenthesis; listed by predicted order of finish
UTICA EISENHOWER (12-1, 5-0)
Eisenhower lost the majority of its starters from last year’s MAC Red championship team that advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals, but returns an experienced quarterback in three-year starter Max Wittwer (1,677 yards, 21 touchdowns, four interceptions, 819 yards rushing, eight yards per carry) and a dominant defensive end in 6-foot-4, 220-pound Henry Janeway Jr., who has offers from Navy, Eastern Michigan and Ball State.
CLINTON TOWNSHIP CHIPPEWA VALLEY (6-4, 2-3)
Chippewa Valley has a large senior class (36) with 19 returning starters to challenge Eisenhower for the Red Division title. Quarterback Tommy Schuster completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,173 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 495 yards and seven scores his sophomore year to lead the team to a state playoff appearance. Receiver/defensive back Cardell Snorton is a three-year starter and defensive lineman Kevin Krasniqi had 101/2 tackles for loss.
MACOMB DAKOTA (7-4, 2-3)
Dakota has to replace its talented aerial attack of Brett Droski and receiver Jaylen Hall (Western Michigan) as well as running back Kaiser Carleton. Junior Mark Tocco is expected to take over for Droski at quarterback to try and help Dakota to its 17th straight state playoff appearance. He will be tested early in the season opener against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, followed by Eisenhower in Week 2.
ROMEO (9-4, 3-2)
Romeo is coming off its best two-year stretch in program history, winning the Division 1 state title in 2015 and making a state semifinal appearance, a 17-0 loss to Detroit Catholic Central, in 2016. Romeo wins with defense, allowing just 34 points during its final five games last season. Running back/defensive back Nathan Goralski ran for 516 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 8.4 yards a carry.
WARREN MOTT (7-3, 3-2)
Coach Tom Milanov has guided Mott to six straight state playoff appearances and will need to get production out of his inexperienced skill position players to keep the streak alive. Mott’s strength is on the line of scrimmage with four of five starters back on the offensive line, including Brian Buchman and Liam Fogerty, along with five of seven back on the front end of the defense.
STERLING HEIGHTS STEVENSON (1-8, 0-5)
Stevenson will attempt to climb up in the standings after a disappointing season a year ago. Coach Kevin Frederick will have an inexperienced group at the skill positions, but will rely heavily on the linebacker unit that’s led by Ahmad Abboud, who was in on 73 tackles with seven for loss.
GROSSE POINTE SOUTH (8-4, 5-0)
Davis Graham is expected to be a two-way star for South, starting at quarterback while playing in the secondary where he intercepted six passes and broke up 20 more passes last season. The offensive line will be anchored by returning starters Patrick O’Meara and Aidan Davila, while Cam Shook (8-for-12 on field goals, 29-for-30 PATs) returns as the kicker/punter.
MACOMB L’ANSE CREUSE NORTH (6-4, 4-1)
Coach Anthony Kiner loves to throw the ball around the field and will get the chance to with Blake Daniels returning at quarterback in the spread attack. Daniels will have a weapon to work with in three-star receiver Myles McHaney (6-4), who has an offer from Central Michigan. Defensive end Nate Webb and linebacker Jake Tocco anchor the defense.
UTICA (4-5, 3-2)
Utica’s strength will be up front on both sides of the ball, anchored by Colin Motloch (6-4, 300), Logan Wessel (6-5, 315) and Stone Tanner. Kavon Higdon will play a number of positions, including quarterback, with running back/linebacker Leonard Casem being a weapon.
NEW BALTIMORE ANCHOR BAY (5-4, 2-3)
Anchor Bay returns the majority of its starters in its quest to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2010, including two-way linemen Isaiah Bailey and Andrew Murphy who will open holes for running back Andrew Zielecki.
UTICA FORD (2-7, 1-4)
Second-year coach Todd Koehn looks to guide Ford up the division ladder in Year 2 with third-year starting offensive lineman Zach Pluger protecting second-year starters in quarterback Noah Heide and receiver Jalen Thomas.
