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Macomb Area Conference prep football preview

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Former defensive coordinator and now head coach Greg Baur, center, and his Macomb Dakota players prepare for football practice in Macomb Township. Dakota enjoys the return of running back Kaiser Carleton as it seeks its fifth consecutive Red Division title.

RED DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Macomb Dakota (9-3, 4-1)

2. Utica Eisenhower (7-4, 3-2)

3. Romeo (13-1, 5-0)

4. Sterling Heights Stevenson (7-3, 3-2)

5. Warren Mott (6-4, 2-3)

6. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (7-3, 3-2)

Top four players

1. Kaiser Carleton (5-foot-8, 180 pounds), an Eastern Michigan commit, rushed for 1,342 yards and 19 TDs, averaging 7.5 yards per carry to lead Dakota to its fourth straight division title. He has rushed for more than 2,500 yards the last two seasons with his 4.45 speed. He also has offers from Western Michigan and Ohio.

2. Dez Lance (6-3, 270) caused havoc from the defensive tackle spot for Stevenson while also playing guard on offense. Lance, a Western Michigan commit, is one of the fastest players on the team and has outstanding athletic ability.

3. Mike Pond (5-8, 160) has a lot of experience as Mott’s dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 827 yards and six TDs while rushing for 600 yards and seven TDs to lead his team to a state playoff appearance.

4. Max Wittwer (6-3, 175) runs Eisenhower’s triple-option attack and can get things done through the air, displayed by his two TD throws in the season-opening win over Plymouth last year. He returns his top receiving threat in Jack Provencher.

Top four story lines

1. Mike Giannone built Dakota into the elite program in Macomb County, going 158-51 in 18 seasons, including Division 1 state championships in 2006 and 2007 and MAC Red titles the last four years. Giannone departed for Warren De La Salle and longtime Dakota defensive coordinator Greg Baur has been elevated to the top spot.

2. Romeo moves up to the Red from the White after earning the Division 1 state championship last season with a win over Detroit Cass Tech. Co-coaches Jason Couch and Curt Rienas have to replace Dream Team players in Mitch Heimbuch and Brad Tanner, who are both now playing at Western Michigan.

3. Stevenson coach Kevin Frederick plans to have more players playing just one position this season so they will be fresh in the fourth quarter. Last year, he had numerous two-way players and it cost the Titans, failing to hold fourth-quarter leads three times, including an overtime loss to Dakota.

4. Chippewa Valley graduated 38 seniors, nine who have gone on to play college football this year. Scott Merchant returns for his eighth season. He accepted the head job at Warren De La Salle last January, then decided to stay days later.

Kaiser Carleton (5-foot-8, 180 pounds), an Eastern Michigan commit, rushed for 1,342 yards and 19 TDs, averaging 7.5 yards per carry to lead Dakota to its fourth straight division title last season.

WHITE DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Grosse Pointe South (7-4, 3-2)

2. Macomb L’Anse Creuse North (4-5, 0-5)

3. Utica Ford (5-5, 3-2)

4. New Baltimore Anchor Bay (3-6, 1-4)

5. Utica (4-5, 2-3)

6. Fraser (3-6, 3-2)

Top four players

1. Jaylin Allen (6-0, 175) has outstanding speed (4.5 40) and will be one of the featured receivers in L’Anse Creuse North’s passing attack after playing well from his running back spot last season. Allen also will play in the secondary.

2. Jordan Irwin (5-9, 200) is a solid dual-threat quarterback for Anchor Bay, throwing for 850 yards and six TDs and running for 887 yards and seven scores.

3. Patrick Nauert (6-4, 265) joins end Andrew Sharp (6-4, 245) and nose guard Horatio Williams (6-4, 320) to give South a dominating defensive front. Nauert, who benches 355 pounds and squats 460, has 13 offers and is an Air Force commit.

4. Sharp, a Miami of Ohio commit, showed his ability to get things done as a two-way player last year, playing tight end and defensive end to help South earn a state playoff appearance. He was in on 49 tackles, 111/2 for loss.

Top four story lines

1. Todd Koehn takes over at Utica Ford. The former head coach at New Haven (2006-07) was also an offensive coordinator at Utica and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek. He will have a 21-member coaching staff, including five former head coaches and former NFL player Chris McDonald.

2. Matt Marulli is another new head coach, taking over for Tony Smith at Utica. Smith is now an assistant at Ford. Marulli has to replace the majority of an offensive line which opened up holes for Kumehnnu Gwilly (Central Michigan) to run for 1,497 yards and 20 TDs.

3. L’Anse Creuse North coach Anthony Kiner has a big challenge ahead in trying to replace quarterback Branden Taylor, who set a state record for completions in a game last season with 44 in a 34-32 loss to Utica Eisenhower, including 20 straight. North moves down from the Red.

4. Fraser moves up from the Blue, where it earned a state playoff appearance in 2014 before a sub-.500 year last season. Jon Skladanowski, a former Fraser player (1995) and defensive coordinator (2000-10), is in his second year as head coach.

BLUE DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Warren Cousino (5-4, 4-1)

2. Grosse Pointe North (5-4, 4-1)

3. Port Huron (3-6, 1-4)

4. Roseville (4-5, 2-3)

5. Sterling Heights (7-3, 4-1)

6. Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse (1-8, 1-4)

Top four players

1. Karry Debose (5-11, 185) is strong and fast, rushing for 1,372 yards and 19 TDs last season to help Cousino earn a share of the division title. He showed his ability to reach the end zone in a 28-26 win over St. Clair Shores Lakeview, running for 279 yards and three TDs.

2. Ben Maleszyk (6-2, 180) gets the job done in Cousino’s spread offense, throwing for 1,674 yards and 15 TDs while also showing his ability to run the ball in key situations. He threw for three TDs and ran for another in a 35-34 win over Grosse Pointe North.

3. DeAngielo Sanderson (6-1, 195) has been a dual-threat quarterback for Port Huron the past few years and he will try to put the team back into the playoffs after a sub-.500 season last year. He ran for more than 100 yards to help his team defeat rival Port Huron Northern for a fifth straight time last season.

4. Tight end/defensive end Dillon Webb (6-2, 220) is an outstanding two-way player for North, getting in on a half dozen sacks last year. He is being recruited by numerous MAC, GLIAC and Ivy League schools.

Top four story lines

1. Cousino coach Brad Nettles returns five starters on both sides of the ball as his team tries to repeat as division champion and earn a state playoff spot. Cousino put itself in position to get into the postseason last year before falling to Marine City in Week 9. It has an elite kicker in Anthony Secchi (46-yard field goal, 38-yard average punter) who could be a difference-maker.

2. Port Huron drops down to the Blue after competing the last four years in the White, where it earned a pair of state playoff spots. Veteran coach Ryan Mullins returns 20 players, including 10 starters, to try to push Cousino and North from atop the standings.

3. Tyler DeBord takes over as head coach at L’Anse Creuse after controlling Macomb L’Anse Creuse North’s aerial attack the previous five years as offensive coordinator. He has a big challenge ahead of him, trying to end a string of three straight 1-8 seasons.

4. Sterling Heights had its first winning season since 2008, finishing 7-3 to earn a share of the Gold Division title and a state playoff spot. Coach Brent Widdows now has to work his magic with a small group (23 players) while moving up a division and playing its first three games on the road.

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SILVER DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. St. Clair Shores South Lake (8-2, 4-1)

2. Warren Fitzgerald (6-4, 3-2)

3. Madison Heights Madison (9-2, 5-0)

4. St. Clair Shores Lakeview (1-8, 0-5)

5. Clawson (6-4, 4-1)

6. East Detroit (0-9, 0-5)

Top four players

1. Kourtney Manley will return to receiver after playing quarterback for Bronze Division champion Clawson last season. He had 47 receptions for 494 yards as a sophomore.

2. Datrell Milling (5-11, 190) had a strong junior season, throwing for 1,400 yards and 23 TDs to help South Lake to an 8-2 record and state playoff appearance. He showed his ability by completing 21 of 32 passes for 315 yards and four TDs in a 54-49 win over Marine City.

3. Lance Mitchell (5-7, 170) was Silver Division MVP, rushing for 1,500 yards and 20 TDs to help Madison to a league title and state playoff appearance. He will be playing for South Lake this season.

4. Najon Moore (5-9, 180) has run for more than 2,400 yards for Fitzgerald the last two years. He helped his team earn a state playoff appearance last season, rushing for 1,100 yards with his 4.5 speed.

Top four story lines

1. Former Michigan defensive back James Rogers takes over at Madison, replacing Drake Wilkins, who had a 70-19 record in eight years and reached the playoffs each year.

2. Coach Vernard Snowden guided South Lake to the playoffs in his first season and has a talented group to work with in quarterback Datrell Milling, Madison transfer and star running back Lance Mitchell, and one of the premier athletes in the area in junior Jerodd Vines, who returned two kickoffs for TDs in a 54-49 win over Marine City last year.

3. Clawson moved up to the Silver after winning the Bronze Division title with a 4-1 mark last year. Coach Jim Sparks has guided Clawson to three consecutive playoff appearances and feels another one could be in the cards this year with 15 returning starters.

