Football previews: Oakland Activities Association
Nolan Bianchi of The Detroit News previews the Oakland Activities Association football season. Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
WEST BLOOMFIELD (11-3, 6-1)
Returning four starters on offense and five on defense, the team speed of West Bloomfield will be its greatest strength as it looks to avenge a 3-2 loss to Clarkston in the Division 1 state championship a year ago. Wide receiver Tre Mosley (Michigan State) and running back Donovan Edwards will lead the charge on offense. The linebacking core of Lance Dixon (Penn State) and Cornell Wheeler complement a strong secondary led by Makari Paige.
CLARKSTON (12-2, 5-2)
Clarkston has concerns about depth heading into the season but returns a solid amount of varsity experience alongside three offensive and four defensive starters as it looks to repeat as state champion. Sophomores Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler headline dominant lines on both sides of the ball with Jay’viar Suggs captaining the defense as a flexible defender.
ROCHESTER ADAMS (9-2, 6-1)
Adams returns two starters on offense and four on defense after graduating a handful of two-way playmakers, but brings back an experienced defensive front led by Cole Mitchell and Reed Vogt to a unit that didn’t allow a single OAA Red opponent to score more than 17 points a season ago. Junior quarterback Carter Farris brings an element of continuity to an otherwise inexperienced offense.
SOUTHFIELD A&T (4-5, 1-4)
Southfield returns six starters on offense and eight on defense with great team speed in both of its backfields. Free safety Marcus Fuqua (Buffalo), cornerback Nick Jones (Ball State) and defensive end Devin Baldwin (Western Michigan) remain difference-makers on defense, and on offense, Southfield is led by senior running back Anwar Jackson Jr. and junior quarterback Anthony Romphf.
LAKE ORION (3-6, 2-5)
Lake Orion coach John Blackstock returns six players on both sides of the ball as he looks to bounce back from a disappointing first year at the helm. While there is a lack of varsity playing experience in many areas of Blackstock’s team, Lake Orion will see the continuation of a great offensive line and returning quarterback Blaze Lauer. Lake Orion also has increased depth at skill positions, including running back/linebacker Kobe Manzo and wide receiver/defensive back Drew Van Heck.
OXFORD (2-7, 1-6)
Much of the weight will be carried by Oxford’s defense, which has 10 starters returning. There are just four starters back on an offense that scored more than 20 points just twice in 2017. Oxford does have a handful of reliable two-way players, as linebacker/fullback Austin Schlicht, outside linebacker/offensive lineman Sam Barrott and safety/running back Trent Myre will all be called on to play both sides of the ball as Oxford looks to make its first playoff appearance since 2014.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS (6-4, 5-2)
Bloomfield Hills faces question marks of experience on both sides of the ball with only three starters returning on offense and two on defense. The quarterback situation is very much up in the air as the season approaches, and Bloomfield Hills will be relying on the leadership of wide receivers/defensive backs Darrin Mack and Alec Ward, as well as the running game led by Jacob Gasso to keep Bloomfield Hills on track for its third consecutive playoff appearance.
OAK PARK (9-3, 6-1)
Oak Park has a grueling schedule outside of the OAA White with games against Utica Eisenhower, West Bloomfield and Clarkston. But with six starters returning to each side of the ball – including quarterback Dwan Mathis – Oak Park is seasoned enough to handle the pressure. It has a strong running game led by Torriano Richardson and a solid offensive line with four-star Justin Rogers leading the charge, as well as an athletic secondary headlined by Richardson and Enzo Jennings.
FARMINGTON HILLS HARRISON (10-4, 6-1)
Harrison and legendary coach John Herrington enter their final season coming off a 28-10 loss in last year’s state final. Harrison returns just three starters on offense and four on defense, and its quarterback situation is still relatively unknown as the season approaches. A strong kicking game and running back unit led by Ben Williams complement a solid defensive backfield captained by senior Rod Heard (Northwestern).
BIRMINGHAM GROVES (7-3, 6-1)
Groves returns two starters on offense and seven on defense, and makes up for a lack of coaching inexperience with several senior leaders. Its offensive success will be dictated by the performance of quarterback Markis Alexander and running backs/defensive backs Josh Salter and Henry Van Faussien. The defensive strengths are in the backfield, led by Salter, Van Faussien and Khalil Dawsey (Harvard).
TROY (6-4, 4-3)
Troy returns six starters on each side of the ball but suffers from a lack of depth at its offensive and defensive line positions on an otherwise experienced varsity. Skill positions will be strong for Troy this year: cornerback/wide receiver Matt Johansson, cornerback Will Flynn and strong safety Quest Bigelow will all be difference-makers as Troy looks to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2008-09.
