Football previews: Macomb Area Conference

By David Goricki and Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
Quarterback Joe Ayrault and Grosse Pointe North move to the MAC White Division.

David Goricki and Nolan Bianchi of The Detroit News preview the Macomb Area Conference football season. Teams listed in predicted order of finish.



Chippewa Valley returns 10 starters from a team that finished second in the Red to Utica Eisenhower (49-42) before advancing to the Division 1 regional final, a 32-26 loss to Detroit Cass Tech. Scott Merchant, entering his 10th season, has a lot of skilled players back on offense, including three-year starting quarterback Tommy Schuster (1,925 yards passing, 26 TDs, 3 INTs), receiver/defensive back David Ellis (30 receptions, 611 yards, 7 TDs) and running back/defensive back Ja’Von Kimpson (74-642 yards, 11 TDs). Michigan State-bound linebacker Marcel Lewis leads the defense.


Eisenhower is the two-time defending MAC Red champs, advancing to the Division 1 regional final last season, a 28-25 loss to West Bloomfield. Coach Chris Smith has 10 starters returning, including seven on offense, led by 1,000-yard rusher Caleb Oyster. Blake Rastigeue takes over at quarterback and has multiple weapons to work with, including receivers Massimo D’Aristotile and Ian Kennelly. Jai-Javante Reid and Zach Petkoff leads the defense up front.

MACOMB DAKOTA (7-4, 2-3)

Dakota must toughen up defensively to challenge Chippewa Valley and Eisenhower after losing its four games by an average of 46 points last season. No doubt, the offense should be strong with Mark Tocco (1,556 yards, 18 TDs, 119-742 rushing) returning and working with receiver Brandon Michalak and running back/receiver Dustin Solomon. Linebacker Jeremiah Major (48 tackles) anchors the defense.

ROMEO (7-3, 3-2)

Curt Rienas tosses aside his title as co-coach and will run the show following the departure of Jason Couch, who is now head coach at Alma College. Rienas has a lot of holes to fill after the graduation loss of 15 starters. He returns three starters on offense and four on defense, led by outstanding linebacker Brock Horne. Eric Fraeyman, Ryan Heimbuch and Ty Czapski are other key players.


Justin Newcomb takes over as head coach at Stevenson and must work on the defense after it gave up an average of nearly 32 points a game. Stevenson returns 10 starters, including six on offense. The offense will by led by talented quarterback Justin McCown, receiver Hans Wisnewski and athlete Brian Rubba. Expect senior defensive end/linebacker Noah Gabriel to have a big season.


Coach Mike Powell’s team takes the step up to compete in the Red this season after finishing second to Grosse Pointe South in the White last year. Anchor Bay faced multiple Red teams last season, losing to Stevenson in Week 6 (26-23), Chippewa Valley in Week 9 (45-6) and Dakota in the opening round of the Division 1 state playoffs (42-14). Powell’s squad will be led by quarterback/defensive back Nikko Parrelly, running back/defensive back Bryce Heaney, running back/defensive back Michael Harper and tight end/defensive lineman Max Lambert.

Brendan Cwiklinski and Grosse Pointe North will try to build on a 6-3 season.



South enters the season as the two-time defending White champs and the favorite to take the top spot again in Tim Brandon’s 12th year as head coach. He returns an experienced team with 15 returning starters. Brandon said he has eight starters back on defense — 16 players that had at least one start on defense last season — led by junior tackle Owen Chen (6-0, 245) and free safety Scott Rosati. The offense will be led by 1,000-yard rusher Conor McKenna, along with quarterback Ryan Downey and tight end Riley Francis. Junior AJ Benson is expected to be an impact player at receiver.

(TIE) WARREN MOTT (5-5, 1-4)

Don’t be surprised if Mott ends South’s run of White Division championships. Mott moved down from the Red and defeated South 35-17 in Week No. 9 last year. Tom Milanov, who enters his 19th year as head coach, has seven starters back on offense, including receivers Trevon Madison (10.88 100 meters) and Darius Willis. John Lulaj and Curtis Hamilton are other key players in trying to help Mott earn its 12th state playoff appearance in the last 13 years.


Anthony Kiner starts his seventh year as head coach at L’Anse Creuse North and thinks he will have a strong defense, led by junior linebackers Logan Simons (6-0, 245) and Connor Miscovich (6-1, 255), along with cornerback Austin Krul. Justin Szumanski is the team’s first-year starter at quarterback and will work with running backs Mike Miles and Sam Bodley.


