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Catholic League prep football preview

By Geoff Robinson
The Detroit News
De La Salle senior running back Allen Stritzinger is committed to Syracuse.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (13-1, 3-1), (tie) Detroit Catholic Central (9-3, 3-1), 3. Warren De La Salle (9-3, 3-1), 4. U-D Jesuit (6-4, 1-3), 5. Birmingham Brother Rice (2-7, 0-4)

Top four players

1. St. Mary’s senior linebacker/tight end Josh Ross is committed to play for Michigan next fall. Ross (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) is one of the state’s top prospects and opposition points will be hard to come by.

2. De La Salle senior running back/cornerback Allen Stritzinger is a three-star prospect committed to Syracuse. Stritzinger (6-0, 183) is also a difference-maker on the other side of the ball out of the backfield.

3. Brother Rice senior tight end/defensive end Carter Dunaway is the reason the team has a chance against anybody. At 6-6, 225 pounds, he’s a mismatch for anyone at the high-school level. Dunaway is a three-star recruit who is committed to Michigan.

4. U-D senior free safety/receiver Scott Nelson (6-2, 190) is the prototypical nightmare for receivers going over the middle of the field. He also contributes his fair share on the offensive side. He holds a bevy of offers, including Michigan and Michigan State.

Mike Giannone is De La Salle's new coach.

Top four story lines

1. St. Mary’s has won back-to-back Division 3 championships behind a powerful run game and a stout defense. While it returns a solid number of starters, including Ross, St. Mary’s will be looking to replace K.J. Hamler’s production on the outside. Hamler transferred to Florida’s IMG Academy for his senior year.

2. Mike Giannone steps into his new role as coach at De La Salle after 18 years at Macomb Dakota, where his teams were 158-51. He takes over for legendary coach Paul Verska, who guided the school to its only state championship in 2014 and went 106-53 over 14 seasons.

3. Catholic Central could be ready to end its seven-year championship drought with a strong core returning. Coach Tom Mach makes no bones about his game plan: running the ball and playing good defense. Behind senior running back Nick Capatina, C.C. could challenge St. Mary’s as the division’s best.

4. Brother Rice isn’t used to having down years, so that makes it all the more tough to figure out how it will respond in 2016. After reeling off three consecutive Division 2 state championships (2011-13), it’s at a crossroads under third-year coach David Sofran.

AA DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Detroit Loyola (10-3, 4-0), 2. Dearborn Divine Child (4-5, 1-2), 3. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (5-5, 0-3)

Top four players

1. Senior linebacker/tight end Kailen Abrams (6-3, 220) is a beast of a linebacker for Loyola. He hasn’t drawn any offers yet, but is sure to be on the radar with a big year.

2. Loyola senior receiver Hunter Harris is an intriguing player. He has the size (6-2, 190) to dominate but plays for a team that loves to run. If Loyola can get Harris the ball, he’ll be a difference-maker this season.

3. Gabriel Richard senior safeties David and Henry Hebda are a dynamic duo of twin brothers who like to wreak havoc.

4. Divine Child senior running back Jordan Jones is going to be called upon to shoulder the load early in the season .

Top four story lines

1. The departure of Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in January has left a hole in the division this season. The Catholic League says it will address the situation after the season.

2. Loyola has been the class of the division over the last three years. It won the Division 7 championship in 2014 after falling in the title game in 2012 -13. With a host of returning talent, Loyola will be tough to beat.

3. Divine Child opens its new stadium on Aug. 26 against Dearborn Heights Robichaud. The $3 million project gives Divine Child a chance to play all of its home games on campus after playing most at Crestwood.

4. Michael Girskis enters his second season at Gabriel Richard, which snuck into the state playoffs with a 5-4 record despite losing all of its division games. It returns 15 starters and is a good bet to get back to the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season.

Orchard Lake St. Mary's Shermond Dabney breaks off the line from under an obstacle during drills

INTERSECTIONAL I

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (9-2, 5-1), 2. Macomb Lutheran North (4-5, 3-3), 3. Riverview Gabriel Richard (7-4, 5-2), 4. Allen Park Cabrini (2-7, 1-6)

Top four players

1. Cranbrook senior quarterback Tyler Santangelo will be at the helm of the offense for a fourth consecutive season. He threw for 2,085 yards and 24 TDs on his way to becoming an All-State honorable mention last year.

2. Cranbrook junior running back Aaron Wiggins rushed for 170 yards and two TDs after returning from injury in the program’s first playoff win in 2015.

3. Lutheran North senior quarterback Charles Kruse is a dual-threat quarterback who throws and runs equally well.

4. Gabriel Richard senior Jac Lemieux is a do-it-all linebacker for Gabriel Richard. His playmaking ability makes him the unquestioned leader on the defensive side.

Top four story lines

1. Cranbrook won its first state playoff game last season and looks to continue trending upward under fourth-year coach Joe D’Angelo, formerly of Detroit Country Day.

2. It’s been six years since Lutheran North made the state playoffs, but it will look to bounce back from just missing out on the postseason in 2015 and live up to expectations with its strong senior class.

3. Gabriel Richard will find out what it’s made of this season after graduating 14 seniors from a team that won its first playoff game in program history in 2015.

4. Cabrini brings in first-year coach Ken Briere to try to boost its profile. Cabrini hasn’t made the state playoffs since 2012.

INTERSECTIONAL II

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Madison Heights Bishop Foley (2-7, 0-5), 2. Waterford Lakes (13-1, 8-0), 3. Royal Oak Shrine (4-5, 2-3), 4. Clarkston Everest Collegiate (5-5, 3-3), 5. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-6)

Top four players

1. Lakes senior linebacker Gabe Nickels had 167 tackles in 2016 and might be the biggest playmaker on the defensive side of the ball in the division.

2. Bishop Foley senior quarterback Alex Dixon (6-1, 155) takes the reins for his third year as the starter. He will be asked to continue his improvement .

3. Lakes senior running back Isaac Oliver was held to just 19 yards on eight carries in the Division 8 championship game, a disappointing end to a season that saw the Lakes offense regularly carve up opposing defenses en route to the division title. He’ll use that game as motivation for 2016.

4. Shrine junior quarterback Asher Smith has been the starter since he was a freshman. Now, the return of four starting offensive linemen should allow him to excel.

Top four story lines

1. Lakes returns to the field after being shut out, 7-0, in the Division 8 championship. It graduated 16 players but returns some key guys who could carry it to a division title.

2. With a senior-laden squad and good size on both sides of the ball, Bishop Foley was surprise pick to win the division by the coaches. Bishop Foley will have to bounce back from a disappointing 2015.

3. Shrine missed the state playoffs for just the second time under longtime coach John Goddard. With three-year starting quarterback Asher Smith at the helm, Shrine is a good bet to be in the mix for a playoff spot.

4. Cardinal Mooney begins its first year in the Catholic League and only its third year of playing 11-man football. Plus, it faces an uphill battle with just two seniors on the roster.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer