Quarterbacks Dwan Mathis and Sam Johnson have come of age, and plan on using their experience and maturity to help their teams make postseason runs that they hope end with state championship game appearances at Ford Field.
Mathis and Johnson are seniors and arguably the top quarterbacks in Metro Detroit – if not the entire state – with Mathis playing for Oak Park and Johnson for Walled Lake Western.
Mathis and Johnson owned multiple Division 1 offers before even starting high school and Mathis is now committed to Ohio State and Johnson to Boston College.
“Really, as a senior there’s no room for error because you’ve been there so long,” said Mathis, who split time at quarterback last year with Corey Graham, who will play his senior year at Harper Woods. “All the mistakes I’ve made in the past – maybe just making the wrong read – that isn’t expected anymore. Coach (Greg) Carter is looking for me to lead, tell other guys what to do and help coach them, and make everybody a better teammate.
“I just know where to go with the ball now. If this isn’t there, then this will be there, things like that. We have a lot of guys back, a lot on the offensive line and weapons in the backfield and with our receivers.”
Oak Park returns a ton of talent from last year’s team, which lost to eventual state champion Warren De La Salle in the Division 2 regional title game.
One of the main weapons for the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Mathis will be 6-6 junior receiver Maliq Carr, while he will also be having running backs Torriano Richardson and Phillip Stewart running behind an offensive line that is anchored by 6-4, 300-pound junior tackle Justin Rogers, who is ranked as the nation’s top guard for his class by 247Sports and has offers from such national powers as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan.
Michigan State-bound tackle Spencer Brown will be protecting Johnson’s blind side. He is excited to see what Johnson, who is now 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, can do during his final season.
“He’s bigger, stronger and faster and he’ll be a better leader for our team,” said Brown of Johnson, who completed 60 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,115 yards and 23 TDs with five interceptions last season as Western finished 8-2. “I expect everything to be right on the money this year, for him to be even more accurate.”
Mathis and Johnson are not the only talented quarterbacks in Metro Detroit. Tommy Schuster is now a three-year starter at Chippewa Valley, coming off a strong season where he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1,925 yards and 26 TDs with just three interceptions, to lead his team to a 10-2 record.
“Tommy’s knowledge of the game, his efficiency and his ability to read defenses is as good as I’ve ever coached,” said Chippewa Valley 10th year coach Scott Merchant. “He threw 25 touchdown pass and had three interceptions and two of them were Hail Mary’s at the end of the first half. He just doesn’t make mistakes. He never gets rattled and he extends plays and keeps things alive downfield. He’s extremely athletic and has excellent arm strength.”
And while Mathis and Johnson will be moving on to play for Power Five teams in college, Schuster still lacks a Division 1 or 2 offer.
Schuster, though, is extremely confident at the controls of Chippewa Valley’s offense.
“This will be my third year starting and last year was a big step for me – just got a lot more comfortable,” said Schuster. “I just knew everything and was able to teach the other guys stuff. I felt my technique got better and my knowledge of the game improved a lot, and that’s just carried over into this year.
“My expectation for this year is to win a state championship. We have a good amount of key guys coming back – four guys who have been there for three years now. We have good receivers in David Ellis, Martice Bunting and Aidan Hall.”
Ellis, a 6-1, 195-pound senior and three-year starter, is a Central Michigan commit and Bunting is the younger brother of CMU defensive back Sean Bunting.
Detroit King quarterback Dequan Finn is in the same boat as Schuster, aside from the fact that he celebrated his 17th birthday this past April by committing to Central Michigan.
Finn is also a three-year starter and led King to a strong 11-2 season in 2018, including a PSL championship and a Division 2 state semifinal appearance – a 14-13 loss to Warren De La Salle.
“Sophomore year I didn’t really know much, just basically did whatever my coach told me,” said Finn, who helped King win the Division 2 state championship as a sophomore in 2016. “My junior year I started to understand the playbook more and the coverages. Now, I’m used to everything and things have just fallen into place. I’m very confident.
“My arm is stronger than in past years, but the main thing is the accuracy, keeping my base wide and making sure I’m not too narrow or too wide – just a perfect base. I’ve been working on that ever since the De La Salle game.”
Finn has to be excited heading into the season with the opportunity to work with four-star junior receiver Rashawn Williams, who has offers from Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, and three-star junior Lemuel Neely-Watley, who transferred from East English and received an offer from the Spartans this past winter.
Austin Brown of Madison Heights Madison and Mark Tocco of Macomb Dakota are two more senior quarterbacks in the area to watch this season.
Brown helped Detroit Catholic Central reach the Division 1 state final his sophomore year before transferring to Madison Heights Madison, where he threw for 3,100 yards and 40 TDs last season, including a state record eight first-half TD passes in the season opener against Warren Lincoln.
Madison finished 12-1 and advanced to the Division 7 state semifinals.
Tocco completed 63 percent of his passes last season, throwing for 1,556 yards and 18 TDs and rushing for 742 yards to help Dakota to a 7-4 record and the program’s 17th consecutive state playoff appearance.