Belleville — Jermain Crowell was pounding into his players’ minds the importance of playing more physical during a recent practice at Belleville.
Belleville — 3-0 and ranked No. 1 in The Detroit News Super 20 poll — arguably has more Division I talent on its roster than any other team in the state, but as Crowell puts it, “(Detroit) Catholic Central has 12 state titles and do you think they care about who has this offer or that offer? They don’t care about that. They just play smash-mouth football, that’s their motto.”
Crowell, 45, knows what it takes to win state championships, working nine years under Thomas Wilcher at Detroit Cass Tech from 2006-14, first as defensive backs coach, then as defensive coordinator when Cass Tech won Division 1 state titles in 2011 and 2012.
Now, Crowell is building Belleville into a powerhouse. And, in his third year as head coach, Crowell will try to guide the school deep into November, but first it has to earn its first playoff win in 15 years. Belleville has never won a district championship, but was 10-1 with a pre-regional win in 1995.
“At the end of the day I think we have a lot of talent, but I don’t think talent makes the team,” Crowell said. “I’ve been on teams at Cass when I know we had more talent than every team in the state, but we didn’t win it (state title).
“I think that the difference between me being here and me being there is I think our coaching staff (at Cass Tech) had a lot more experience so we were used to knowing what it was like in the state playoffs, and I don’t think my coaching staff here understands. I’m hard on the kids because I know what their potential could be, but I also know how other teams out there really get after it (physically).”
Belleville was 8-1 during the regular season in Crowell’s first season in 2015 before suffering a 22-7 opening-round playoff loss to Ann Arbor Pioneer. Belleville was 7-2 last season and lost to Saline, 38-7.
So, why is there such big expectations for Belleville? Well, it has the premier secondary in the state with Michigan State-bound Davion Williams joining sophomore Andre Seldon at cornerback with Kmare Carey (Western Michigan) and Patrick Lupro at safety and four-star junior Julian Barnett at nickel in the team’s 4-2-5 defense.
Lupro de-committed from Bowling Green on Monday and is being recruited by MSU as a running back.
“I saw an article that said we had a lot talent, but we were all hype so I want our team to show people that we’re not hyped anymore, that we’re getting better every time we step on the field,” Williams said. “I feel like we have the best secondary in the country, if not in the country, definitely in the state. I feel like when we’re all on our game we can’t be stopped.”
The junior class is talented as well.
Barnett has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State, He is joined by four-star tackle Devontae Dobbs — offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State — and 6-foot-2, 240-pound defensive end/running back Jalen Hunt.
Dobbs is the No. 1 ranked tackle in the nation by Scout.com for the 2019 class and Barnett, the No. 1 cornerback in the Midwest.
“I feel as the season goes on we have a lot of things to improve on as a team to come together as one because everybody keeps saying Belleville is all hype and I’m not liking it,” said Barnett, who is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and uses his 4.3 speed to play corner, linebacker and receiver. “We have all of these players and they (critics) say we haven’t won anything, but this year we’re looking to make a statement. We still have some improvement to do, but we have the potential to be the No. 1 team in the state.”
When asked what his favorite position is, Barnett replied, “I play safety, corner and nickel, but I love playing linebacker the most because I love contact.”
Crowell has high praise for his junior class, adding that Hunt could be the best one.
“When the college coaches come in I always tell them I think I have my three All-Americans in the same class,” Crowell said. “Everybody always looks at Julian and Dobbs and I’m thinking Hunt might be more special than all of them because Hunt can fly and Hunt will hurt you. I’ve never had a kid that size that can run and hit you like that.”
And, Crowell feels Lupro could be the best player on the entire team.
“He can cover. He can hit. We can put him at receiver and he can catch the ball," Crowell said. "He can actually throw the ball at quarterback. He punts the ball. He returns kicks for touchdowns. He can do everything. He reminds me of Jaeveyon Morton (Detroit King) who just goes out and makes plays, especially in big games. He’s a difference maker and we need to cut him loose (at running back).”
Lupro scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and Carey scooped up a fumble and returned it 57 yards for a score to rally Belleville back from a 28-16 deficit with three minutes left in the fourth quarter at the Big House in the season opener to earn a 34-31 overtime win over Brighton.
Belleville went on to defeat Redford Union 55-6 in Week 2 and Dearborn Edsel Ford 53-0 last week.
Belleville plays Dearborn Crestwood Friday before the Western Wayne Red schedule gets tougher with games against Dearborn in Week 5 and Dearborn Fordson in Week 6. Belleville joins the Kensington Lakes Activities Association next year.
In the end, Crowell feels that the quarterback position will make the difference in the weeks ahead and in the playoffs with freshman Christian Dhue-Reed having the potential to make big plays with a big receiver in Barnett, who has four TDs and an offensive line that consists of Dobbs, 6-4, 250-pound freshman guard Damon Payne who already has an offer from Georgia and 6-0, 230-pound freshman center Cameron Wallace.
“It’s one thing to cover, but we have to stop teams from running the ball because teams like Fordson, Canton and Cass Tech are going to try to roll up their sleeves and hit us in the mouth,” Crowell said. “I think people we’ll have problems stopping us from throwing the ball if we really let him (Dhue-Reed) cut it loose, but I have to make sure the offensive line is ready to do that.
“This year I feel we have a quarterback that can really open things up so at some point in time we really have to let him cut it loose.”