Belleville enters the high school football season as The Detroit News’ No. 1 team in the state. The Tigers have seven of the top 30 players in the state and will put more than a dozen future Division 1 players on the field in their attempt to win their first state championship.
Belleville, which finished 10-1 last year and earned its first state playoff win in 15 years before a 28-25 loss to Canton in the district finals, has never won two postseason games in a season.
Belleville will be battle-tested this season since it has left the Western Wayne Athletic Conference for the KLAA, opening the season against Brighton and Livonia Churchill and also playing Division 2 state finalist Livonia Franklin in Week 8.
Belleville showcases the top defensive line in the state as well as a dominant offensive line, led by two-way linemen in Michigan State-bound tackle Devontae Dobbs – The Detroit News’ No. 1 player – along with 6-foot-4, 260-pound sophomore Damon Payne, who has offers already from national champion Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
And don’t forget 6-2, 240-pound defensive end Tyrece Woods and 5-11, 290-pound Jalen Bell, transfers from Detroit King, along with Iowa-bound defensive end in Jalen Hunt (6-3, 240).
Woods has committed to Michigan and Bell, an Akron commit, had 20 tackles for loss last season to earn a spot on The News All-Detroit first-team.
The Tiger defense also showcases linebackers Marvin Ham (Boston College) and Dylan Zagula.
Rod Beard and Dave Goricki preview the 2018 high school football season The Detroit News
Jermain Crowell, who starts his fourth season as head coach after working as the defensive coordinator at Detroit Cass Tech for several years – including consecutive Division 1 state title seasons in 2011-12 – will have to replace the bulk of his secondary with the graduation losses of Davion Williams (Michigan State), Patrick Lupro (Western Michigan) and Kmare Carey (Western Michigan).
Still, the secondary will be solid with juniors Andre Seldon, who owns an offer from Michigan, and Travon Monroe, along with sophomore Darrell Johnson.
“Coaching-wise, I think there’s a greater sense of urgency,” Crowell told The News on the first day of practice Aug. 6. “Any time you have the type of talent that we have, I think the expectations are high around the state (for Belleville).
“I think the main thing is how will the young secondary gel with three young guys, and how does Christian (Dhue-Reed) respond in year 2, that will be big. By the middle of the season you’ll know who we are.”
Belleville’s offensive line of Dobbs, Payne, 6-6, 300-pound sophomore Ramier Lewis, 6-5, 295-pound junior Corleon Smith and center Cameron Wallace will be protecting Dhue-Reed, a sophomore quarterback, and opening holes for returning running backs Khalid Crawford and Deon Selma.
Crowell said Dhue-Reed has a strong arm but needs to improve on his decision-making in his second year as a starter, working with multiple playmakers, including four-star receiver Julian Barnett (Michigan State) and Monroe.
DETROIT NEWS TEAMS 2-20
2. Detroit King (Division 2, 11-2)
Coach Tyrone Spencer has one of the most feared passing attacks in the state with Central Michigan-bound quarterback Dequan Finn, a three-year starter, working with four-star junior receiver Rashawn Williams, three-star junior receiver Lemuel Neely-Watley and senior Darrell Wyatt, who is a Central Michigan commit.
Williams owns offers from Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, and Neely-Watley from Michigan State, Kentucky and Indiana.
“If everybody stays healthy they can be really special,” Spencer said of his offense. “When you have a quarterback like Dequan, it just helps so much since he’s a senior leader who has won a state championship before. He’s really on another level right now.”
Neely-Watley put himself on the radar last season when he had 53 receptions for 747 yards and 11 TDs for East English while grabbing seven interceptions and breaking up 13 passes to help his team reach the PSL title game, a loss to King.
“I’m new over here and I have to go hard,” Neely-Watley said. “We’re going to have an explosive offense. I like slot more and (Williams) is an outside guy who has good ball skills and can go get the ball.”
Look for offensive linemen Deshawn Ingram and Deondre Buford to open holes for running backs Shondel Hardnett and four-star junior Peny Boone, a transfer from Warren Fitzgerald who has offers from Nebraska, Tennessee, Iowa and several other Division 1 schools.
Purdue-bound safety Marvin Grant, linebackers Rich Miller (Buffalo) and Jalen McGaughey (Northern Illinois) and cornerback Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati) lead the defense for the Crusaders, who won consecutive state championships in 2015 and 2016 before losing to Warren De La Salle 14-13 in last year’s state semifinals.
