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Detroit PSL prep football preview

Al Willman
The Detroit News
Quarterback Rodney Hall is healthy and ready to lead Cass Tech again. He threw for 2,384 yards and 19 TDs last year and ran for 1,127 yards and 16 TDs before a leg injury.

EAST DIVISION I

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. King (14-0, 8-0), 2. Cass Tech (11-3, 7-1), 3. East English Village Prep (9-3, 5-3), 4. Denby (6-5, 4-4)

Top four players

1. Cass Tech receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones — arguably the top talent in the PSL, and perhaps the state — is still considering his college options, with Michigan and Michigan State on his list. He’s fighting a hamstring injury that held him out when practices began but should be a key factor in the offense.

2. Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall, who injured his fibula in a Division 1 semifinal win over Canton, is healthy and ready. Hall, a Northern Illinois commit, threw for 2,384 yards and 19 TDs last year, and ran for 1,127 yards and 16 TDs. “I feel good,” he said.

3. King receiver Ambry Thomas has big shoes to fill, headlining an offense that lost its quarterback, Armani Posey, to graduation and college (Bowling Green). “You’ve got to fill that void and hope (junior DeYante Fossett or sophomore Dequan Finn) can be good,” coach Tyrone Spencer said.

4. East English senior quarterback Delvin Washington has the benefit of four returning three-year starters on the offensive line, but not much else. “Skill guys has been the biggest transition (but) we have great young talent,” coach Rod Oden said .

Tyrone Spencer takes over at Detroit King, succeeding longtime coach Dale Harvel who died of a heart attack this summer.

Top four story lines

1. King is starting its first season in nearly 30 years without Dale Harvel, who died of a heart attack during a 7-on-7 last month. First-year coach Tyrone Spencer, who also will continue to be the defensive coordinator, is ready. “We want to win our first game and take it game by game,” he said.

2. East English coach Rod Oden said the only thing that stopped his team from an extended run in the state playoffs was depth. East English lost to King, 26-12, in a Division 2 regional final. “I believe our ones can play with anybody in the state,” he said. “Our goal this offseason has been building depth. To play in Division 2, Class A or in the state playoffs, we’ve got to have depth to make that run.”

3. Despite having three teams from the division in the state playoffs last year, the consensus is that all eyes are forward, says Spencer, whose defending Division 2 champions open the season at Wayne State on Aug. 27. “Right now, Southfield A&T is circled,” he said. “That’s who we’ve got to play. That’s who we’ve got to beat. Some teams, you can’t just lose to.”

4. Cass Tech, coming off a season in which two of its three losses came to King (31-28 in overtime in Week 5 and 27-25 in the PSL Division 1 championship), is in good shape, returning quarterback Rodney Hall, receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell. The meat of the schedule doesn’t come until the end of the regular season; Cass Tech hosts East English (Sept. 24) and King (Oct. 1) .

King players stretch during preseason practice.

WEST DIVISION I

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Mumford (4-5, 2-1), 2. Cody (2-6, 2-1), 3. Renaissance (5-4, 2-1), 4. Western (2-7, 0-3)

Top four players

1. Renaissance junior quarterback Jason Johnson leads an offense that coach Lou Beatty says wants to make a trip to the city playoffs. “As everyone knows in high school football, to have a returning quarterback is huge,” Beatty said. “(Johnson) knows the offense. Hopefully he’ll have the ability to master our concepts and give us the best opportunity (to win).”

2. Cody junior defensive end Jaysaar Ball is one of only four defensive returners on a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2012. Ball, a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder, has 148 tackles and 20 sacks in two seasons, both of which he started.

3. Mumford senior defensive end Gregory Johnson starts the season with several eyes from the Mid-American Conference on him. Johnson (6-7, 250) has offers from Toledo and Eastern Michigan already.

4. Mumford junior cornerback Demetri Howard is easily one of the sleepers in the division, and perhaps all of the PSL. Last season, he was a 5-foot-11, 145-pound two-sport athlete who ran a 4.68 40-yard dash. He’s grown three inches and shaved more than a tenth of a second off his 40-yard time.

Top four story lines

1. While a lot of the attention on the PSL will go to East Division I, some of the more underrated teams sit in the West. Western defensive coordinator Peter Brown said his team is switching to a 4-3 base defense. “It’s something simple for the kids to run, but it highlights the strengths of our team.”

