Monday is a big day in Michigan high school sports as football practice gets underway throughout the state. Here are top story lines to follow as the countdown begins to the opening weekend of games Aug. 23-25.
OAA flexes muscles
Multiple teams from the OAA flexed their muscles last season, ending with Clarkston’s win over OAA Red rival West Bloomfield in the Division 1 state championship game, and Farmington Hills Harrison of the OAA White falling to unbeaten Muskegon in the Division 3 title game.
Oak Park took eventual Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle to the limit in the regional final and returns the bulk of its team.
This could be Greg Carter’s year to lead Oak Park to Ford Field for the chance to bring home the ultimate trophy this season, with Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis having multiple weapons to work with and behind a strong offensive line led by five-star junior Justin Rogers, who is ranked the No. 1 guard in the country for his class.
West Bloomfield should be strong again with the potential to make a deep run with Michigan State-bound receiver Tre Mosley and Penn State-bound linebacker Lance Dixon returning.
Harrison’s players will be playing with pride in an attempt to close out the program in style with another long run in Division 3 or 4 this season.
KLAA gets stronger
The Kensington Lakes Activities Association just got stronger with Belleville, Dearborn Fordson and Dearborn departing the Western Wayne Athletic Conference to join the league this season.
The KLAA was represented by Livonia Franklin in the Division 2 state championship game last season and Canton – which won the league championship game over Livonia Churchill – upset No. 1 Belleville 28-25 in a Division 1 district title game.
Belleville was 10-1 last season and Fordson was 9-2, losing to Detroit Cass Tech 27-22 in a district championship game.
Dearborn was 2-7 but returns 18 starters and will be expected to reach the state playoffs this season.
Belleville will enter the season as The Detroit News' No. 1 team in the state, showcasing seven of the top 30 players in Michigan, including Michigan State-bound players in tackle Devontae Dobbs and receiver Julian Barnett.
New men in charge
There’s definitely a changing of the guard with new coaches taking over at powerhouse programs in the area.
At Canton, 30-year-old Andy LaFata takes over for Tim Baechler, who retired after a 20-year career at the school where he guided the Chiefs to a 172-53 record and 17 state playoff appearances, nine district titles, including a district championship win last year over No. 1 Belleville.
LaFata played center for Baechler and Canton in 2005 when it advanced to the Division 1 state title game at Ford Field. He was an assistant under Baechler the last 10 years. He will have 1,000-yard running back Steven Walker in his backfield this season.
Alex Grignon, 30, is the new head coach at Walled Lake Western, replacing Mike Zdebski, who retired and moved on to Arizona after guiding Western to 160 wins, five state semifinal appearances, a 1999 Division 1 state championship and a spot in the 2016 Division 2 state title game, a loss to Detroit King.
Grignon, a former coordinator at Lincoln Park, was offensive coordinator at South Lyon last year. He will be working with quarterback Sam Johnson, a Boston College commit, and Michigan State-bound tackle Spencer Brown this season.
Herrington's final season
Legendary head coach John Herrington starts his 49th and final season at Farmington Hills Harrison with the school closing its doors at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year.
Herrington set the state record for career wins by a head coach last season and will carry a 435-108-1 record into his final season. Since starting his career in 1970 at Harrison, he has guided the program to a record 13 state championships.
Harrison finished 10-4 last season, falling to Muskegon in the Division 3 state title game, and returns multiple skilled players, led by running back / cornerback Rod Heard (Northwestern) and Ben Williams, also a two-way player at the same positions.
Keep an eye on Harper Woods
Harper Woods hasn’t made the state playoffs this decade, but things could change with former longtime Detroit East English head coach Rod Oden taking over the program.
Oden was 46-20 at East English, guiding his team to the PSL title game last year, a loss to King.
Oden has some talent to work with, including former East English star running back / cornerback Jordan Anderson (Bowling Green) and quarterback Corey Graham, a transfer from Oak Park.
Harper Woods competes in the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference and will open the season against Dearborn Divine Child, with a Week No. 6 showdown against Metro Athletic Conference power River Rouge.