4. Lakeview finished 1-8 last season in Patrick Threet’s first season as head coach and dropped from the Blue Division. He will have a big challenge ahead with a roster in the mid-20s and just a half dozen juniors.

BRONZE DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Clintondale (5-5, 2-3)

2. Warren Lincoln (5-4, 4-1)

3. Center Line (4-5, 3-2)

4. Madison Heights Lamphere (2-7, 2-3)

5. New Haven (2-7, 2-3)

Top four players

1. Steven Lucas (6-0, 190) will be called upon for big things at Center Line, where he was a strong two-way player his junior year, averaging 5.1 yards a carry as a running back while getting in on 62 tackles, eight for loss, from his linebacker spot.

2. Lincoln’s Sean Russaw (6-0, 200) showed his ability his sophomore year, breaking away for a 75-yard TD run in a win over Center Line. Now, expect him to get more carries his junior year to build on his 6 yards-per-carry average.

3. Gleo Wade (5-11, 195) is a physical running back and linebacker for Clintondale, a reason it had a number of shutouts last year, earned a state playoff spot and is the preseason favorite to win the division title.

4. Romeo Weems (6-6, 200) is a five-star basketball player, ranked No. 13 nationally in the 2019 class by ESPN, but first-year New Haven coach Dominic Swopes is looking for big things from him at quarterback since he played well at that position in youth football.

Top four story lines

1. Dominic Swopes takes over as head coach at New Haven and has grabbed a pair of star basketball players — 6-6 quarterback Weems and 6-4 receiver Eric Williams — to help him end the team’s run of nine straight losing seasons.

2. Clintondale earned a state playoff spot last year — its third in four years — then moved from the Silver to the Bronze. Coach Dave Schindler starts his 21st season with the program and has an experienced group to work with, led by physical junior running back Gleo Wade.

3. Jason Charron’s Lamphere team should make a move up in the standings with four of five offensive linemen returning to protect quarterback Nick Gitary, including 6-3, 310-pound Dalton Templeton and 6-2, 265-pound Zach Hilliard.

4. Coach Ben Torres put Center Line in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005 in his first year before a Week 9 loss to Madison. Now, he will try to help the team end its slide of 10 straight losing seasons with running back Steven Lucas and quarterback Andrew Leutzinger leading the way.

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GOLD DIVISION

Predicted order of finish

(Consensus of coaches)

2015 record in parentheses

1. Marysville (7-3, 4-1)

2. St. Clair (3-6, 1-4)

3. Marine City (6-4, 4-1)

4. Port Huron Northern (4-5, 2-3)

5. Warren Woods Tower (1-8, 0-5)

6. St. Clair Shores Lake Shore (3-6, 1-4).

Top four players

1. St. Clair quarterback Collin Agosta will be expected to continue to pick up yardage on the ground as a second-year, dual-threat quarterback while getting more yards through the air in an effort to get the team back to its playoff appearance of two years ago.

2. Matt Bell (6-0, 180) had six interceptions from his strong safety spot last season for Tower while also owning the title of All-Macomb County first-team punter, averaging 40 yards a punt. He will be the starting quarterback this season.

3. Dante Chrcek (5-7, 185) had a strong junior season, averaging almost seven yards a carry and rushing for 1,112 yards and 13 TDs to help Marysville reach the state playoffs. He had five 100-plus yard games, including a 123-yard effort against Warren Fitzgerald.

4. Marine City running back Dawson Haney showed big-play ability during his sophomore season to help the team earn another state playoff spot. He rushed for 1,273 yards and 14 TDs, including 366 all-purpose yards in a 44-31 win over Marysville, in which he scored four four TDs.

Top four story lines

1. Marine City has earned 18 straight state playoff appearances and will face a challenging schedule with non-conference games set up against Detroit Loyola, Algonac, Madison Heights Madison and Grosse Pointe North. Algonac is the season opener.

2. Lake Shore makes the move from the Silver and will try to end its streak of five straight losing seasons with Rich Popp as the new head coach. Popp, who was offensive coordinator under Dave Sofran at Birmingham Brother Rice, had tremendous success as QB coach when Brother Rice won three straight Division 2 championships (2011-13).

3. Warren Woods Tower coach Al Gulick will be looking for Matt Bell to put the team in the end zone more often this season as quarterback while also pinning opponents deep with his punting. Woods Tower scored just 97 points last year, getting blanked three times following consecutive playoff appearances.

4. Port Huron Northern’s numbers are up in an effort to earn its first state playoff appearance since 2010. Northern lost its final three games after a 4-2 start and will try to end its five-game slide in a crosstown rivalry with Port Huron.