ROCHESTER (3-6, 3-4)
Rochester has a lot of depth on its team at skill positions and returns seven starters on offense and six on defense. It’s offensive line play remains the team’s biggest question mark entering the season, but four-year starting wide receivers Drake Reid and Ryan Noble add athleticism to the offense, and junior Noah Stout returns as last season’s leading rusher. Its linebacking unit is solid, too, with Jared Zacharski, Mark Cabalum and Peyton Youngblood all returning as starters.
ROCHESTER HILLS STONEY CREEK (3-6, 2-5)
Stoney Creek quarterback Frank Potenza III threw for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017 and is the lone returning starter on offense. Defensive linemen Jake Ropeta and Blake Hamelin are the only two returning starters to a defense that gave up an average of 22 points per game in 2017.
TROY ATHENS (0-9, 0-7)
First-year head coach Billy Keenist Jr. benefits from six returning starters on defense and five on offense. Senior quarterback Bobby Birney and running backs Austen Kenan and Carson Eads are expected to be the playmakers of the offense, while on the other side of the ball, Kenan will make his impact felt in the secondary. Tackle David Deman and linebacker Brandon Albedry provide experience up front.
FERNDALE (8-2, 5-1)
Ferndale returns five starters on each side of the ball with loaded offensive and defensive lines, led by senior offensive/defensive tackle Torian Belton and senior guard/defensive end Angel Defay-Merroe. Depth in the trenches and skill positions will be a plus for Ferndale as it looks to make its third consecutive playoff appearance, but it faces uncertainty at the quarterback.
AUBURN HILLS AVONDALE (6-4, 5-1)
Avondale returns eight starters on each side of the ball and its ground game – which averaged 208.8 yards per game in 2017 behind returning seniors Derrick Hinton Jr. and Zeke Ringstaff – is expected to remain the focal point of its offense. On defense, Avondale returns a solid blend of physicality and athleticism to a unit that held OAA Blue opponents to 12.7 points per game last season and is anchored by lineman Gatlin Coleman.
BIRMINGHAM SEAHOLM (1-8, 1-6)
Seaholm’s experience and athletic prowess is somewhat offset by a lack of depth as it looks to bounce back from a rough 2017 with all of its five returning offensive starters playing both sides of the ball. Offensive and defensive line play will be a plus, and Seaholm has proven playmakers at almost every position except quarterback, where senior Gray Kinnie will take over an offense that struggled mightily while he was sidelined for the entirety of last season with a torn ACL.
HAZEL PARK (6-4, 5-1)
Inexperience could be an issue for a Hazel Park team that returns just three starters on each side of the ball after its first playoff appearance since 2010. The receiving/safety units, which include returning starters Cameron Wyatt and Sean Williams, give Hazel Park an edge in athleticism, and newcomers Noah Halleck and Ralph Woods will lead the team’s linemen on offense and defense.
ROYAL OAK (6-4, 3-3)
Royal Oak returns just three starters on offense and four on defense to a team whose hopes of making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in school history are handicapped by a lack of varsity experience. Returning offensive/defensive lineman Cody Remick supplies some much-needed muscle up front while wide receiver/safety Joe Binkowski remains Royal Oak’s most dynamic athlete.
FARMINGTON (3-6, 2-4)
Farmington brings an experienced team into 2018 with seven returning starters on both offense and defense as it looks to get back into the playoff mix after falling short in two consecutive seasons. Senior rusher Kendall Williams – who rushed for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago – brings athleticism to a team whose size will be its greatest strength, most notably from offensive tackle/defensive end Donovan King (6-5, 265), tight end/linebacker Jordan Turner (6-3, 220) and fullback/defensive tackle Delmon Sewell (6-0, 235).
NORTH FARMINGTON (2-7, 1-5)
North Farmington was held to single-digit points in each of its seven losses a season ago, and will be relying on a new offensive scheme to get the ball rolling in 2018. Despite returning eight starters on offense and seven on defense, it remains a young team that will need to benefit from an experienced coaching staff led by Bob Chiesa to reverse its fortune.
BERKLEY (1-8, 0-7)
First-year coach Sean Shields takes over a team that struggled mightily on offense a season ago on its way to the school’s worst performance since 2006 but returns seven starters to each side of the ball. Running back Jeremiah Watkins and wide receiver Jacob Budzinski will be the biggest factors in regaining an edge on offense, and on defense, linebacker Evan Payne and ball-hawking defensive back Kyle Domzalski headline an experienced senior class.
PONTIAC (1-8, 0-6)
Even with question marks surrounding its offensive line, Pontiac’s offense is expected to see a bump in production due to six returning starters and a solid receiving unit after being held to six points or less in seven games a season ago. Pontiac also returns six starters on defense.