Detroit Public School League football preview: One division works for all

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit – — The Detroit Public School League has undergone many changes over the past decade, with schools closing and an exodus of players to surrounding charter schools and the suburbs.

In previous years, the PSL had multiple divisions, but with only 16 schools — of various enrollments and skill levels — competing in football this season, all will be in one division.

That means the top three schools — Cass Tech, King and East English Village Prep — all will be lumped together in the same division. But with a random schedule, they won’t all play head-to-head matchups. Cass, which won the PSL championship last season, doesn’t play King and its toughest game should be a home matchup with East English in Week 6.

King has the most favorable schedule, playing neither Cass nor East English.

“The reason is because the enrollments changed at so many schools,” said Chuck Johnson, media information director for the PSL. “We tried to pit the strong schools against the strong schools. It made no sense to split into divisions because the enrollments keep fluctuating.

“The only way to do it was a one-division alignment. There wasn’t enough parity.”

The playoff format changes this season as well. The top four teams in the league will compete in the semifinals on Oct. 16 at Northwestern; the championship game will be at Ford Field on Oct. 24.

The next four teams (fifth through eighth place) will have another four-team consolation playoff.

King coach Dale Harvel said the new setup isn’t a hindrance to any of the teams, because they’ll likely meet up in the playoffs, if history is any indication.

“They know and we know we’ll meet each other (at some point),” Harvel said. “(Whoever is) the city champion will have to go through at least one of the three.”

Last season, the PSL teams played an unbalanced schedule, with seven teams in the East Division and eight in the West.

This season, the addition of Communication & Media Arts — playing its first-ever season of varsity football — creates an opportunity for two eight-team divisions, but Johnson said there wasn’t a clear point to split into two competitive divisions with eight teams each.

Detroit PSL

Top eight predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2013 records in parentheses

1. Cass Tech (12-1, 6-0), 2. King (10-2, 5-0), 3. East English Village Prep (7-4, 4-1), 4. Cody (6-4, 4-2), 5. Mumford (8-3, 5-1), 6. Renaissance (6-4, 4-2), 7. Denby (7-3, 3-2), 8. Northwestern (5-4, 3-3)

Top eight players

■Cass Tech running back Mike Weber — one of the top prospects in the state and the country — has the complete package: power, speed and quickness. Weber, who committed to Michigan, will key the offense, coming off 1,659 yards and 24 TDs last season.

■At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Cass Tech lineman Josh Alabi is a physical presence on both sides of the ball. A four-star recruit, Alabi powers the run game and is stout in pass protection. He committed to Ohio State over Michigan State and Michigan.

■King linebacker Tyriq Thompson (6-2, 225) has good size and instincts at his position. The son of Michigan standout Clarence Thompson, he turned down an offer from U-M and committed to Michigan State.

■King offensive lineman Kyonta Stallworth (6-4, 272) excels in run blocking and has an excellent first step. A Michigan State commit, he’ll be the key to King’s offensive and defensive lines.

■East English quarterback Anton Curtis (6-3, 180), a three-year starter, is making the switch from receiver to signal-caller. He’s already committed to Western Michigan as a receiver. “He makes the offense go,” coach Rod Oden said.

■Cass Tech’s Mike Oliver, who committed to Central Michigan, is a dominant linebacker. He’ll help key the most dominant defense in the PSL.

■Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell faces an uncertain future because of his off-the-field problems. A former MSU commit, he is serving a 60-day sentence for assaulting a security guard earlier this year and will miss the start of the season.

■Western running back Romello Ross (5-11, 192) is a four-year starter and all-league selection. He’s committed to Central Michigan. “He’s a total back; he can do everything,” coach Andre Harlan said. He rushed for 1,048 yards and 12 TDs in six games last year before an injury shortened his season.

Top four story lines

■Cass Tech fell short in its bid for three straight Division 1 state titles. The Technicians will be without quarterback Jayru Campbell, who will be finishing a jail sentence for assault. Coach Thomas Wilcher is working to fill the position, but an opener against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s will be a tough early test.

■Cass Tech, King and East English Village Prep have been the class of the PSL for years. Among them, only King and East English play head-to-head in the regular season. All three are likely to be in the top four-team PSL playoff, making for the best matchups.

■Detroit Communication & Media Arts is in its first season of varsity football after introducing junior varsity last year. CMA went 6-2 in that campaign, but moving up to varsity — with a favorable schedule against some second-tier schools — will provide a bit of a transition period.

■With a dwindling number of schools and level of competition, the league could be looking to expand to add non-PSL schools. It’s unclear how many schools — or which ones — could join the league in coming years to bolster the roster.

Rod Beard