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KLAA prep football preview

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Markus Sanders, left, who ran for 4,500 yards over the past two seasons, takes a pitch during practice at Canton.

KENSINGTON CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Northville (10-1, 5-0), 2. Livonia Stevenson (6-4, 4-1), 3. Novi (6-5, 3-2), 4. Salem (3-6, 2-3), 5. South Lyon (4-5, 1-4), 6. South Lyon East (1-8, 0-5)

Top four players

1. Northville junior receiver A.J. Abbott (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) has received multiple MAC offers and will be a big-play threat in his team’s aerial attack. He had three receptions, including two for TDs in a win over Plymouth.

2. Novi quarterback Alec Bageris (6-3, 180) had an outstanding junior season, throwing for 2,400 yards and 24 TDs to give the team its first playoff spot since 2008, upsetting West Bloomfield in the Division 1 pre-district.

3. Northville linebacker Trenton Guthrie (6-2, 210) is fast and physical, and showed his ability to get in the backfield by making several tackles for loss in an early-season 27-0 win over Walled Lake Central last season. He is a Western Michigan commit.

4. Stevenson quarterback Chris Tanderys put together a solid junior season to help his team reach the state playoffs, throwing for 1,818 yards and 19 TDs with just five interceptions. He is also an outstanding baseball player.

Top four story lines

1. Northville coach Matt Ladach has a big challenge on his hands in trying to replace four starters on the offensive line, including Alex Angelas, who is now at Wayne State. He has to feel fortunate to have standout receiver A.J. Abbott back, along with physical linebacker Trenton Guthrie and one of the best kickers in the country, Jake Moody, who kicked a 50-yard field goal in a 24-14 win over Livonia Stevenson.

2. Novi had a successful season last year, pulling off a major upset in the Division 1 pre-district against West Bloomfield before pushing Detroit Catholic Central to the limit in a district-final loss. Novi has one of the best passing combinations returning in Alec Bageris and Anthony D’Annibale, who had 850 receiving yards and 12 TDs.

3. Stevenson coach Randy Micallef will certainly be working on defense heading into the season after last year’s end, falling to Canton (49-7), Livonia Churchill (40-34) and Canton again in the state playoff opener (70-35) after opening the season with a 6-1 record.

4. Mark Thomas resigned early in the season a year ago at South Lyon after an 8-2 season in 2014. Jeff Henson took over as coach and will now try to build off a 4-5 season with half of the starters returning.

KENSINGTON CONFERENCE

SOUTH DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Canton (10-3, 3-2), 2. Plymouth (6-4, 5-0), 3. Livonia Franklin (9-4, 3-2), 4. Livonia Churchill (5-5, 3-2), 5. Westland John Glenn (1-8, 1-4), 6. Wayne Memorial (0-9, 0-5)

Top four players

1. Canton running back Markus Sanders (5-7, 180) returns for his senior year after rushing for 4,500 yards the last two seasons, including 2,495 last season to help the Chiefs reach the Division 1 state semifinals.

2 Plymouth offensive/defensive lineman Austin Scheffer (6-3, 275) continues the run of outstanding offensive linemen from the program, following Michael Jordan, who could be starting in his freshman year at Ohio State. Scheffer had nine tackles for loss last season and played alongside Jordan for an outstanding rushing offense.

3. Plymouth linebacker/tailback Darius Timmons (5-10, 190) is a physical runner and big hitter, helping it win the South Division last year. He was in on 72 tackles and rushed for 861 yards (98 carries) and 14 TDs as the No. 2 tailback on the team, including a pair of 300-yard games.

4. Three-year Franklin offensive lineman Bobby Madley (6-3, 250) is a dominant force, helping the team to a regional championship and a spot in the Division 2 state semifinals. He played on a line that opened up holes for running backs to pile up more than 4,000 yards and average nearly 40 points a game.

Top four story lines

1 Canton reached the Division 1 regional finals in 2014 and state semifinals a year ago. Don’t be surprised if coach Tim Baechler’s team makes another long run this season with both of its quarterbacks returning, along with standout running back Markus Sanders.

2. Franklin has a target on its back after its state semifinal run of a year ago. The team was under the radar all of last season after being predicted to finish 10th in the 12-team Kensington Conference and starting with a 2-3 record. It returns a 1,600-yard rusher in Jacob Clark and has a difference-maker in kicker/punter Jake Giacobbi, who made 6 of 7 field goals and averaged 35 yards a punt.

3. Plymouth coach Mike Sawchuk has reason to be optimistic with an offensive line led by the trio of Austin Scheffer (6-3, 275), Matt Wayne (6-1, 240) and Robert Florence (6-2, 240) to open holes for standout back Darius Timmons.

4. Churchill has a chance to challenge the likes of Canton, Plymouth and Franklin for the division title with a strong secondary led by Toledo commit Jamal Allen and Mike Hill, and quarterback Evan Cummins, who will be counted on to have his best season as a senior. Allen used his 4.45 speed to make 60 tackles, record five interceptions and make big plays as a kick returner.

LAKES CONFERENCE

WEST DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Grand Blanc (4-5, 2-3), (tie) Brighton (9-2, 4-1), 3. Howell (5-5, 3-2), 4. Hartland (6-4, 4-1), 5. Pinckney (4-5, 2-3), (tie) Milford (1-8, 0-5)

Top four players

1. Grand Blanc receiver Blake Bogan (6-1, 185) has been one of the premier playmakers in the division the previous two seasons, so expect his best year as a senior to keep his team near the top of the standings.

2. Milford quarterback Zack Jones (6-0, 165) was a dual threat last year, throwing for 1,346 yards while running for 458. He will now try to lead his team to a win in the division after consecutive 0-5 records.

3. Howell defensive lineman Wil Manson (6-2, 275) is a dominant force. He showed his ability to tackle ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis, coming up with 24 tackles for loss last season, including four sacks.

4. Brighton junior receiver Rudy Ramirez (5-11, 175) will be counted on to be the big-play man now that 1,000-yard rusher Joey Clifford has graduated. Ramirez showed his ability last season, hauling in long touchdown receptions while also being a threat on kick returns.

Top four story lines

1. Expect the West Division to be a wide-open race this season with no fewer than five coaches picking a different team to finish first. It will be the final season the teams will be competing in the KLAA West with Pinckney, moving on to the Southeastern Conference next year.

2. All eyes will be on Brighton to see if coach Brian Lemons can keep his streak alive of state playoff appearances. After guiding Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard to the state playoffs seven straight years, Lemons took over a 4-5 program at Brighton last year and quickly turned it into a title contender that finished 9-2 overall and 4-1 in the division. His team has just four starters back on offense, losing two-time 1,000-yard rusher Joey Clifford.

3. Dual-threat quarterback Ryan Brennan will be the main man this season at Howell after splitting time a year ago. Big expectations will be on Brennan now that he has experience and he showed his arm strength on several occasions last year, including a 55-yard toss in a Week 2 win over Monroe.

4. Joe Delaney begins his 37th season coaching and will try to get Grand Blanc back to the state playoffs after finishing 5-4 in 2014 and 4-5 last year, losing all five by a touchdown or less. He will be looking for big seasons on the offensive line from Joel Linden (6-3, 285) and Will LaRose (6-1, 225).

LAKES CONFERENCE

NORTH DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Walled Lake Western (12-1, 5-0), 2. Walled Lake Northern (6-4, 4-1), 3. Waterford Mott (6-4. 3-2), 4. White Lake Lakeland (4-5, 1-4), 5. Walled Lake Central (1-8, 1-4), 5. Waterford Kettering (4-5, 1-4).

Jack Dodge (11) , who had 86 tackles and nine interceptions last year in the Walled Lake Western secondary, holds the pad for Cody White.

Top four players

1. Northern running back Miller Carlock (5-8, 160) rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season to help it make the state playoffs, including 229 yards and three TDs in a win over Waterford Mott.

2. Western safety/receiver Jack Dodge (6-2, 175) played a big role in its run to the Division 2 state semifinals. He was in on 86 tackles and led Oakland County with nine interceptions. He is being recruited by MAC schools and has an offer from Eastern Michigan.

3. Western tackle/defensive tackle Robert Hudson (6-8, 295) is an intimidating presence and able to dominate on both sides of the ball. He is a Purdue commit.

4. Western receiver/defensive back Cody White (6-3, 195) is the top playmaker in the division, displaying the ability to be a game-changer on both sides of the ball. White, a Michigan State commit, had 49 receptions for a school-record 927 receiving yards and eight TDs. He also had four interceptions, and in a win over rival Central had a TD reception, TD run and TD pass.

Top four story lines

1. Big things are expected from strong-armed Western quarterback Johnny Tracy, who had an outstanding 7-on-7 season while working with Cody White, Jack Dodge and other receivers this summer after transferring from Birmingham Brother Rice.

2. Fifth-year Mott coach Chris Fahr has been suspended for the first two games and given a two-year ban from coaching in the playoffs after the MHSAA ruled that his program committed multiple infractions. He has guided Mott to the state playoffs the last two years.

3. This is the last year the schools from the Lakes Conference North will be competing in the KLAA, joining Milford from the West Division and South Lyon and South Lyon East from the Central to form their own league next season. Pinckney will join the Southeastern Conference.

4. Northern has its smallest team size-wise according to ninth-year coach Brett Moore, meaning talented skill players Dylan Moser and Miller Carlock need to use their speed to get through what holes they find if the team is to reach the state playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. Moser will move from slot to quarterback this season. Carlock rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.