Rod Beard and Dave Goricki preview the 2018 high school football season The Detroit News
Rod Oden has stepped outside the city of Detroit to coach football for the first time in nearly two decades.
Oden is the head coach at Harper Woods after guiding Detroit East English to a 46-20 record the previous six years, five state playoff appearances and a Detroit PSL title game appearance last season.
Prior to his arrival at East English, Oden was on the coaching staff at Detroit Crockett for 12 years and held the head job the last seven years before Crockett closed its doors in 2012.
While Harper Woods has struggled in recent years — four losing seasons in the last five years — Oden has the ability to pull off an instant turnaround with several of his former players from East English transferring, along with quarterback Corey Graham moving in from Oak Park.
And, as Oden points out, a number of athletes from Harper Woods will be key performers, including receivers Curtis Jackson and Joshua Broaden, who are both on the basketball team.
Harper Woods will play host to two-time Prep Bowl champion Dearborn Divine Child on Thursday night to open the season.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to face Divine Child because we know they are well-coached,” Oden said. “I anticipate them to be all fired up and ready to go since they’re coming off of back-to-back 10-win seasons.
“For us it will be a measuring rod of how much we’ve got done in a short period of time. We took this job in March and we’re really going to see where we’re at.
“We’re not afraid to play anybody and that’s pretty much been our model since we were back at Crockett. We played pretty much everybody in the Catholic League before. We played (Brother) Rice, played C.C. (Detroit Catholic Central) in our early days at Crockett, played Orchard Lake (St. Mary’s) a few times. Now we get to lock up with Divine Child, who is picked to win their part of the Catholic League (AA Division) as well, so it will be a great measuring rod for us, letting us know where we need to improve.”
Harper Woods competes in the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue Division that includes league champion River Rouge — ranked No. 10 in The News' preseason poll — Detroit University Prep, Detroit Voyageur and Hamtramck.
River Rouge defeated Harper Woods, 86-0, last season. The teams will meet in Week 6 at River Rouge.
Oden is confident with having Graham at quarterback. He split time at Oak Park last season with Ohio State-bound quarterback Dwan Mathis.
“Corey is a great decision-maker,” Oden said. “He has enough arm strength to make all the throws, but the No. 1 quality that he has is his ability to get us out of a bad play call. He’s unflappable. He doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low when he’s not playing well, and that’s what I need in my quarterback.
“He got a lot of reps in last year and once I got him you knew he was a smart kid. He understands coverages and how to read defenses. He’s a student of the game, a film junky. He’s doing a great job for us and he’ll do a good job in our transition year.”
No doubt, Graham will be working behind a talented offensive line. And he will have a lot of weapons to work with, including three-star running back/safety Jordan Anderson (Bowling Green), who rushed for 1,200 yards last season at East English, and Toledo-bound receiver/cornerback Elija Griffin, who will be a deep ball threat.
The offensive line will be anchored by Morgan State-bound tackles Rachon Gulley (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) and James Drain (6-3, 290), along with Davion Weatherspoon (6-2, 285), who played guard next to Detroit News Dream Team center Tyrone Sampson at East English last year as a sophomore.
“Davion Weatherspoon will be our center this year,” Oden said. “He already holds four offers, including one from Michigan, and this summer he won MVP at Jim Harbaugh’s O-line D-line camp. Harbaugh offered him a scholarship as a rising 10th grader.”
With Oden in charge, expect Harper Woods to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2009. The question is just how far will Harper Woods’ postseason journey last?