North moves up to the White this season after earning a share of the Blue Division championship last season. Joe Drouin takes over as head coach, replacing the legendary Frank Sumbera, who won more than 200 games as the program’s head coach before getting fired prior to the season. Drouin will be looking for big things from offensive linemen Zach Melendez and Bret Carlson, opening holes for Ka’ronn Henderson.

UTICA (5-5, 2-3)

Utica earned its first state playoff appearance since 2010 last season, falling to MAC Red champion Utica Eisenhower 52-0 after beating MAC Red team Sterling Heights Stevenson in Week 9 (28-21) to get its postseason bid. Linebackers Tyler Wysocki and Tyler Seib anchor a defense that includes defensive end Kurt Kessen.

UTICA FORD (2-7, 1-4)

Former Utica head coach Anthony Smith takes over as the head man at Ford and has a lot of work to do with nine new starters on offense. Luke Chapp will anchor an offensive line that has four new starters, trying to protect either Chance Kirkwood or Evan Plets, who are battling for the starting job at quarterback. Smith expects its defense to be the strength of the team with five starters back, including all three linebackers in Hunter Osantowske, Nathan George and Graham Mason.



Northern is returning eight starters on both sides of the ball to a team that ran through the MAC Gold with just one loss before being stopped by Warren De La Salle, 50-0, in districts. Depth complements the experience of a team that’s still rather young and expects to pick up its wins on the line of scrimmage behind third-year starting offensive lineman Adam Steinhauer and outside linebacker/tight end Braiden McGregor.

ROSEVILLE (6-4, 4-1)

Second-year head coach Mike Mahar returns seven players from a year ago and will have to develop a young team in a hurry to make the playoffs in consecutive years after leading Roseville to its first postseason appearance since 2011. Speed will be a strength for Roseville, particularly dual-threat quarterback Javon Osterhaut and running back/cornerback Daivon Lowman, who will be tasked with keeping the pace of an offense that averaged 31.8 points per game against MAC Blue opponents in 2017.

FRASER (4-5, 3-2)

Fraser dropped its first three games of its 2017 season behind a sluggish offensive start – averaging just over 10 points per game in that span – which proved to be the difference in late-season push for playoffs that came up just short. Fraser returns a strong defensive backfield that includes Dylan Parrot and Kahlil Roy. Success in 2018 will be heavily dictated by the performance of two seniors on offense: quarterback Nick Benson and wide receiver/defensive back Montez Crueger.


Cousino returns five starters on each side of the ball as it looks to make its third playoff appearance in five years after missing the postseason (in the MAC White) a year ago. It will rely on free safety Brendan Wolgast and linebacker Josh Jones to shore up a defense that gave up 24 points or more in its final five games of 2017.

PORT HURON (4-5, 4-1)

Port Huron looks to improve in non-league play, where it finished 0-4 in 2017, to end its four-year playoff drought.


Lakeview is counting on experience to improve a team that lost 18 starters to graduation after in 2016, where it made its first playoff appearance since 2010.



Tower faces questions of experience while aiming to make its second consecutive playoff appearance, bringing back just four starters on each side of the ball, but benefits from returning players at key positions: quarterback Matt Byrd, who threw for 993 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017, junior running back Henry Brown and middle linebacker Joel Raduansky.


With eight returning starters on both offense and defense, Fitzgerald hopes to parlay an experienced team with one of the MAC’s strongest defensive backfields to make its fifth straight playoff appearance. Wide receiver/defensive backs Quanelle Pritchett and Phil Brown lead its senior class alongside quarterback/defensive back Colton Haberek and linebacker Taye Ghadaili.


Eastpointe returns 16 starters – all of them juniors – to a team that correlated wins with experience in 2016 (1-8) and 2017. On offense, a strong offensive line is poised to lead junior rusher Emmanuel Robbins, who missed his entire sophomore season due to injury, to a productive season, and on defense, Eastpointe is led by senior linebackers Jacolby Jackson and Uriah Sangster.


Going into his third year at Lake Shore, head coach Richard Popp looks to make the first playoff appearance of his tenure – and the school’s first since 2010 – behind 11 returning starters. Lake Shore will have to bolster its defensive presence from a year ago, when it suffered a combined point differential of minus-85 against MAC Gold opponents.


L’Anse Creuse head coach Nick Marrogy aims to bounce back from a frustrating first season at the helm with his quarterback and offensive line situations still in jeopardy as the season approaches; depth is also a concern. On both sides of the ball, L’Anse Creuse’s strength lies in its  backfields, with running back Will Richardson and running back/cornerback Julian Smith leading the charge.