2. Cody coach Calvin Norman said his team’s discipline and work ethic has improved after finishing with only two wins last year. “Guys are coming to practice more and working hard at practice,” he said. “And when you come to practice every day and work hard, you’re going to win some games.”

3. Mumford coach Donshell English said his team is looking to improve after a few close losses a season ago. “We had five shutouts in that time, and the unfortunate thing is that we lost two of those games in overtime,” English said.

4. Renaissance coach Lou Beatty said his junior class is what will drive the team this season. While Johnson leads the offense under center, another junior — running back/safety Cam’Ron Starks — will have an increased role on both sides of the ball.

EAST DIVISION II

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Central (6-4, 3-0), 2. Pershing (4-5, 2-1), 3. Osborn (2-7, 1-2), 4. Southeastern (1-8, 0-3)

Top four players

1. Central quarterback El-Julian Jordan is starting his second season with the team after transferring from King prior to last season. First-year coach Lynn Sanders calls Jordan his X-factor.

2. Osborn sophomore quarterback Isaiah Watts started as a receiver his freshman season, and first-year coach Marlon Baker is impressed with the youngster. “He’s been playing quarterback maybe three months. But the way he’s been playing it, you could never tell,” Baker said. “He shocks me a lot (on) a lot of the balls he throws.”

3. Southeastern junior quarterback/safety Curtis Murphy is leading both the offensive and defensive units. Coach Jason Smith said the secondary is what needs the most work after graduations.

4. Southeastern’s defense will be led by senior defensive end Anthony Hudson (6-2, 215), who also will see some time on offense, playing tight end.

Top four story lines

1. Central first-year coach Lynn Sanders said he brings a lot to the table from his last stop as offensive coordinator at Southfield-Lathrup, which closed its doors in June. “What I bring back to Central is a plethora of coaches,” he said. “I have about 21 coaches on my staff that bring a vast amount of experiences and leadership skills that they are going to help impart to our young men.” Central also took on some of the players from Detroit Allen Academy, which also closed.

2. Second-year Southeastern coach Jason Smith is simply looking for his team to improve from last year’s 1-8 finish. The most simple way to do that? “Just to have them finish games,” Smith said. “Three out of four quarters, we were right there. We just let it slip away.” Southeastern returns 13 players — six on offense and seven on defense.

3. Pershing coach Kareem Sadler said he’s returning all five starting offensive linemen and four defensive linemen, as well as his receivers. He says a quarterback by committee approach will be in place until a starter emerges.

4. Osborn first-year coach Marlon Baker, the third new coach in the PSL this year, said he wants to see one thing in his first year. “Just (for Osborn) to compete, to compete with everybody,” he said. “We’re not backing down from anybody.”

WEST DIVISION II

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. DCP-Northwestern (9-1, 3-0), 2. Henry Ford (5-4, 2-1), 3. Douglass (2-7, 1-2), 4. CMA (0-8, 0-3)

Top four players

1. Northwestern quarterback Marcus Smith (6-2, 240, 3.6 GPA) is returning after leading his team to a strong finish last year. “He can throw the ball through a brick wall,” coach Jimmy Hill said of Smith.

2. Northwestern running back Joe Dennis is expected to take the starting role left by his brother Chris, who graduated. There’s one difference with the younger brother. “He’s got more receiving skills,” Hill said.

3. Northwestern receiver Calwan Fair is expected to start as a freshman. His brother, sophomore cornerback Calvin Fair, is expected to start again this year as well.

4. Douglass quarterback Elijah-Juan Pearcy takes the helm of a team that lost 10 seniors last year, and will be playing mostly sophomores.

Top four story lines

1. Northwestern coach Jimmy Hill said his team is in good shape after a school-best finish last season. The players expected to have big roles on both sides of the ball are brothers: freshman receiver Calwan Fair and sophomore cornerback Calvin Fair.

2. Henry Ford is building off a 5-4 season that featured a close 19-14 loss to Northwestern, which finished 9-1. The rematch comes in the regular-season finale on Oct. 7.

3. Douglass coach Phil Sherman said his team, which lost its playoff hopes by one play — a pick-6 as time expired in a 14-8 loss to Henry Ford on Oct. 9 — is regrouping. The defense, he said, is the team’s strength. “I call them a pack of wolves,” he said.

4. CMA was 0-8 last year and has one win in the last two seasons. Week 2 will be the toughest game on CMA’s schedule, as it faces Cass Tech at Mumford.

Al Willman is a freelance writer