The first day of practice for high school football gets underway Monday throughout the state with some teams hoping to make the state playoffs and others feeling they have a realistic goal of winning a state championship on Thanksgiving weekend at Ford Field.
Southfield A&T and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s are among teams trying to end consecutive losing seasons to make postseason appearances.
Southfield A&T was 8-4 in 2016, winning a Division 1 district title before suffering through 4-5 and 3-6 seasons.
St. Mary’s has gone 2-6 and 3-6 since three straight Division 3 state championships (2014-16).
“It should be a good year for us,” A&T coach Tim Conley said. “We have a lot of kids returning, kids who are some of the best players in the state at their positions. We should have a promising year, but of course we have one of the toughest schedules in the state, if not the toughest schedule in the state, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
A&T’s schedule features seven games against playoff teams, including Division 1 finalist Clarkston twice (season opener, Week 6), West Bloomfield, Rochester Adams, Lake Orion, Oxford, and River Rouge in the regular-season finale.
A&T returns six of its front seven on defense, along with two starting cornerbacks.
A&T also has a potentially explosive offense, led by Florida Atlantic-bound quarterback Anthony Romphf, who will be throwing to a pair of receiving stars – Waterford Mott transfer Christian Fitzpatrick (Washington State) and Detroit Renaissance transfer Robert Army, who holds 16 offers and had six interceptions last season and is also an outstanding special teams player.
A&T will play Clarkston in the season opener Aug. 30 at 3 p.m. at West Bloomfield.
George Porritt enters his 30th year as head coach at St. Mary’s, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his first state title back in 1994, when linebacker David Bowens led the team to a win over Constantine in the Class CC final before moving on to a 12-year NFL career.
Porritt went on to guide St. Mary’s to 12 more state championship game appearances, winning six more titles.
St. Mary’s returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense, including three-year starter in 6-foot-1, 215-pound Kameron Arnold (receiver, cornerback), who has offers from Iowa State and MAC schools, along with 6-3 athlete Anthony Enechukwu, a Western Michigan commit.
“We better be motivated,” Porritt said. “We’ve had a couple of down years. Last year, I really respected my team. We just came up short the last two games (24-21 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice, 13-10 loss to West Bloomfield) – too many turnovers.”
Still, it’s an experienced offensive line that has Porritt excited, especially since that wasn’t the case the past couple of years.
“The last two years we’ve been thin on the offensive line, no depth, and now we’re thicker and have some seasoned guys there now, and we have some depth too, so that should help our running game,” said Porritt of Alex Weber (6-4, 270), Elijah Harrison (6-3, 280), Joe MeLampy (6-1, 245) and 6-5, 220-pound tight end Jason Vucinaj.
Senior Grant Henson will be at quarterback. He started at linebacker since his sophomore year and was the starting center fielder on St. Mary’s state championship baseball team this past June.
St. Mary’s has a tough schedule, like usual, going on the road to face Macomb Dakota in the opener Aug. 29, also playing against Catholic League powers Warren De La Salle, the Division 2 state champion, Detroit Catholic Central, and a non-league game against Walled Lake Western in Week 4.
“I’ll go into that first day, Monday, ‘What do we want to do first?’” Porritt said. “You’ve got your book from last year, but still, ‘Do we want to go that way or do something else?’ So you’re always thinking, and that’s what’s fun. It gets you going.”
Key football dates
Aug. 12: Practices begins
Aug. 29: Games begin
Oct. 27: Playoff field announced
Nov. 1-2: Predistricts
Nov. 8-9: District finals
Nov. 15-16: Regionals
Nov. 23: State semifinals
Nov. 29-30: State finals
Michigan football state champions the last five years:
2018: Clinton Township Chippewa Valley
2016: Detroit Cass Tech
2018: Warren De La Salle
2017: Warren De La Salle
2016: Detroit King
2015: Detroit King
2014: Warren De La Salle
2018: Detroit King
2016: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
2015: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
2014: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
2017: Grand Rapids C.C.
2016: Grand Rapids C.C.
2015: Zeeland West
2014: Grand Rapids South Christian
2018: Hudsonville Unity Christian
2017: Grand Rapids West Catholic
2016: Grand Rapids West Catholic
2015: Grand Rapids West Catholic
2014: Grand Rapids West Catholic
2018: Jackson Lumen Christi
2017: Jackson Lumen Christi
2016: Jackson Lumen Christi
2014: Monroe St. Mary C.C.
2018: New Lothrop
2014: Detroit Loyola
2017: Ottawa Lake Whiteford
2016: Muskegon Catholic Central
2015: Muskegon Catholic Central
2014: Muskegon Catholic Central