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Detroit News top prep football teams: Cass Tech No. 1

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Detroit Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall

Detroit — Nothing short of a state championship will do for Detroit Cass Tech.

That’s what happens when you have more than a dozen Division 1 players on the field, including a half dozen Power Five conference athletes.

“Our seniors are our strength and we’ll go as far as they carry us,” said Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher, who guided the Technicians to consecutive Division 1 championships in 2011 and ’12.

Cass Tech is The News’ No. 1 team in the state heading into the 2016 season, with Rodney Hall healthy again and running the offense as a quality, dual-threat quarterback.

Cass Tech reached the Division 1 championship game last year, but Hall was out because of a leg injury, in tears at being unable to play on the biggest stage of his life.

Hall has a lot of talent to work with. He had a strong junior season, throwing for 2,384 yards and 19 TDs and rushing for 1,127 yards and 16 TDs before suffering the injury in a state semifinal win over Canton. Cass Tech lost to Romeo in the Division 1 title game the following week.

“I’m 100 percent now and ready to go,” Hall said. “Our ultimate goal is to win the state championship. It was heartbreaking for me to not be able to play last year (in the title game). I don’t have any personal goals, just want to have fun, play well and win. We have a lot of talent on this team.”

Hall has an outstanding offensive line protecting him, led by Michigan State-bound Jordan Reid (6-foot-3, 285) and three-star tackle Kelvin Ateman (6-5, 300).

Hall has a few weapons to work with, too, including five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, Donovan Parker and running back Tim Cheatham.

It’s hard to believe teams will score much on Cass Tech’s defense, which includes a secondary consisting of four-star cornerback Jaylen Kelly-Powell, who has 43 offers, three-star cornerback Donovan Johnson, Peoples-Jones and four-star junior Kalon Gervin who has sub-4.4 speed and offers from Michigan. Michigan State, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Kelly-Powell, Johnson and Peoples-Jones joined forces to be part of the state’s winning 4x100 relay team this past spring.

Johnson was clocked with the fastest time (a 4.35 40) at The Opening in Oregon this summer. Peoples-Jones runs a 4.4 and Kelly-Powell a 4.5.

“I only have one goal this year and that’s to win the state championship,” Kelly-Powell said. “We have the talent, the ability, everything to get it done.”

Six-foot-4, 240-pound Zach Morton (Syracuse) anchors the defensive line with Otis Doss (Central Michigan), Taron Young and junior Deandre Square the linebackers. Square, a four-star player, has offers from Michigan State, Missouri and Cincinnati.

The Detroit News ranks Thomas Wilcher's Cass Tech team No. 1 in the state.

2. WALLED LAKE WESTERN (12-1), A

Western returns half of its starters from a high-scoring team that averaged 40 points, including a 42-40 season-opening win over Lowell, a team it lost to in the Division 2 state semifinals, 49-34.

Coach Mike Zdebski’s Warriors showcase a pair of Big Ten commits in Michigan State-bound receiver Cody White and 6-8, 290-pound offensive lineman Rob Hudson (Purdue). White joins outstanding athletes in Jack Dodge, who had nine interceptions last season, Kam Ford and Justin Thomas to form a strong secondary.

Western lost dual threat all-state quarterback Kyle Thomas, but brings in strong-armed quarterback Johnny Tracy, a transfer from Birmingham Brother Rice who has receivers in White, Dodge, Ford and Thomas to work with.

Ford is one of the premier return men in the state. He returned a kickoff 90 yards for a TD and a 45-yard return to set up a field goal in a district final win over Birmingham Groves.

Jesse Williams and Jamon Benson will share the running back duties.

Zdebski planned to go with White at quarterback before Tracy transferred, giving White the opportunity to play his natural position.

“Tracy stays in the pocket and he can throw the ball anywhere on the field,” White said. “It makes my job easier knowing that the ball is going to be there every route that I run.”

Goricki's prep picks: QBs command stage in openers

3. ORCHARD LAKE ST. MARY’S (12-1) A

The two-time defending Division 3 state champion Eaglets will be loaded defensively, led by four-star and Michigan-bound linebacker Josh Ross, linebacker Dwayne Chapman (Western Michigan), cornerbacks Richard Bowens (Iowa State) and Shermond Dabney (Bowling Green), along with 6-2, 305-pound nose-tackle Ralph Holley (Western Michigan).

George Porritt, starting his 28th year as head coach, will count on the defense to set the tempo while the offense gets clicking behind either transfer Caden Prieskorn from Lake Orion or Logan Karn. Four-star receiver/kick returner Kahlee Hamler transferred to IMG Academy in Florida, but Prieskorn and and Karn will have 5-9, 180-pound junior Rashawn Allen, Ross or Dabney at running back and Bowens and 6-3 Clay Antishin at receiver.