3. Detroit Cass Tech (Division 1, 9-3)
Cass Tech returns the state’s top 1-2 running back punch in Jaren Mangham (Colorado) and Lew Nichols (Central Michigan) from last year’s team, which reached the Division 1 regional finals. Jordan Lowe will also get some carries.
Jalen Graham, arguably the top safety in the state, will handle the quarterback duties and work with athlete Jevan Swanigan and receivers/defensive backs in Kyron McKinnie-Harper (Central Michigan) and Ormondell Dingle (Central Michigan).
Cornerback Xavier Goldsmith (Colorado State), 6-3, 240-pound defensive end/linebacker James Ester, who has an offer from Memphis, and 6-5, 320-pound lineman Darrius Bellamy will lead the defense.
“Jalen will do a good job at quarterback,” said Cass Tech 23rd-year head coach Thomas Wilcher of Graham. “His strength is his ability to think and process stuff quickly.”
Said McKinnie-Harper: “He’s (Graham) probably the most athletic player on our team, doing a great job at quarterback.”
4. Oak Park (Division 2, 9-3)
Coach Greg Carter’s team could be poised to make a long postseason run with Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis having multiple weapons in 6-6 junior receiver Maliq Carr and running backs Torriano Richardson, Phillip Stewart and sophomore Travis Boston, while working behind a line led by five-star junior tackle Justin Rogers, 6-4, 270-pound tackle sophomore Rayshaun Benny and three-year starting center Shelby Givens.
Carter also expects big seasons from 6-2, 180-pound receiver/cornerback Corion Montgomery and junior three-year starter in athlete Enzo Jennings, who has offers from Alabama, Clemson and Auburn.
“Our expectations are to compete for the league and state championship,” said Carter, who is entering his eighth year as Oak Park head coach. “These kids don’t take a back seat to anyone. We expect them to learn from their past mistakes. We have a lot of guys who picked up valuable experience from last year. We expect our offense to be very productive and can run the ball and pass the ball equally as effectively.”
5. Chippewa Valley (Division 1, 10-2)
Scott Merchant begins his 10th season as head coach at Chippewa Valley and has 10 starters back from last year’s team, which reached the regional finals, including three-year starting quarterback Tommy Schuster (1,925 yards passing, 26 TDs), receiver/defensive back David Ellis (30 receptions, 611 yards, 7 TDs), running back/defensive back Ja’Von Kimpson (74-642 yards rushing, 11 TDs) and Michigan State-bound linebacker Marcel Lewis (88 tackles, 11 tackles for loss).
Ellis is a Central Michigan commit and Kimpson a Miami of Ohio commit. Martice Bunting and Aidan Hall are also receivers.
“Our expectation is winning a state championship,” Schuster said. “We’ll take it one game at a time, try to improve every week.”
6. Warren De La Salle (Division 2, 12-2)
Mike Giannone guided De La Salle to the Division 2 state championship in his second year as head coach after the Pilots were picked to finish last in the Catholic League Central Division.
De La Salle returns nine starters, including the bulk of its offensive line, led by Central Michigan-bound guard Danny Motowski and tight end Mike McGinnity, along with cornerback/receiver Josh DeBerry, linebacker/running back Jacob Dobbs and linebacker Devin Campbell (89 tackles).
DeBerry has 15 Division 1 offers, including Iowa, Northwestern, Iowa State, Kentucky, Boston College, Cincinnati and Western Michigan. Junior Anthony Stepnitz is expected to be the starting quarterback with senior Nolan Schultz backing him up.
7. East Kentwood (Division 1, 5-4)
Tony Kimbrough’s team will be motivated after losing four of its final five games last season after a 4-0 start, preventing it from reaching the state playoffs for the second straight year.
Kimbrough has a lot of talent to work with, led by Wisconsin-bound left tackle Logan Brown, arguably the top player in the state, along with Michigan-bound defensive tackle Mazi Smith (6-3, 310).
Junior right tackle Dallas Fincher, who has offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, joins Brown on the offensive line, along with 6-1, 260-pound guards in Ca’von Hunt and Jeremiah Webb, giving senior quarterback Kyle Dent time to find receivers in Stephan Bracey and Ryel Daye while opening holes for 5-6, 190-pound running back Kionte Blakeley (multiple MAC offers), who has 4.4 speed and rushed for more than 1,400 yards last season.
Junior defensive end Bryce Mostella (6-6, 230) has offers from Michigan and Penn State and will join Smith, with three-year linebacker Jayden Jones also being a key performer.
