Clarkston – Kurt Richardson has built an elite high school football program at Clarkston.
The Wolves, 10-2 and ranked No. 11 in the state by The Detroit News, are seeking their fourth Division 1 state championship in the last six years. They enter Saturday’s semifinal against No. 8 Saline (11-1), at Okemos, as defending state champs, defeating OAA Red rival West Bloomfield 3-2 in the title game last year at Ford Field.
Clarkston also won state championships in 2013 and 2014.
Richardson, now in his 32nd year as Clarkston’s head coach, has led a stable coaching staff, and he says that is a key ingredient in Clarkston’s success.
Rich Porritt, who was captain of Clarkston’s team 50 years ago, is in his 26th year on Richardson’s staff, working as offensive coordinator on the three state title teams.
Steve Pearson, who retired from the Oakland County Sheriff’s office after 34 years, has coached at Clarkston for 37 years.
Defensive coordinator Tony Miller played for Richardson from 1987-90 and has been on his staff since the mid-1990s.
Clarkston lost the bulk of its starters from last year’s team and entered the 2018 season with 55 players, down from 80 a year ago.
But a stout defense has led Clarkston on its postseason run. After a 21-14 loss to Oak Park in the regular-season finale, Clarkson has defeated Lake Orion (30-7), Lakeland (26-6) and Lapeer (13-0).
“It’s kind of the same thing that happened last year where some average kids are getting better,” Richardson said this week. “There’s nobody where somebody would go, ‘Wow, look at that kid!’ It’s kind of a team deal where everybody has stepped up. We’ve been pretty good about not making mistakes.
“I’m very happy for these kids. They’ve worked hard.”
Clarkston has showcased a 1-2 punch of two-way sophomore linemen Rocco Spindler and Garrett Dellinger. But Dellinger suffered a season-ending torn rotator cuff injury in the Week 9 loss to Oak Park.
“He’s stepped it up some,” said Richardson of Spindler, son of former Lions defensive lineman Marc Spindler. “After we lost Delly, we told him that he had to step up his leadership and step up his play on both sides of the ball and he’s done that.
“All of the guys on that offensive line have stepped it up. We’ve talked about, ‘Hey, next guy up. There’s no chance of getting Delly back so you all have to get better as a unit,' and they’ve done that.”
Spindler took the challenge to heart.
“(Opponents) are starting to do schemes and double-teaming, triple-teaming me, so now they are trying to base their offense around me, and when that happens the other guys have delivered and I love seeing that happen.
“All of the guys are really stepping up. You have to give (quarterback Jake) Jensen credit. He’s starting to become a great manager of the game and Jake (Billette) and Jake (Honstetter) are fighting for those extra yards and always falling forward, and the guys are staying with their blocks as long as they can.”
Senior Jake Jensen has waited a long time for his opportunity to be Clarkston’s starting quarterback.
“I feel like I run the ball pretty well, extend plays, manage the game,” Jensen said. “I feel like I can get guys open by extending plays and then get them the ball to make things happen. This has been a goal of mine ever since I was in sixth, seventh grade. I’ve seen the classes before us get here. It’s sort of a tradition at Clarkston.”
Richardson is proud of how Jensen has led the team.
“He’s getting the job done,” said Richardson. “His passing efficiency has been solid and he takes care of the football. He calls our audibles so he’s really made strides.”
Jake Billette gave Clarkston fans a glimpse of the future in last year’s state title game, rushing for 69 yards on 14 carries while filling in for an injured Josh Cantu. Jake Honstetter, a transfer from Holly, has also played well.
Josh Luther was a starter in the secondary as a junior last season and is also a key contributor.
“The front seven has done an outstanding job and it makes it easier to play defensive back when it’s second-and-long and third-and- long,” Luther said. “Making teams one-dimensional is very beneficial and makes it a lot easier on me and the defense.
“I know what it feels like to play at Ford Field and I definitely want to experience it again. It was exciting, a lot of fun.”