The Eaglets host national power Mishawaka Penn, a power from Indiana, in Week No. 3. They defeated Penn — a school with an enrollment of 3,700 — last year, 24-21.

4. MUSKEGON (9-3), A

The Big Reds lost to Lowell in the Division 2 regional final after advancing to the state championship game the previous three years, falling to Birmingham Brother Rice in the Division 2 title game in 2012 and ’13 and to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the D3 championship game in ’14.

Muskegon has the talent and experience to return to Ford Field, led by dual-threat quarterback Kalil Pimpleton, a Virginia Tech commit who threw for 1,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000. Pimpleton stands just 5-7 and weighs 160, but can bench press 300 pounds, squats 450 and runs a 4.4 40.

With 6-1, 210-pound junior linebacker/quarterback La’Darius Jefferson transferring from Mississippi, Pimpleton could be moved to the slot to give Coach Shane Fairfield’s team multiple threats from the perimeter, including standout receiver Jacory Sullivan, who has multiple MAC offers. Hard-hitting linebacker Andrew Ward, defensive end Derek Spann and defensive back A.J. Melton lead the defense.

The merger of Southfield and Southfield Lathrup might have birthed a powerhouse at Southfield A&T.

5. SOUTHFIELD ARTS & TECHNOLOGY (7-4), A

Southfield A&T will be the team to beat in the OAA Red Division. Southfield Lathrup has merged with Southfield after both schools made the playoffs last season. Southfield finished 7-4 end the majority of its starters are back (10 offense/8 defense), in addition to more starters from Lathrup.

All eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Sam Johnson, who threw for 1,700 yards and 20 TDs and has more than a dozen Division 1 offers. He has a lot of weapons to work with led by Morgan State commit Marquise Thorn (slot/cornerback), 6-5 junior receiver Brandon Gray and junior running back Eric McArn (1,300 yards, 11 TDs), who have both received offers from Syracuse.

Ball State commit Eric Eldridge (6-4, 330) will anchor the Warriors’ offensive line while 6-2, 210-pound, three-star linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill will lead the defense, which includes 6-3, 230-pound Torey Barclay and 6-4, 235-pound Andre Carter at defensive end.

6. OAK PARK (5-5), A

Oak Park has a mammoth offensive line in Michigan-bound tackle JaRaymond Hall (6-5, 280), four-star junior guard Marquan McCall (6-4, 320), highly-touted 6-4, 280-pound freshman tackle Justin Rogers, center Patrick Riley (6-1, 295) and guard Andrew Elly (6-1, 280) to protect sophomore quarterback Dwan Mathis, a transfer from Belleville who has multiple Division 1 offers.

Mathis, a dual-threat quarterback and outstanding athlete, will have multiple weapons to work with, including 6-3 receiver Robert Zanders and running backs Najee Trinity and Dylan Stackhouse (6-1, 225) who doubles as a linebacker.

7. EAST KENTWOOD (6-4), A

East Kentwood slipped from its 11-2 state semifinal appearance in 2014, but still advanced to the playoffs, falling in a 42-38 shootout to Hudsonville in a Division 1 pre-district game.

Coach Tony Kimbrough returns most of his offense, including skilled players in quarterback Evan Maday (2,000 yards passing, 16 TDs) and slot receiver Andre Welch, who has 4.3 speed and had 13 receptions for 175 yards and 3 TDs in the playoff loss.

Maday also has running back A.J. Jeffries and receivers Brandon Browley, Biran Durr and Keenan Williamson to work with while getting protection from a mammoth line consisting of three-year captain and center Turner Ruby (6-4, 290), 6-1, 260-pound Jason Webley and sophomores Logan Brown (6-6, 275), Mazi Smith (6-3, 290) and Kameron Donaldson (6-1, 270). Brown and Smith have offers from Wisconsin.

Jeffries and Welch were on the state-winning 800-meter relay team, which set a Division 1 final record (1:26.27).

Detroit News prep football picks: Week 1

8. MACOMB DAKOTA (9-3), A

The Cougars won the MAC Red title for the fourth straight year, advancing to the Division 1 regional final before losing to Detroit Cass Tech, 16-10. Defensive coordinator Greg Baur takes over for Mike Giannone as head coach after Giannone moved on to Warren DeLaSalle after guiding Dakota to 15 straight playoff appearances, including Division 1 titles in 2006 and ’07.

Dakota will be led by running back Kaiser Carleton, an Eastern Michigan commit who has rushed for more than 2,500 yards the last two seasons with his 4.45 speed, rushing for 1,342 last season with 19 TDs. Brett Droski returns at quarterback and has 6-4 Jalen Hall (25 receptions), 6-3 Anthony Caldwell and Evan Sivec (slot receiver/kick returner) to work with.