8. Muskegon (Division 3, 14-0)
The Big Reds have averaged 12 wins over the last six seasons, 14-0 last season, finally earning a state championship after losing Division 2 state title games in 2012 and 2013 to Birmingham Brother Rice, and losing Division 3 state title games in 2014 and 2016 to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Coach Shane Fairfield lost multiple Division 1 players, including quarterback La’Darius Jefferson (Michigan State) and tackle A.J. Reed (Western Michigan), but don’t feel sorry for the ninth-year head coach. He returns 6-5, 360-pound tackle Anthony Bradford, an LSU commit who benches 225 pounds 31 times and is an outstanding run blocker. Senior guard Marquis Cooper (6-2, 330), junior center Deandre Ellis (6-2, 290) and senior left guard Dequarius Johnson (6-1, 270) join Bradford on the line, protecting quarterbacks in junior Cameron Martinez or senior Johnny Martin.
Martinez or Martin will have multiple weapons to work with, led by receivers Lamarion Sherrill, Horatio Wilson and Rob Carson. Ali’Vonta Wallace (6-0, 210) returns at linebacker, where he had 105 tackles last season and is expected to also play running back. Wallace has offers from Toledo and Central Michigan.
9. West Bloomfield (Division 1, 11-3)
Ron Bellamy guided West Bloomfield to a share of the OAA Red championship and a spot in the Division 1 state title game at Ford Field, a 3-2 loss to division rival Clarkston.
The Lakers lost 31 seniors from last year’s team, but they return nine starters, including Division 1 players in Penn State-bound linebacker Lance Dixon, receiver Tre Mosley (Michigan State) and sophomore running back Donovan Edwards, who owns an offer from Michigan. Bellamy will look for junior dual-threat quarterback C.J. Harris to run the offense, working behind an offensive line led by Cole Hall.
“I’ve coached Tre and Lance since the seventh grade in middle school basketball,” said Bellamy of Mosley and Dixon. “I think Tre is the best receiver in the state and Lance is a freak athlete, 6-3 and 205 pounds who runs like a receiver with 4.4 speed.”
10. River Rouge (Division 4, 10-3)
Veteran coach Corey Parker has multiple Division 1 players to work with in hopes of reaching Ford Field to play for a state title after getting eliminated by Edwardsburg in last year’s semifinal.
Clemson-bound defensive end Ruke Orhorhoro returns, along with defensive back/special teams standout Daraun McKinney (Northern Illinois). Orhorhoro had 76 tackles, including 20 sacks last season, while McKinney set state records for kick returns for TDs (seven) and punt returns for TDs (five) in a season.
Emanuel Ferguson (Air Force) returns at quarterback and has weapons in running backs Caleef Jenkins and junior De’Andre Bulley, along with junior receivers in Xavier Smith and R’montaye Caldwell.
11. Clarkston (Division 1, 12-2)
Clarkston has been one of the premier programs in the state, going 55-9 the last five years while earning three Division 1 state championships, including one last season.
Coach Kurt Richardson (245-86, 31 years) lost the bulk of its team, but returns standout sophomore linemen Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler – both have offers from Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. They will be protecting first-year starting quarterback Jake Jensen while opening holes for a pair of talented running backs in speedy Jake Billette and physical Jake Honstetter.
12. Walled Lake Western (Division 2, 8-2)
Alex Grignon takes over for Mike Zdebski, who guided Western to a Division 1 state championship in 1999 and a Division 2 state title game appearance two years ago.
Boston College-bound quarterback Sam Johnson (2,115 yards passing, 23 TDs) returns and will have multiple weapons including junior receiver Abdur Yaseen, who has 4.5 speed and owns multiple Big Ten offers (Minnesota, Iowa), and running backs/receivers Malcom Baker, Kevin Jackson and Dawson Coefield, playing behind a line led by MSU-bound tackle Spencer Brown and Jacob Dean.
13. Utica Eisenhower (Division 1, 11-1)
Eisenhower has been the class of the MAC Red the past two seasons, going 23-2 and advancing to the Division 1 state semifinals in 2016 (32-28 loss to Detroit Cass Tech) and to the regional final last season, falling to West Bloomfield 28-25.
Coach Chris Smith returns 10 starters, including 1,200-yard rusher Caleb Oyster (14 TDs, 7.7 yards per carry). Blake Rastigeue takes over at quarterback, replacing Max Wittwer. He has a number of receivers back, including Ian Kennelly and Massimo D’Aristotile. The defense will be led by Jai-Javante Reid and Zach Petkoff in the trenches.