FRASER (1-8, 0-5)
Fraser has a three-year starter in quarterback Ian Casey to work with running backs Kenneath Redd and Chris Brown.
GROSSE POINTE NORTH (8-3, 4-1)
Coming off a second-round loss in the state playoffs, North looks poised for big things in 2017. Quarterback Bjorn Bjornsson is back for his third year as signal caller and Sheldon Cage returns to the backfield as well. But the biggest question mark entering this season for North is if it can replace an offensive line that lost all five starters.
WARREN COUSINO (8-2, 5-0)
Justin Newcomb takes over at Cousino this year, and his first job will be finding a way to replace 10 starters on offense. Cousino claimed the Blue Division title outright in 2016.
PORT HURON (5-4, 3-2)
Ryan Mullins takes over for a Port Huron squad that just missed out on the state playoffs last year.
ROSEVILLE (3-6, 1-4)
Another new face enters the Blue this season with Mike Mahar taking over at Roseville. After a disappointing finish in 2016, Mahar will be charged with taking over a defense that gave up roughly 32 points per game last season. Senior Dhamon Riley will quarterback an offense that has a lot of speed, though how quickly he can pick up the new coaching staff’s system will go a long way into determining whether that team speed results in points on the board.
STERLING HEIGHTS (2-7, 2-3)
The numbers are low at Sterling Heights, as coach Brent Widdows has just 26 players coming out for varsity. Widdows touts the commitment of his team heading into the season, knowing how much work it needs to put in if it wants to be successful with all of the two-way players Sterling Heights will feature this season. One guy to keep an eye on is linebacker Joseph Davis, who racked up 73 tackles, three sacks and an interception as a sophomore last year.
HARRISON TOWNSHIP L’ANSE CREUSE (0-9, 0-5)
Nick Marrogy is the fourth new coach in the Blue in 2017. Hired in mid-June, Marrogy doesn’t suffer from a numbers issue at L’Anse Creuse, where, by his count, he has 110 players coming out this fall. Marrogy has a big challenge ahead on both sides of the ball, as L’Anse Creuse was outscored 375-56 in 2016. L’Anse Creuse returns five starters on offense and defense.
MARINE CITY (4-5, 3-2)
Dawson Haney has rushed for more the 1,000 yards over the last two seasons for Marine City. He’ll have to carry the load this year as a senior with just three returning starters on offense. The defense should be a strength with eight returning starters for coach Ron Glodich.
MARYSVILLE (10-1, 5-0)
Marysville won the Gold Division outright in 2016. Coach Mark Caza will need to replace seven starters on defense. The good news is that he returns four of five starters on the offensive line, including senior left tackle Evan Foster (6-foot, 280).
WARREN WOODS TOWER (3-6, 1-4)
Though it finished below .500 last season, there is reason for optimism at Tower, where coach Al Gulick returns 16 starters. Dual-threat junior quarterback Matt Byrd returns after a promising sophomore season in which he threw for over 1,000 yards. His six interceptions and four lost fumbles are a point of emphasis for Gulick this year. Byrd has plenty of experience in front of him with four of the five starting offensive linemen back from a year ago. Tower is certainly a team whose stock could be on the rise in 2017.
ST. CLAIR (4-5, 2-3)
After a successful six-year stint at Richmond, James Bishop has found his way back to St. Clair, where he spent four seasons as the defensive coordinator from 2004-2007. He takes over a team that averaged roughly 31 points per game in 2016. With just four returning starters on a defense that gave up nearly 30 points a game last year, Bishop has his work cut out on that side of the ball.
PORT HURON NORTHERN (6-4, 4-1)
Despite a finish that culminated in the program’s first playoff appearance in six years and many returning starters on both sides of the ball (seven on offense, six on defense), Northern finds itself near the bottom of the preseason poll in the Gold. Perhaps that can be traced to lack of experience at the skill positions, as coach Larry Roelens will start sophomores at quarterback and running back this season.
