Michigan Metro preview: River Rouge reloads

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
River Rouge's Alexander Carter

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2014 records in parentheses

1. River Rouge (10-2, 4-0), 2. Detroit Community (3-6, 3-1), 3. Hamtramck (4-5, 1-3), 4. Melvindale Academy for Business & Tech (4-5), 5. Detroit University Prep Science & Math (2-7), 6. Ecorse (3-6, 2-2), 7. Detroit Allen Academy (1-8, 0-4).

Top four players

1. River Rouge sophomore defensive back Reggie Pearson Jr. started all 12 games last season as a freshman and quickly made a name for himself, recording 60 tackles and five interceptions. "Not only does he have great instincts, but he has great football awareness," coach Corey Parker said. "He studies a lot of film and makes sure he stays ahead of the curve." Pearson (5-foot-10, 170) holds offers from several MAC schools, including Akron, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan.

2. River Rouge senior offensive lineman Isaac Wyckoff is the unquestionable leader up front. As a three-year starter, Wyckoff (6-1, 330) mostly plays guard and always makes his presence felt. "If we're running the ball behind Isaac, people know that and there's nothing they can do about it," Parker said. "He's a monster. He'll hit you, he'll lead the pack, and if you're not doing your job on the offensive line, he gets after you and makes sure you know next play you better be blocking as hard as he is."

3. River Rouge sophomore running back Alexander Carter eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing last year despite splitting carries. And after the team's leading rusher and scorer graduated, Parker is expecting big things from Carter (5-9, 205), who will play a more substantial role and shoulder the load in the backfield. "He's just brutal," Parker said. "He's just tough. He's not afraid of anything or anybody."

4. Hamtramck senior dual-threat quarterback DaQuan Kendle keeps opposing defenses on their toes with his strong arm and quick feet. "I believe he's the best quarterback in the conference this year," coach Donny Scott said. "He runs a 4.5 40, he sees the field real good and he'll be better at reading defenses this year." Kendle (6-2, 185) racked up over 2,000 yards of total offense and scored 11 total touchdowns last year, and has drawn interest from Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Toledo.

River Rouge's Reggie Pearson Jr. (21)

Top four story lines

1. River Rouge outscored its conference opponents, 195-8, to win its fifth straight league title before advancing to a Division 5 regional final for the second time in three years. With eight offensive and five defensive starters returning — highlighted by quarterback Antoine Burgess, leading receiver Aaron Vinson and defensive captain Devonte Pipkins — River Rouge remains the team to beat. "We graduated a lot of seniors and lost some major guys, but we just reload them," Parker said. "We're going to be a very young team with a lot of sophomores starting, but these guys have been around each other a long time and it works out very well for us."

2. In his first year, Hamtramck coach Donny Scott took over a team that went winless and guided it to four wins, the most since 1999. This year, Scott has his sights set on leading the team to its first winning season in 16 years and into the playoffs for the first time ever. "The city is more interested in football now. The season we had last year kind of rejuvenated Hamtramck football, so we're hoping for more success this season," Scott said. "We have more players that are dedicated to football than last year. We have guys that really want to win." Hamtramck brings back all but four players, including its entire offensive and defensive lines, as well as starting running back Masaii Ray and top receiver/cornerback Jerrice Duhart Jr.

3. First-year coach Nick Morton is bringing a hurry-up offense to Ecorse, but getting off to a fast start will be a tall task with its brutal schedule. Ecorse opens the season against three playoff teams (Riverview, Chelsea and River Rouge) and faces two more in the final three weeks (Detroit Loyola and Dearborn Heights Robichaud). "It's a good opportunity for us to put our names in stone," said Morton, who was a position coach at Loyola last season and also spent eight years coaching in the Detroit PAL. "It gives us the opportunity to display what we can do. I feel with our talent, we can run with anybody and give them a run for their money."

4. ABT and UPSM join the league and the fight to knock off River Rouge for the top spot after playing as independents last season. It'll be the first time in ABT's six-year program history it's a part of a league, while UPSM returns after a year hiatus. ABT has three playoff appearances under its belt and UPSM has three total wins over the program's first three years. The two teams will replace Highland Park Renaissance Academy, which closed its doors in June.