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Can No. 1 Belleville cash in on its abundant talent?

By Eric Coughlin
Special to The Detroit News

Editor's note: The Detroit News dropped in on six teams Monday, the first day of high school football practice, including Belleville.

Belleville — Expectations for Belleville football have been high since coach Jermain Crowell got there before the 2015 season. But this 2018 edition is particularly loaded, and Crowell has noticed a shift in his staff’s mentality.

“Coaching-wise, I think there’s a greater sense of urgency,” Crowell said. “Any time you have the type of talent that we have, I think the expectations are high around the state (for Belleville).”

Julian Barnett works out with his Belleville teammates in the gym Monday.

The returning skill is off the charts, plus Belleville added several talented freshmen and transfers. Seven of the top 30 players in Michigan are on the Tigers, and Crowell thinks he could be coaching two to three dozen future Division 1 college players this season. It has Crowell talking to Mark Dantonio and Jim Harbaugh on a regular basis, and it has Belleville entering the season as The Detroit News’ No. 1 team in the state.

“It’s our (the senior class) last season here,” five-star offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs said. “It’s where we really leave our mark, so there are a lot of expectations on us.”

Belleville was in a similar situation last year, but it was upset, 28-25, by Canton in the district final to end its season with one loss. It’s a game Dobbs, a Michigan State commit, tries not to dwell on.

“I’ll always remember the feeling,” Dobbs said. “But I’ll never go back to thinking about something that’s in the past because you can’t control the past. You can only move on to the future. I’ll just know how I want it to feel the next time we play them (Canton).”

Joining Dobbs at Michigan State will be senior four-star cornerback Julian Barnett, who said the need for Belleville to produce in the playoffs is palpable.

“We feel it (the expectation), which is why we need to stay humble,” Barnett said.

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Even with all the attention from college coaches, Barnett, an Under Armour All-American and the No. 56 player nationally on 247Sports, thinks his team will focus on high school now that the season is upon them.

“We’re just focused on the task at hand and what we’ve got to do,” Barnett said. 

Defensive end Tyrece Woods has offers from the likes of Michigan and Cincinnati, but he isn’t quite feeling the heat like most of his teammates.

“There’s no pressure,” Woods said. “As long as we work hard, we’re going to get the job done.”

Woods transferred to Belleville from Detroit King, and he joins other transfers and a freshman class that combined with an impressive group of returners, making Belleville the favorite to win it all at Ford Field in November.

In order to get there, junior cornerback Andre Seldon, who committed last month to play football at Michigan, thinks discipline from Belleville’s fleet of assistant coaches will be key.

“Every time we do something, we want to do it 100 percent,” Seldon said. “It’s expected by our coaches. We want to compete. We want to go hard at everything we do. We feel like if we don’t, we’re cheating ourselves.”

Coaching discipline was on display Monday. Crowell barely barked any orders. He just observed while his assistants broke his team into several groups and rotated them through various indoor exercises.

“The coaches have been ready to go for a while,” Crowell said. “We’ve been planning for a while, so let’s just see how the plan works.”

Senior defensive end Jalen Hunt will be a big part of that plan. The three-star Iowa commit prides himself on his speed and size combination and loves the pressure that will be on Belleville this season.

“It’s great, but it also means there’s a target on our back,” said Hunt, the state of Michigan’s No. 17 recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite. “Everybody wants a piece of us.”

Trying to get that piece will be a new group of teams. Belleville moved from the Western Wayne Athletic Conference to the Kensington Lakes Athletic Association, a step up in competition that should have Belleville sharper come playoff time, and Crowell believes there are no drawbacks to switching conferences.

Belleville is certainly stacked with individual talent, but senior linebacker Marvin Ham, a Boston College commit, had the wisest words of the day when he mentioned that getting everyone to pull together will be what determines the team’s success this season.

“We’ve been loaded since I got here my sophomore year,” Ham said. “Of course, our talent can take us a long way, but teamwork and chemistry are great things, too.”

Belleville kicks the season off at Brighton on Thursday, Aug. 24.

Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.