ST. CLAIR SHORES LAKE SHORE (1-8, 0-5)
After coming in late in the game last year, coach Rich Popp is excited to have a full offseason with his team heading into the 2017 campaign. Lake Shore is going to have to find a way to take some of the pressure off senior running back Decarlo Bowden.
WARREN FITZGERALD (8-2, 4-1)
Coach Gary Skop’s team has made the state playoffs the past three years only to be shown the door in the first round each time. In his fourth season at the helm, Skop brings back a ton of talent on the offensive line, which will be anchored by senior Jimmy Green (6-4, 270). There are lots of questions at the skill positions, but the beef up front will help mask some of those early in the season.
MADISON HEIGHTS MADISON (6-4, 4-1)
Former Michigan cornerback James Rogers is in his second year with Madison after earning a share of the division title with Fitzgerald and South Lake in 2016. Part of Rogers’ focus at Madison is keeping the local kids from going to the private schools, and he got a big coup this year in landing former Detroit Catholic Central quarterback Austin Brown, who helped lead the team to the Division 1 state title game last year as a sophomore. Madison has a lot of work to do up front, as four of its five starting linemen from 2016 left the program, meaning Rogers is starting a line that played junior varsity last year.
ST. CLAIR SHORES LAKEVIEW (6-4, 2-3)
A demotion to the Silver Division from the Blue proved to be a blessing in disguise for Lakeview in 2016, as the program experienced a four-game turnaround and made the playoffs. Though Lakeview only returns four starters from last year’s team, quarterback/safety Ivan Krohta and defensive end Damond Duncan are playmakers who can change the face of a game.
CLAWSON (3-6, 1-4)
Coach Jim Sparks returns eight starters from a team that finished short of expectations last season. The question for Clawson this year is how much growth will it get out of junior quarterback Bryce Blaesing, who threw for 1,379 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore.
ST. CLAIR SHORES SOUTH LAKE (7-3, 4-1)
South Lake has enjoyed a ride to the state playoffs each of the past two seasons under coach Vernard Snowden. But in his third year at the helm, Snowden has a new challenge on his hands, as he returns just three starters on defense and one on offense.
EAST DETROIT (1-8, 0-5)
East Detroit has won just one game over the last two seasons. Coach Roland Bell is optimistic about this season, as he brings back 16 starters after playing a number of freshmen in 2016. The experience comes in at linebacker, where East Detroit will start three seniors and be anchored by Anthony Harris.
WARREN LINCOLN (4-5, 3-1)
Though coach Darrius Alexander’s squad has won a share of the Bronze title the last two years, it has yet to taste the postseason. Alexander says he expects his team to win the division outright this year and make the state playoffs. A big reason for optimism is that Lincoln returns 15 starters, including eight on offense. Junior defensive lineman Jaren Johnson (6-3, 260) is a handful for opposing offenses.
CLINTON TOWNSHIP CLINTONDALE (4-5, 3-1)
Dave Schindler returns seven starters on both sides of the ball, making Clintondale a threat to win the division after splitting the title with Lincoln and New Haven last year. How senior running back/linebacker Gleo Wade Jr. handles the transition to becoming the workhorse back this season will go a long way in determining Clintondale’s success.
CENTER LINE (2-7, 1-3)
Center Line returns 12 starters, and a majority of them are juniors. Coach Ben Torres likes the growth of his young team. Junior quarterback Nick Hastings will lead the way under center, and cornerbacks Zak Senyko and Diante Taylor are expected to be a formidable tandem in the secondary.
NEW HAVEN (4-5, 3-1)
The biggest story here is that New Haven brings on a coach that knows all about winning. John Callahan comes over from Detroit Loyola, where he appeared in four of the last five Division 7 state title games, winning it all in 2014. Though New Haven garnered a share of the division title last year, it hasn’t had a winning season since 2006.
MADISON HEIGHTS LAMPHERE (0-9, 0-4)
Jeff Glynn has his work cut out for him in his first year on the job. Glynn is working on bringing all the athletes at Lamphere out to the football field, and he’s excited about some of the guys that have come aboard. Jacob Thomas is an athletic baseball player that could be a name to watch as a senior signal-caller this season.
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.