“We have a great running back, great slots and great receivers, so Blake just needs to limit his mistakes and get the ball to the skilled players and have them make plays,” Smith said.
14. Muskegon Mona Shores (Division 2, 9-2)
Mona Shores returns the majority of its team from a year ago, including three-year starters in linebacker/tight end Jacob Wahlberg (56 tackles) and 6-3, 255-pound defensive end Colt Stout. Wahlberg is headed for Western Michigan and Stout Indiana State.
Linebacker Sincere Dent (58 tackles) and cornerback Ke’sean Sandifer are other key starters back. Caden Broersma, a dual-threat, will take over at quarterback. Mona Shores was dealt a big loss with the ACL injury to receiver and WMU commit Damari Roberson.
15. Southfield A&T (Division 1, 4-5)
Expect A&T to have a bounce back year after failing to make the state playoffs last season, falling 56-54 to Davison in the opener, then dropping three of its final four games.
Coach Tim Conley has eight players with Division 1 offers, including 6-5, 255-pound defensive end Devin Baldwin (Western Michigan), free safety Marcus Fuqua (Buffalo) and cornerback Nick Jones (Ball State). Baldwin, Fuqua and Jones are among eight returning starters on defense. The offense will be led by three-year starting center Juan Walker, Baldwin (H back), 6-0, 210-pound junior running back Anwar Jackson and receiver Saunders Carter.
16. Detroit Catholic Central (Division 1, 8-5)
Dan Anderson starts his 20th season at Catholic Central, his second as head coach.
Replacing a legend – like he did while taking over for Tom Mach (370 wins, 10 state championships) – isn’t easy, but Anderson had a successful season in Year No. 1, leading the Shamrocks to an 8-5 record and Division 1 state semifinal appearance. Marco Genrich returns at quarterback to lead the offense, as does fullback Samih Beydoun and tight end Mike Harding. Beydoun and Harding also play defensive end.
17. Livonia Franklin (Division 2, 11-3)
Franklin has eight starters back from last year’s Division 2 state runnerup team, led by quarterback Jake Kelbert, running back Julius Simmons (700 yards rushing, 6 TD receptions), receiver Cal Fournier and offensive lineman Jake Swriple. Marino Diponio (linebacker/safety), Arsell Weary (defensive end) and Fournier (safety) lead the defense.
Chris Kelbert, starting his 17th season as head coach, has guided Franklin to postseason runs of state semifinals or better in two of the last three years and is picked to finish second, behind Belleville, in the KLAA East Division.
18. Birmingham Groves (Division 2, 7-3)
Brendan Flaherty starts his 18th year as Groves head coach, guiding his team to five consecutive playoff appearances, including a Division 2 state semifinal appearance two years ago.
Groves returns 12 starters, including eight on defense, led by Harvard-bound cornerback/receiver Khalil Dawsey, who had eight interceptions and eight TDs last season. Safety/running back Demonte McCurdy (121 tackles), and defensive backs Josh Salter and Henry VanFaussien also return, along with linemen Jacob Edelman, Tyriq Heard and Charlie Riddle. Flaherty expects Markis Alexander to play well at quarterback in his first year as starter.
19. Macomb Dakota (Division 1, 7-4)
Dakota has advanced to the state playoffs 17 straight years and this season should be no exception with seven starters back on offense and five on defense.
Mark Tocco (1,556 yards, 18 TDs, 119-742 rushing) returns at quarterback and has several big weapons, including running back/receiver Dustin Solomon (926 all-purpose yards, 10 TDs) and receiver Brandon Michalak, who has an offer from Michigan Tech. Linebacker Jeremiah Major (48 tackles, five sacks) anchors the defense.
“We have a very strong senior class, a close-knit, tough group, and our expectations are high,” said third-year head coach Greg Baur. “We hope to contend for the MAC Red championship and qualify for the playoffs for our 18th straight season.”
20. Farmington Hills Harrison (Division 3, 10-4)
John Herrington – the state’s all-time winningest coach (435 wins) – starts his 49th and final season as Harrison will close its doors for good following the 2018-19 school year.
The Hawks return seven starters from their Division 3 state runnerup team, led by Northwestern-bound Rod Heard (cornerback/tailback/quarterback), who rushed for 1,542 yards and 26 TDS. Heard will play some quarterback this season while also playing tailback when Dave Hiser is at quarterback. Offensive tackle Maverick Hansen (CMU), receiver/cornerback Ben Williams and tight end Sylvon Brown are other key players, with Williams using his 4.4 speed on special teams as well.