Rod Beard and Dave Goricki preview the 2018 high school football season The Detroit News
Editor's note: The Detroit News dropped in on six teams Monday, the first day of high school football practice, including Clarkston.
Clarkston — Most high school athletes dream of becoming a state champion.
Well, Clarkston linemen Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler reached that goal during their freshman season last fall, helping the Wolves to the Division 1 state championship with a 3-2 win over Oakland Activites Association Red Division rival West Bloomfield. It was Clarkston’s third state title in the last five years.
Dellinger and Spindler already have earned offers from Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State and are ready to show this fall why the national powers have come calling.
Dellinger and Spindler both credit last year’s senior linemen, including Stewart Newblatt, for showing them the Clarkston way. Now, they plan to pass what they learned down to the new linemen to give Clarkston a shot to make another long postseason run.
Clarkston head coach Kurt Richardson said Clarkston has 55 players on its roster, down from 80 of a year ago.
“We had a big drop-off and knew we had two classes that were small, knew that from the freshmen and JV coming up, but we had five or six kids who just quit,” said Richardson, who has a 245-86 record in his 31 years as head coach at Clarkston. “I think the concussion thing is kind of gone; it’s more that the kids don’t want to put in the hard work and specialization is also taking its toll.”
But, Richardson knows that explanation doesn’t work with Spindler and Dellinger.
“Coming in from eighth grade to freshman year, we knew we’d go straight to varsity and we just listened and did exactly what they (coaches) said and played our best, so it worked out,” Dellinger said. “We had seniors like Stew (Newblatt) who helped us and if we had a question, he’d say you just do this or that.”
Said Spindler: “His (Newblatt) motor just kept going and going and he was a 48-minute player, so we’re going to have to learn how to be a 48-minute player since our numbers are so low this year. When I came in last year I was starting both ways, and I had to catch up real fast because the game didn't slow down for me so I had to speed up for it. The seniors, all those guys helped out and I just watched countless hours of film.
“This year I think we’re going to try to be the most dominant force on the field when we step out. It’s a big transition from your freshman year and now it’s our sophomore year and we’re leaders.”
Dellinger and Spindler are much stronger. Dellinger, who played right guard and defensive tackle, is now an offensive and defensive tackle. Spindler, who played left guard and defensive tackle, will be left tackle and defensive tackle this season.
Dellinger is now 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds and can bench 345 pounds, up from 255 a year ago. Spindler is 6-5, 270 and can bench 300, up from 215.
Dellinger and Spindler said the interest from major colleges serves as motivation.
“It’s bittersweet; (I) just love talking with all the coaches, but it puts another target on my back, so I can’t get lazy. (I) just have to push myself,” said Spindler, the son of former Lions defensive lineman Marc Spindler.
“Really, it just pushes us to get better,” said Dellinger.
Having Spindler and Dellinger working harder than ever has to leave Richardson smiling.
“They’re like seniors now, telling the other kids what to do,” Richardson said. “Not only are they big, strong kids, but they’re very football intelligent, so they’re helping the other kids and making us better up front already.”
Max Mengyan will join Spindler and Dellinger on the offensive line.
Clarkston lost its quarterback and top running backs, but Richardson feels he has a solid quarterback in Jake Jensen, along with a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield in transfer Jake Honstetter and Jake Billette, who replaced Josh Cantu in the state title game and rushed for 69 yards on 14 carries.
“Our program is built around playing for the name on the front and not on the back,” Richardson said. “We lost a ton, but there’s a lot of pride in this program.”
All Dellinger wants is another state title. Or two.
“It was just amazing, especially coming from football and then winning another one with Foster (Loyer) and all those guys (in basketball),” Dellinger said. “I want to win every single one. It’s like, 'Let’s get eight!'"
Richardson just hopes that everyone works as hard as Dellinger and Spindler, so Clarkston has the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving weekend.