Dakota’s defense will be led by 6-2, 250-pound Coty Bastian, Brendan Siwajek (6-2, 260), linebacker Nick Carl and cornerbacks Chris Magee and Colin Macklem.

9. BELLEVILLE (8-2), A

Belleville had success in Jermain Crowell’s first year as head coach, earning the Western Wayne Blue Division title with a 5-0 record and having an eight-game winning streak before a Division 1 pre-district loss to Ann Arbor Pioneer.

The Tigers lost quarterback Dwan Mathis, who transferred to Oak Park, but brings in a transfer Jahz Watts from Ypsilanti Community. Watts threw for 6 TDs in a loss to Monroe and for 339 yards and 2 TDs in a win over Division 3 state runner-up Chelsea.

Watts will be protected by 6-4, 270-pound sophomore tackle Devontae Dobbs who already has offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State and have talented athletes in 6-2, 180-pound receiver/cornerback Jordan Ulmer (Iowa State), three-star junior receiver Patrick Lupro, 6-2 sophomore Julian Barnett and senior three-star running back/safety Devonni Reed (CMU) to work with. Junior receiver Jahmil Taylor and sophomore running back Khalid Crawford will also be strong options for Watts.

George Douglas, a CMU commit, will join Reed, Ulmer, Dobbs and 6-2 junior corner Kmare Carey on defense.

10. ANN ARBOR PIONEER (7-4), A

Pioneer earned a playoff spot, defeating Belleville before falling short to Saline 27-23 in a tough, physical Division 1 district final battle.

The Pioneers return all-state running back/linebacker Antjuan Simmons, an Ohio State commit who rushed for 1,112 yards and 18 TDs while getting in on 65 tackles. He will be joined by Western Michigan-bound linebacker Derrick Hubbard (6-2, 210), linebacker Jordan Nwogu and cornerbacks Jordan Harris, Cedric Benton and Jamel Powell from a team that gave up 15.5 points a game.

11. ROCKFORD (8-4), A

All eyes will be on three-star junior quarterback Jason Whittaker in Rockford’s attempt to reach the state playoffs for a 22nd straight season.

Whittaker, 6-4 and 200 pounds, completed 67 percent of his passes for 800 yards and 11 TDs last season as the Rams advanced to the Division 1 regional title game. Running back Nick Isley (6-3, 190) also returns after averaging 8 yards a carry (696 yards, 8 TDs) behind a line led by 6-4, 290-pound center Cody Carone.

Coach Ralph Munger, who earned his 300th career win last season, will be looking for linebacker Cole VanSetters and cornerback Marcus Remtema to help a defense improve after allowing an average of 17 points a game.

12. DETROIT EAST ENGLISH (9-3), A

East English has one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the state in 6-3, 235-pound Delvin Washington who completed 79 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,500 yards and 26 TDs to help his team advance to the Division 2 regionals before falling to eventual state champion Detroit King.

Washington has a big, physical line in front of him, led by highly-recruited Emani Mason (6-4, 285), junior center Tyrone Sampson (6-3, 325), junior guard Orniska Webster (5-11, 255) and tackle Jaylin Phillips (6-3, 250).

“We have an experienced line, an experienced quarterback and a home run-hitting tailback in Zhamaine March, a 4.45 track kid who will get us going and let our receivers mature before we get into the meat of our schedule, Weeks 5, 6 and 7 against Cass Tech, Denby and King,” coach Rod Oden said.

Canton's Markus Sanders and the rest of his teammates stretch during the first football practice.

13. CANTON (10-3), A

Dream Team running back Markus Sanders is among a half dozen starters back on an offense that helped the Chiefs reach the Division 1 state semifinals.

Sanders rushed for 2,495 yards (260 carries) and 31 TDs last season, including a school-record 365 in the 48-41 semifinal loss to Cass Tech.

Coach Tim Baechler’s offense also returns both quarterbacks from a year ago, Joel Foster and Jake O’Donnell with left tackle Dave Gunnis protecting their blind side and tight end Brennan Pelland as a weapon. Junior linebacker Lou Baechler and junior cornerback Colin Troupe lead the defense.

14. DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL (9-3), A

Tom Mach guided the Shamrocks back to the top of the Catholic League Central Division with a share of the title last year after a rare losing season in 2014.

Catholic Central returns half of its starters, including an offensive line which includes 6-4, 265-pound Blake Bueter, 6-4, 260-pound Chris Bradbury, 6-1, 230-pound William Butler and tight ends Jackson Ross and Jack Morris to open holes for running backs Nick Capatina (106-692, 9 TDs) and Cameron Ryan (96-621, 6) and to protect sophomore quarterback Austin Brown.

