David Goricki of The Detroit News previews the Kensington Lakes Activities Association football season. Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
BELLEVILLE TIGERS (10-1)
Belleville joins the KLAA after competing in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference. Belleville is The Detroit News’ No. 1 team in the state, as well as being picked by the league coaches to win the East Division title. The Tigers are led by dominant lines on both sides of the ball, with Michigan State-bound tackle Devontae Dobbs joining sophomore Damon Payne, 6-6, 300-pound Ramier Lewis, 6-5, 295-pound junior Corleon Smith on the offensive line. On the defensive line, Michigan-bound end Tyree Woods joins Iowa-bound end Jalen Hunt and Jalen Bell (Akron). Future Michigan State Spartan receiver/cornerback Julian Barnett and junior cornerback Andre Seldon are other key players, along with Boston College-bound linebacker Marvin Ham.
LIVONIA FRANKLIN (11-3, 5-1)
Franklin advanced to the Division 2 state championship game at Ford Field last season, losing to Warren De La Salle. Coach Chris Kelbert enters his 17th season as head coach at Franklin and returns eight starters, five on offense, including his son, quarterback Jake Kelbert, running back Julius Simmons (700 yards rushing), receiver/defensive back Cal Fournier and lineman Jake Swriple. Linebacker Marino Diponio and defensive end Arsell Weary anchor the defense.
DEARBORN FORDSON (9-2)
Fordson, which has advanced to the state playoffs the last 12 years, also joins the KLAA after competing in the Western Wayne in recent years. Coach Walker Zaban returns quarterback Hussein Ajami, receiver/linebacker Tim Stallworth, athlete Abe Jafaar, along with two-way lineman Mahdi Hazimi and defensive lineman Mouhamed Mehdi from a team that advanced to the Division 1 district final, a 27-22 loss to Detroit Cass Tech.
LIVONIA CHURCHILL (8-3, 6-0)
Coach Bill DeFillippo guided Churchill to the division title last season before a loss to Canton in the KLAA championship game, then a 21-19 loss to crosstown rival Franklin in the district final. Churchill returns the bulk of its offense, led by quarterback Drew Alsobrooks – who doubles as the team’s kicker – receiver/safety Avery Grenier, receiver/cornerback Brendan Lowry and running back Darrell Mason, playing behind a line anchored by Ethan Gyurnek. Tight end/defensive lineman Joel Forgacs is another key player.
LIVONIA STEVENSON (5-5, 3-3)
Stevenson will be in search of its fifth straight state playoff appearance. However, Coach Randy Micallef returns just three starters on each side of the ball. Running back/defensive back Dalen Cobb is a three-year player and will be joined by offensive lineman/linebacker Devin Poster, two-way lineman Camden Gould and linebacker Nate Garcia.
Coach John Powell brings his team to the KLAA after competing in the Western Wayne against Fordson and Belleville in past seasons. Powell returns nine players on each side of the ball and expects to get back to the state playoffs with key players consisting of 6-3, 230-pound receiver/linebacker Tommy Guajardo, receiver/safety Ali Makled, running back Bilal Elhasan and three-year tackle Mohamed Saad.
WESTLAND JOHN GLENN (2-7, 1-5)
John Glenn has won a combined five games the last three years and things will be tougher for Coach Steve Waller’s team with Belleville, Fordson and Dearborn joining the league. He returns nine starters, including five on defense led by receiver/defensive back Jared Tarrance and lineman Omar Nelson. Quarterback Chad Stevens, running back Dante Barthwell and linemen Kayleb Parker and Lee Williams are among the key players on offense.
WAYNE (0-9, 0-6)
Coach Al Demps has a big challenge in trying to turn around a Wayne program that is 4-68 this decade, entering this season with a 17-game losing streak. Demps returns four starters on offense and three on defense, led by two-way lineman Jordan Holt and Jalen Dorsey.
CANTON (10-2, 6-0)
Andrew LaFata takes over as head coach, replacing Tim Baechler, who had a 172-53 record in his 20 years at the school. LaFata is in his 11th year on the coaching staff and played center on a Canton team that reached the Division 1 state title game at Ford Field in 2005. He will have nine starters back from a KLAA championship team, led by 1,000-yard running back Steven Walker, three-star defensive end Darius Robinson, linebacker/guard Seth Troszak and tight end/defensive end Noah VanBerkel.
BRIGHTON (4-5, 3-3)
Brighton gave Belleville a battle in last year’s opener at the Big House before letting a late fourth-quarter lead slip away in an eventual 34-31 OT loss, then went on to have its first losing season since 2014. Coach Brian Lemons returns five starters on each side of the ball, led by quarterback Will Jontz, running back Chris Seguin, linebacker Zach Pardinnet and defensive end Lucke Stanton.
PLYMOUTH (4-5, 3-3)
Former Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard coach Brian Lewis takes over as head coach, replacing Mike Sawchuk, who guided Plymouth to the 2010 Division 1 state title game. Lewis has 11 starters back, including running back Carson Miller, receiver/defensive back Mike Mathias, running back/linebacker Logan Walkley and receiver/defensive back Nathan Janke.
NORTHVILLE (3-6, 2-4)
Northville suffered its worst record last season since going 1-8 back in 2007, the year before Matt Ladach became head coach. Ladach has guided Northville to seven state playoff appearances and will try to get his team back in postseason play. He returns three starters on each side of the ball, led by two-way linemen Jackson Weaver and Emile Rizk, along with receiver/defensive back Daniel McLaughlin and receiver Nick Prystash.
NOVI (3-6, 2-4)
Novi had its run of two straight playoff appearances come to an end last year. Now, sixth-year coach Jeff Burnside will try to get Novi back to its winning ways. He has just six starters back, four on defense, led by third-year defensive back Drew O’Connor and linebackers Kyle Heslop, Jason Jennings and Matt Wright.
HARTLAND (4-5, 3-3)
Hartland returns eight starters on offense, but a very young defense in trying to earn its first state playoff appearance since 2015. The offense will be led by quarterback Collin Arnold, receivers Logan Tobal and Zach Linfield and guard/tackle Tino Mendez. Jon Hartman anchors the defensive line.
HOWELL (2-7, 1-5)
Howell slipped to 2-7 after consecutive state playoff appearances. Coach Aaron Metz returns the majority of his starters, including seven on defense, led by leading tackler in linebacker Seth Romanintis and third-year cornerback Mike Brauer. Other key returning starters include quarterback Matt Hornyak, running back Nate Eades, two-way lineman Mason Nelson and defensive back Bo Niehaus.
SALEM (5-5, 3-3)
Salem earned its first state playoff appearance since 1991 last year, then had head coach Kurt Britnell resign. Britnell will be replaced by Justin Reed. Salem has four starters back on offense and three on defense, led by two-way linemen Brennen McNeal and Joe Kacell, along with quarterback/defensive back Tyler Overaitis.