Goricki: Spindler gives Clarkston an early boost

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Clarkston is putting together another strong season with a pair of freshmen offensive linemen playing key roles during the team’s 3-0 start.

One of the freshmen has a last name familiar to football fans across the state.

Rocco Spindler joins Garrett Dellinger as 6-foot-4, 250-pound linemen who have joined 6-4, 255-pound Stewart Newblatt and 6-4, 290-pound Noah Nicklin to give Clarkston an outstanding line to open holes for running backs Michael Fluegel and Josh Cantu and provide time for quarterback Nathan Uballe to find his receivers.

“They are our twin towers, both about 6-5 and 250 pounders who don’t play like freshmen,” Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson said of Spindler and Dellinger. “They’re very mature and compete and they’re going to be big-time players.”

Spindler is the 15-year-old son of former Lions defensive lineman Marc Spindler, who played on the Lions’ 1991 team which advanced to the NFC Championship game, giving them their lone playoff win since 1957.

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Spindler played at Pittsburgh after earning USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1986.

Don’t worry, the fun-loving, personable Rocco won’t feel the pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps, enjoying interviews and joining a few other teammates to carry Uballe while posing for pictures after Clarkston rallied from a 20-13 deficit to score 21 unanswered points during the final nine minutes Friday night in a 34-20 victory over Bloomfield Hills.

Clarkston is 57-8 during the last six years, winning consecutive Division 1 state championships in 2013 and 2014 with offensive tackle Cole Chewins moving on to start for Michigan State.

When Rocco was asked of his size, he replied: “I’m 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, a lean, mean fighting machine.”

No doubt, Rocco is enjoying his freshman year, playing for one of the top programs in the state, playing left tackle next to Nicklin, as well as defensive tackle … just like his father.

He is already on Alabama’s radar, as well as Michigan’s and a bunch of other top 10 programs.

So, what do you know of your father’s career?

“I know that he was aggressive, know that he was mean, bad to the bone,” Rocco said. “He taught me to be aggressive, keep my feet moving, constantly go after guys, run to the ball, keep blocking and don’t stop til the whistle blows.”

And, it helps that Spindler can watch the work ethic of teammates like Newblatt, who also plays both ways and had three sacks and multiple other quarterback hurries in the win over Bloomfield Hills.

“Newblatt is aggressive every single play, keeps pushing through and he’s taught me a lot, how to stay in the game, not to be mental and just to respect the game,” Spindler said.

“His motor is always going, like one of my favorite wrestlers, Brent Metcalf (Davison), who is one of Iowa’s best wrestlers.”

Richardson also had high praise for Newblatt, who has an offer from Columbia.

“He plays at the highest level all the time, never takes a play off,” Richardson said. “He plays all the time on offense and is a big-time pass rusher on defense. He’s just in great shape and is a terrific competitor.”

Richardson is thrilled to have Cantu healthy again, joining Fluegel to give Clarkston a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield. Cantu, who suffered a season-ending injury (broken collarbone) in Week No. 4 last year, rushed for 145 yards and scored 4 TDs against Bloomfield Hills.

And, of Uballe, Richardson replied: “We didn’t even know if he would be the man over the summer, but he kept maturing and his leadership was outstanding and his command of the offense is really good and he’s really grown up and gotten better every week.”

Clarkston, ranked No. 6 in The News Super 20 poll, will play at West Bloomfield Friday.

MAC Red showdown

Chippewa Valley had a 6-4 season in 2016, reaching the state playoffs while playing numerous underclassmen who gained valuable experience.

Now, Scott Merchant’s gamble to play four sophomores last season has paid off in the way of a 3-0 start to earn a No. 12 ranking heading into Friday night’s showdown against defending MAC Red champion Utica Eisenhower, ranked No. 4, at Chippewa Valley.

“Last year we started four sophomores and 12 juniors so we have a lot of kids back that have played a lot of football,” Merchant said. “We took some lumps last year and they grew up quickly and did a great job and all of those kids are back.

“Our defense has played very well all three weeks, been very consistent, but offensively we’ve been hit or miss, made a lot of mistakes, but things that are correctable.

“We’re getting more consistent every week and the same thing with special teams, have had some breakdowns, but also had some huge plays, two touchdowns on special teams the last two weeks.

“We’re 3-0 and obviously we’re happy with that, but I’m excited because I think we can still improve quite a bit as a football team.”

Merchant has to be encouraged by an offense that has junior quarterback Tommy Schuster, who threw for 23 touchdowns last season, already throwing 6 TDs and a running game that piled up 250 yards on the ground Friday in a 42-0 rout of Warren Cousino.

Chippewa Valley’s most impressive win was a 34-14 MAC Red victory over Romeo, which won the Division 1 state championship two years ago and advanced to the state semifinals last season.

Schuster threw a pair of TDs in the win over Romeo.

“Tommy has thrown two touchdowns in each game and has had just one interception,” Merchant said of Schuster. “He’sa very steady, consistent quarterback and we ask him to do a lot as far as checks and getting us in the right plays and making decisions as far as where the ball’s going and he’s done a great job with that. He never gets rattled and is always under control.”

Schuster has multiple weapons to work with, including receivers Jon’Naize Owens, Jacob Rybicki and David Ellis, along with junior running back Ja’Von Kimpson and Andre Chenault.

The defense is led by junior linebacker Marcel Lewis, who has Division I offers from Central Michigan and Kent State, senior linebacker Brian Schieweck and down linemen Dwayne Lewis (6-4, 325) and Shakur McGarrity (6-1, 260).

Extra points

No. 3 Muskegon showed its high-powered offense Friday in a 68-0 rout of Fruitport, jumping out to a 34-0 first-quarter lead, led by an offensive line that showcases Penn State-bound A.J. Reed and 6-5, 330-pound junior Anthony Bradford, who received an offer from Ohio State last week to join several others, including from Alabama, Georgia and Michigan State.

Muskegon has outscored its opponents, 152-7, to earn a No. 3 ranking in The News’ latest Super 20 poll.

… Lowell’s 19-game regular-season winning streak came to an end Friday with a 16-14 loss to East Grand Rapids.

… Orchard Lake St. Mary’s fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1984 Friday with a 38-17 loss to Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn.

Next up is a Catholic League game with U-D Jesuit.