Sterling Heights coach Brent Widdows will have his hands full in 2018, returning just four starters from a team that went winless last season. With only 25 players at his disposal, depth is certainly a concern, and Widdows is relying on the leadership of center Erenik Krasniqi and quarterback Christopher Edwards to flip the script on a top-heavy division.



One win from a trip to the state finals in 2017, Madison is poised to make its 14th consecutive playoff appearance; it returns seven starters on offense and four on defense to a squad that outscored opponents 407-188 last season. Most importantly, it returns all-state quarterback – and consensus No. 1 player in the MAC Silver – Austin Brown (offered by Toledo, Miami of Ohio, Cornell and Akron) and the 6-1, 265-pound all-state offensive tackle/defensive end Chauncey Ernest for their senior seasons.

MARINE CITY (8-3, 5-0)

Marine City enters the 2018 season a bit younger and smaller than in years past after graduating 14 seniors, but has seen has seen steep improvement of an athletic junior class. Linebacker/offensive lineman Josh Headlee, running back/free safety Angelo Patsalis and running back/cornerback Aren Sopfe are all expected to make an immediate impact in the revamped starting lineup captained by senior fullback/free safety Jack Kretzschmar.

MARYSVILLE (4-5, 1-4)

Marysville was relegated to the MAC Silver from the MAC Gold after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and is expected to get back on track via a powerful rushing attack led by senior hybrid back/outside linebacker Hunter Delor, who averaged 6 yards-per-carry in limited action as a junior. Question marks face the Marysville defense, however, as it returns just four starters to a unit that gave up an average of 28.6 points per game against division opponents.

ST. CLAIR (2-7, 1-4)

Second-year coach James Bishop is implementing a new dynamic offense with first-year starting quarterback Brady Gleason to complement a strong run game led by Ethan Mahn, who ran for 926 yards in 2017, but will have his work cut out for him with an inexperienced offensive line. A majority of St. Clair’s six returning starters from a year ago are on the defensive side of the ball, with the most promising unit being the defensive line headlined by Parker Griffor and Lance Schweihofer.


South Lake took a step back in 2017 as a result of inexperience, and faces an even tougher challenge in the upcoming season given the youth of its offensive line. Four-year starting wide receiver/safety Tyler Waters, three-year starting running back/cornerback Jerimyah Vines, and linebacker Jordan Williams headline an athletic senior class that must settle into leadership roles quickly to guide a young team that returns just three starters on each side of the ball.


Clintondale’s strength is on its defensive line; the senior class of Josh Warlick, Domonic Willis and Frank Matewski up front complement an athletic set of playmakers at skill positions in the defensive backfield. Willis and Nate Whitfield makeup a two-pronged rushing attack that will be the focal point of Clintondale’s offense as it looks to make playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time since 2012-13.



Head coach Jeff Glynn took led a formerly winless team to its first playoff appearance since 2010 in his first year as head coach and returns three starters on offense and six on defense to a speedy team. The inexperienced interior offensive line in front of running back Mitch Lewis – who averaged more than 7 yards per carry a year ago – continues to be a work in progress beside returning offensive tackles Joe Heaslip and Billy Collins. On defense, Lamphere is led by Alex Szewczul, who averaged a sack per game in five starts at defensive end in 2017.

CENTER LINE (5-4, 2-2)

Center Line brings a large senior class into 2018 with eight starters returning on offense and six on defense as it looks to snap a 12-year playoff drought. Quarterback/free safety Nick Hastings and running back/strong safety D’Ionte Taylor are expected to be playmakers on both sides of the ball, with offensive tackle/defensive end George Talley (6-3, 235) and defensive end/tight end Davon Sears (6-2, 265) supplying the muscle to a physical Center Line squad.


Lincoln returns just six players from a year ago to a team that was outscored by a combined 263-97 and failed to reach double-digit points in four games. It does return senior quarterback Justin Murphy, who showed promise at times as a dual-threat quarterback, and senior defensive linemen Jaren Johnson and Donovan Yuchasz provide some experience up front on the other side of the ball.

CLAWSON (2-7, 1-4)

Clawson benefits from an experienced offensive line, anchored by twin brothers Jackson Frendo and Griffin Frendo, and wide receiver play led by senior T.J. Verner, who collected 519 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Linebacker Jacob Butler, who made 64 tackles in 2017, will captain a rather inexperienced defense as Clawson looks to make its first playoff appearance since 2015.

NEW HAVEN (3-6, 0-4)

New Haven gave up an average of 27.5 points against MAC Bronze opponents a year ago, and will have to improve its defensive posture to make its first playoff appearance since 2006.