It’s rare when a pair of state champions battle it out in the season opener, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen Friday night at Hackley Field in Muskegon when Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle travels to play Division 3 state champ Muskegon.
Muskegon finished 14-0 last year for its first perfect season since 2008, when current Ferris State head coach Tony Annese was leading the program, defeating De La Salle that year in the Division 2 state title game.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and measure up to see where we’re at, and Hackley Field is historic,” said De La Salle third-year coach Mike Giannone.
Hackley Field opened in 1907, and President Gerald Ford and NFL MVP and three-time Super Bowl champion Earl Morrall are among the players to suit up there.
“We have to slow them down, and with that option they run we have to play with responsibility. We also have to try and keep the ball away from them as much as we can by just grinding it out and try to move for first downs and not give it back to them too fast.”
Muskegon has a huge offensive line that includes LSU-bound tackle Anthony Bradford (6-foot-5, 360), 6-2, 330-pound guard Marquis Cooper (Alabama A&M), 6-2, 290-pound center Deandre Ellis and 6-1, 270-pound guard Dequarius Johnson.
They will protect three-star junior quarterback Cameron Martinez, who already owns offers from Boston College, Kentucky and multiple MAC schools.
De La Salle has a strong defense, led by linebackers Jacob Dobbs and Devin Campbell, along with cornerback Josh DeBerry.
Giannone, who guided Macomb Dakota to Division 1 state championships in 2006 and 2007, said De La Salle will send out junior Anthony Stepnitz at quarterback.
Pick: De La Salle by 4
Utica Eisenhower vs. Oak Park, Thursday, 4 p.m., at Wayne State
Eisenhower defeated Oak Park 24-7 in last year’s opener and went on to its second straight season of 11 or more wins.
Talented quarterback Max Wittwer has graduated, meaning Blake Rastigeue will be making his debut against an Oak Park defense led by defensive backs Corion Montgomery and junior Enzo Jennings.
Eisenhower’s challenge will be slowing down Oak Park’s offense, which showcases Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Matthis, running back Torriano Richardson and 6-6 junior receiver Maliq Carr.
Pick: Oak Park by 8
Detroit Cass Tech vs. River Rouge, Saturday, 3 p.m., at Wayne State
This is going to be a fun game to watch. Jalen Graham will be Cass Tech’s quarterback with Jaren Mangham (Colorado) and Lew Nichols (Central Michigan) providing the 1-2 punch at running back.
River Rouge showcases Clemson-bound defensive end Ruke Orhorhoro and defensive back Daraun McKinney (Northern Illinois), who is special on special teams, returning a state-record 12 kicks (seven kick returns, five punt returns) for TDs last season.
Pick: Cass Tech by 6
Chippewa Valley at Saline, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Chippewa Valley is one of the top teams in Division 1 this season, led by three-year starter Tommy Schuster at quarterback, along with CMU-bound receiver David Ellis and Michigan State-bound linebacker Marcel Lewis.
Saline is 60-10 the last six years, but has an inexperienced offensive line, which could be a problem in the opener.
Pick: Chippewa Valley by 10
West Bloomfield at Birmingham Groves, Thursday, 7 p.m.
West Bloomfield graduated 31 seniors from last year’s team, which advanced to the Division 1 state title game.
But West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy has linebacker Lance Dixon (Penn State), Tre Mosley (Michigan State), four-star junior safety/receiver Makari Paige, who owns offers from Michigan and Ohio State, and sophomore running back Donovan Edwards, who has been offered by Michigan.
Groves has eight starters back on defense from a 7-3 team and will go with first-year starter Markis Alexander at quarterback.
Pick: West Bloomfield by 9