Matt Schoch of The Detroit News previews the Lakes Valley Conference football season. Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
WALLED LAKE WESTERN (8-2)
First-year head coach Alex Grignon comes from South Lyon, where he was offensive coordinator for a single one-win season, with expectations of keeping the Warriors dominant. He has a Boston College signee in senior Sam Johnson III at quarterback and Michigan State-bound senior offensive tackle Spencer Brown as cornerstones of a loaded program carrying an eight-year playoff streak and two years removed from a Division 2 state final berth. Junior Abdur Yaseen is among a talented crop of future college wide receivers in the Lakes Valley.
WHITE LAKE LAKELAND (7-3)
The Lakes Valley coaches picked Lakeland to share the conference title with Walled Lake Western after the Eagles finished third last season. Coach Joe Woodruff’s team returns 13 starters, including all-LVC returnees senior running back Robbie Tracy, junior running back Dakota Myers and senior linebacker Carter Raab. Lakeland adds a strong junior varsity group from last season into the varsity fold. The schedule is highlighted by the Aug. 25 Battle at the Big House opener against Walled Lake Central at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
WATERFORD MOTT (9-2)
Coach Chris Fehr and senior quarterback Matthew Castillo Jr. received a couple gifts this offseason in move-in wide receiver transfers Kobe Myers, a senior from Walled Lake Western with an Iowa offer; and Christian Fitzpatrick, a junior from West Bloomfield with a Louisville offer, among others. Fitzpatrick could choose to play in college alongside his brother, Dez, a Mott graduate and Louisville sophomore. The Corsairs should make the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
WALLED LAKE NORTHERN (5-4)
Second-year coach Joe Boulus played eight sophomores last year who will step into bigger roles this season, including two-way lineman Kyle Arnoldi. He will be a third-year starter and captain for the Knights along with seniors Brandon Shelby at quarterback and Chad Burton at defensive back.
SOUTH LYON (1-8)
Twenty returning players started or saw significant playing time last season for coach Jeff Henson, entering his fourth season with the Lions. Henson is encouraged about a talented crop of players from an 8-1 junior varsity team and growing overall numbers, with about 100 overall players being among the best in recent school history. Seniors David Rende and Mike Gassner will be among the team leaders.
WALLED LAKE CENTRAL (5-5)
Coach Bob Meyer has a thin group of 14 seniors but they are long in experience. Many of them, such as linebacker and second-year captain Joey Brincat, are used to big roles on Friday nights. The youth reinforcements have talent, though, led by sophomore tight end Blake Nelson, who has an offer from Kentucky. Instead of their traditional horn, the Vikings will be wearing No. 43 on their helmets to honor teammate Tanner Bryan, who died in February after an accident while he was working on a car.
WATERFORD KETTERING (2-7)
Senior Ryan Nolan will start for his third year under center for the Captains and will be protected in part by another third-year starter in senior offensive lineman Mateo Rosado. A young defense, led by senior linebacker Jake Johnson but only boasting three returning starters, will be the key for second-year coach Kenny Schmidt.
SOUTH LYON EAST (4-5)
Coach Joe Pesci’s Cougars could earn the second playoff berth in the program’s 11 years if they continue last season’s upward trajectory, finishing 4-5 after combining for three wins over the previous four seasons. Thirteen starters return including quarterback Chris Kaminski and wide receiver/defensive back Jon Carter, seniors who are starting for their third seasons.
The task of turning around the Mavericks, who are 7-38 over the past five seasons, goes to first-year head coach Garfrey Smith, who has 15 starters returning. A player to watch in the rebuild is sophomore captain Alex Hiipakka, who could see time at running back, quarterback and linebacker. “Change is coming at Milford,” Smith said.