Bueter has an offer from Central Michigan and is being recruited by multiple Big Ten schools.

15. SALINE (11-1), A

The Hornets graduated the passing combination of Josh Jackson and Jeb Palka from teams which reached the Division 1 state title game in 2014 and the regional final last year. Still, they return a talented defense which includes 6-4, 255-pound defensive end Sean O’Keefe, defensive tackle Nathan Powers and linebackers C.J. Gildersleeve and Tyler Plocki.

Zach Schwartzenberger takes over at quarterback and has running back Connor Hibbard (900 yards, 14 TDs) and tight end Bryce Wolma (Arizona) to work with. The line will be anchored by 6-4, 270-pound junior left tackle Dimitri Douglas and 6-0, 240-pound right tackle Caleb Rufener.

16. RIVER ROUGE (12-2), B

The Panthers earned their first regional title, advancing to the Division 5 state championship game where they lost to Grand Rapids West Catholic, 40-34. Gone is quarterback Antoine Burgess (2,026 yards, 34 TDs), but Corey Parker has Jairus Grissom at the controls of his spread offense. Grissom threw for 2,624 yards and 25 TDs last season at Dearborn Heights Robichaud.

Grissom will have several weapons to work with, including a 1,000-yard rusher in 5-8, 220-pound junior Alexander Carter, 5-6 slot back Giavonni Turner, tailback Jalen Jackson and 6-3, 220-pound junior tight end Lee Payton.

River Rouge’s defense will be led by three-star junior safety Reggie Pearson, junior linebacker Eric Chenault, sophomore cornerback Corry Thomas and defensive end Darrell Latham. Pearson has offers from Wisconsin, Iowa State, Syracuse and Western Michigan.

17. WARREN DE LA SALLE (6-4), A

Paul Verska guided the Pilots to the Division 2 title in 2014, then retired following a ’15 season in which injuries prevented them from repeating, the biggest a leg injury to running back Allen Stritzinger.

De La Salle brought in a quality head coach in Mike Giannone, who led Macomb Dakota to 15 straight state appearances, including Division 1 championships in 2006 and ’07 before accepting the job to lead the Pilots.

Giannone will be looking for big contributions from Stritzinger, dual-threat quarterback Ricardo Marble, defensive end John Fisher, junior safety Brandan Madigan and defensive back Kevin Lee.

18. ALLEN PARK (10-2), A

The Jaguars return most of their starters from a team that earned a share of the Downriver League title and advanced to the Division 3 regional championship game, losing to Chelsea. They will be led by three-year starting quarterback Antonio Mangiapane, who threw for more than 1,000 yards and 16 TDs.

Tom Danosky takes over for Tom Hoover as head coach. Danosky was Allen Park’s starting quarterback during Hoover’s first year as head coach, when the Jaguars advanced to the state semifinals in 1996.

Mangiapane will work with slot receiver Tyler Beachnau, running back Ryan Fish and tight end Alex Hinojosa. Carlos Agens (6-1, 270) will anchor the offensive line after opening holes for ballcarriers to average 285 yards a year ago. Hinojosa got in on 61 tackles from his defensive end spot, including 10 sacks.

19. DETROIT KING (14-0), A

The Crusaders are coming off the thrill of their Division 2 state championship season, along with the tragic loss of their longtime coach Dale Harvel who suffered a fatal heart attack last month.

Longtime defensive coordinator Tyrone Spencer takes over as head coach and will have holes to fill after the graduation loss of stars Donnie Corley, Lavert Hill, Armani Posey, Donte Boyd, Martell Pettaway, Leon Page and Lawrence Bryant.

King will be led by four-star cornerback Ambry Thomas, along with Kent State-bound linebacker Cepeda Phillips, who had 14 tackles in the state championship game win over Lowell. Juniors Aaron Pitts and Jaeveyon Morton, who has an offer from Akron, will join Thomas in the secondary. Josh Mayberry (6-1, 295) will anchor the offensive line.

The big question mark is who will replace Posey at quarterback. El Julian Jordan transferred to Detroit Central, leaving junior Deonte Fossett and sophomore Dequan Finn to battle for the starting job.

20. CLARKSTON (7-3), A

After consecutive Division 1 state championships, the Wolves earned their 13th straight playoff appearance, falling to eventual champion Romeo in a pre-district game.

Clarkston will be led by junior running back Mike Fluegel (6-1, 180) who rushed for 950 yards last season. Fluegel will run behind a line led by 6-3, 265-pound junior Noah Nicklin and 6-3, 240-pound junior Stewart Newblatt. All-league cornerback Kyle Genter and linebacker Nick Stalworth will lead the defense.