Football teams get boost from freshmen

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — High School football fans know all about Southfield freshman quarterback Sam Johnson III, who already has received several offers, including one from Akron while he was in eighth grade, soon followed by others from Cincinnati and Bowling Green.

Southfield coach Tim Conley knew Johnson would be his starting quarterback, going up against state power Detroit Cass Tech in the season opener at Wayne State University in the Prep Kickoff Classic.

Defending Division 7 state champion Detroit Loyola also played its opener in the Prep Kickoff Classic, falling to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 24-12.

And, Loyola coach John Callahan didn’t know much at all about 14-year-old freshman D’Anthony Robinson, a sturdy 5-foot-7, 195-pound third-string tailback he felt could be better off playing on the JV team.

Robinson watched from the sidelines as Loyola suffered the loss to St. Mary’s, but he will be on the field Friday night at Wayne State when the Bulldogs — ranked No. 18 in The News Super 20 poll — play defending Division 2 state champ and No. 4-ranked Warren DeLaSalle.

Callahan called on Robinson late in the first half against Muskegon Oakridge in Week 2 and he responded by rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-13 victory. And, he hasn’t stopped running since.

Robinson enters Friday night’s game with four straight 100-yard games, rushing for 502 yards.

“D.A. didn’t even play in the St. Mary’s game and actually I almost sent him on JV since he was just a freshman, but there was something about him where he didn’t play like a freshman,” Callahan said. “We rotate three guys and if we didn’t and solely ran him he’d probably be at 1,000 yards right now.

“He’s a good kid, listens well and picks things up. He reminds me of Marvin (Campbell, former running back), ahead of Marvin as a freshman, but not quite as fast. Really, I’m curious to see how we’ll play against De La Salle, which could be the top team in the state, definitely top three. We’ve had kids come in from all types of systems and now we’re getting an identity (smash-mouth, physical-style team).”

Comparing Robinson to Marvin Campbell is high praise from Callahan, especially since Campbell rushed for 2,032 yards and 32 touchdowns his senior year, including 215 and four touchdowns in last year’s state championship game win over Ishpeming.

A year ago, Robinson was playing Little League football in Detroit PAL ball for the West Seven Rams.

“When I first got here it was really overwhelming and I just waited my turn,” Robinson said. “I was third-string running back. I was just real patient. Coach told me to just keep doing what I was doing. I wasn’t complaining, just happy to be on varsity because not many freshmen get the chance to play on varsity. I was just waiting my turn and the opportunity came and I took it.”

So, how did Robinson react when called upon to play by Callahan against Oakridge?

“I was nervous when I got called in, but once I started running the ball I started getting comfortable because I ran the same offense last year in Detroit PAL ball,” Robinson said. “My line did a great job, always does and I just run. This is basically a hard-running offense and it’s all about execution. My line gets a good push and I just follow them.”

Johnson has been solid, at times impressive for Southfield, showing his talent by completing all of his six passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the first half last Friday to give Southfield a 14-7 cushion in an eventual 17-14 loss to Farmington Hills Harrison.

Johnson threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 win over Michigan-bound linebacker David Reese and Farmington, 45-22.

Belleville freshmen playing big roles

Belleville has a handful of freshman starters in Jermain Crowell’s first year as head coach to help the Tigers with their 4-1 start and they’ve had to step up due to injuries, including the loss of standout linebacker Thayeransel Anderson (broken leg) in the opener against Salem.

Freshman running back Khalid Crawford rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown last Friday in a 23-20 win over previously unbeaten Dearborn Heights Robichaud in the battle for first place in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Blue Division.

Crawford was at his best during a winning drive in the final minutes, carrying the ball three straight times to set up Connor Sampson’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Jamil Taylor, the son of former Michigan quarterback Michael Taylor who led the Wolverines to the 1988 Big Ten title and 1989 Rose Bowl win over USC.

Freshman quarterback Dwan Mathis, like Johnson, was highly-touted coming into high school, also receiving offers from multiple schools (Cincinnati, Akron). He has rotated at quarterback with Sampson.

“It’s a lot faster than Little League football. PAL was a lot slower,” said Mathis, who stands 6-3 and weighs 180. “The guys are now at my level and I really have to focus. I have to know where to go with the play, there’s no more just running around. You have to be in the playbook a lot, know the coverages.”

Mathis has 6-1, 170-pound freshman Julian Barnett to work with and the receiver used his 4.5 speed to grab six receptions for 90 yards in the opener.

“I’m his go-to man,” Barnett said of Mathis. “He likes to throw on the run and I know where to go when he does.”

And, Mathis and Crawford have 6-4, 230-pound freshman right tackle Devontae Dobbs to protect and open holes. All three played against each other in PAL ball last year.

“There’s no better thing when you’re blocking and you see the butt of your running back or receiver running for a TD and you run down and celebrate like last week’s game-winner,” Dobbs said.

With another injury, freshman M.J. Griffin has moved into the starting lineup at cornerback.

“It’s a whole new experience, playing on a big stage,” Griffin said. “I feel my cover skills is my strength. I look to improve every day and I get the chance to by working hard in practice. We have great coaching and great players on this team.”