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Oak Park looks to build on 9-3 season with Dwan Mathis leading the way

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Greg Carter

Editor's note: The Detroit News dropped in on six teams Monday, the first day of high school football practice, including Oak Park. 

Oak Park — There was no whistle to signal the start of the first fall football practice on Monday afternoon.

Instead, senior quarterback Dwan Mathis gave a clear direction: “Everybody go to the end zone!”

It was an encouraging first step for Oak Park, who lost a slew of their senior leaders last season, but will look to Mathis, who switched his commitment from Michigan State to Ohio State in June, to take a bigger leadership role with the team.

“It’s just like the same routine I’ve been doing for the last three years,” Mathis said. “I’m not really excited; I’m trying to calm the younger kids down.”

About 60 players turned out for the first helmets-only practice and coach Greg Carter was encouraged by the numbers and by the demeanor of his players, who got out on the field before thunderstorms blanketed the area on Monday evening.

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It’s the start of another run to the playoffs for Carter, who previously coached at Detroit DePorres and Inkster. Oak Park finished 9-3 last season after losing to Warren De La Salle in the playoffs. It tied for the most wins in school history (also in 2012) and gives a sense of optimism heading into the opener against Utica Eisenhower.

“We had a great summer; we worked hard and we hope it pays off in the next few weeks,” Carter said. “Our schedule is brutal, though.”

The Knights have a gauntlet in the Oakland Activities Association that includes matchups against Birmingham Groves and Harrison after the opener and finishing with West Bloomfield and Clarkston to finish the regular season.

Oak Park boasts another nationally ranked player in junior offensive lineman Justin Rogers, who is rated as one of the best tackles in the country in the class of 2020. Rogers has offers from dozens of schools, but has narrowed his list to 13, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Clemson and Georgia.