Detroit East English's playoff hopes riding on 'People Movers'
Detroit — Rod Oden was guiding his Detroit East English players through a film session Monday afternoon before hitting the field to prepare for Friday night’s PSL championship game against No. 4 Detroit King at Ford Field.
East English — 8-0 and ranked No. 6 in The News Super 20 poll — has felt disrespected. Talk all season has Detroit Cass Tech and Detroit King — defending Division 1 and Division 2 state champions — being the class of the city, and it now has a chance to prove on the big stage that it is the premier team and a legitimate threat to do damage in the state playoffs which begin next week.
It will be East English’s first trip to the PSL title game since its first year in program history, a 51-48 loss to King in 2012.
The teams will meet for the first time since King swept the series last year, 45-37, and then 27-25 in a PSL semifinal. King went on to repeat as Division 2 state champions following its 40-21 loss to Cass Tech in the PSL title game, while East English failed to make the state playoffs for the first time.
Oden knows his team has to get off to a good start, protect the ball and control the ball behind a big and talented offensive line he calls, “The People Movers,” which has helped East English average 32 points and 270 rushing yards.
East English’s line is made up of center Tyrone Sampson (6-foot-3, 315), Orniska Webster (5-11, 275), junior Rachon Gulley (6-4, 325), James Drain (6-2, 275), freshman Daeveon Weatherspoon (5,11, 240) and Russell Mason (6-3, 320) opening holes for running backs Zhamaine March (Northern Illinois), Creed Steegal-Monroe (Kent State) and junior Jordan Anderson.
“We have a three-headed monster back there in the run game, so the pass game becomes high percentage because teams are focused on stopping the run,” pointed out Oden. “We’re averaging 270 yards on the ground and have had four games of more than 300 yards.
“Sampson just got invited to the U.S. Army All-American game, and he’s enrolling in January at Syracuse and he’ll have an opportunity to start because Syracuse is graduating their center. He’s a high academic kid, a great leader on that line.”
March has been a 2,000 all-purpose-yard back in all three of his seasons heading into his senior year. He is looking forward to playing at Ford Field against King.
“It’s amazing, I really pray for a time like this,” said March, who runs a 4.5 40 and rushed for 127 yards on 11 carries in the season-opening 38-29 victory over River Rouge, also returning the opening kickoff 54 yards to set up his 31-yard TD run. “The win over River Rouge set the tempo for us and we’ve kept it going.
“We’re going to watch a lot of film on King, go hard in practice. I mean, we’ve been preparing a long time for this game.”
And, first-year starting quarterback Charles Lake showed he would be a force in the season opener when he threw for four TD passes in the win over River Rouge, including scoring tosses of 33 and 55 yards to sophomore Lemuel Neely-Watley.
“This is a great opportunity for us and we don’t have a lot of pressure on us because we’re the underdogs and nobody thinks we’re going to pull this one out,” Sampson said. “The only one that believes in us is the people in that room (East English players watching film). The strength of our offensive line is that we all know each other, grew up together. Orniska Webster and I have been on varsity for four years, and Rachon Gulley and James Drain, we all played little league together so we all know each other and we have great connection.
“I’ve also known Charles (Lake) since little league and everybody tries to put pressure on him, but he doesn’t look at it that way, just does what he’s supposed to do and executes.”
Sampson smiles when the topic of Syracuse comes up, especially after its recent upset victory over defending national champion Clemson.
“Dino Babers is turning the program right around. Syracuse was my first Power Five offer and I have a good relationship with Coach (Detroit native Vinson) Reynolds who is the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach,” said Sampson, who was also offered by Kentucky, Virginia, Minnesota and Indiana.
Webster is enjoying his senior season as a two-way player (right guard/defensive tackle).
“We feel we can run the ball really well, our passing game is getting better, but we really take pride in running the ball,” said Webster, who has an offer from FCS Morehead State with interest from Toledo. “We move people. We give our backs creases, but they can fit through the littlest crease and we don’t have just one back, but multiple backs who can hit the hole.
East English also has an outstanding defense, led by Western Michigan-bound defensive end Desjuan Johnson (14 sacks) and Neely-Watley who has nine TD receptions and six interceptions.
Johnson picked up a pair of sacks in the 37-8 PSL semifinal win over Renaissance and is now looking forward to playing at Ford Field.
“It’s the big stage right here and I just love playing on the big stage,” said the 6-3, 240-pound Johnson who also plays tight end. “It’s a good opportunity to come out here and compete against King and for our players to take advantage of this opportunity. We’ll go out and play our butts off.
Got its number
The games have been close, but King has knocked off East English Village the last 6 times they’ve played.
King 45, East English 37
King 27, East English 25 (PSL semifinal)
King 20, East English 15
King 26, East English 12 (regional)
Teams didn’t play
King 6, East English 0
King 28, East English 20 (district final)
East English 34, King 26
King 51, East English 48 (PSL title game)