Prep football preview: Oakland Activities Association
Projected order of finish by consensus of coaches; 2018 records in parentheses.
1. OAK PARK (9-2, 6-0)
After consecutive 6-0 seasons within its division, Oak Park in 2019 is once again primed for a playoff run that crosses into November. Both its offense and defense returns six starters, with a whole lot of guys whose names will soon be called on Saturdays gracing the roster. TE Maliq Carr (Purdue, Michigan), DT Justin Rogers (Kentucky), DE Rayshaun Benny (2021 class, 27 offers), S Enzo Jennings (Penn State), DT Dondi Price (Syracuse, Northern Illinois) and ATH Jaylin Mines (2021 class, eight offers) are just a few of the Division 1 prospects who will likely terrorize the OAA White over the next couple months.
2. BIRMINGHAM GROVES (10-3, 5-1)
Groves was a 28-0 loss to Warren De La Salle, the eventual Division 2 champion, away from reaching the state title game in 2018. So now, there’s bad news and good news: The team returns just four starters on each side of the ball, and there are question marks surrounding its inexperienced offensive line. But Groves’ junior varsity squad is coming off an 8-0-1 season, indicating that a lack of experience might not matter much, especially because this team’s senior leadership has been touted so highly. QB Markis Alexander (1,359 yards, 13 touchdowns) put together a sound junior year, meaning that senior WRs Clayton Fox and Eli Turner could be poised for a breakout season. On defense, OLB Daryll Allen, CB Jack Curran and SS Kaleb Coleman will be the veteran names to keep an eye on.
3. ROCHESTER HILLS STONEY CREEK (3-6, 2-4)
After four straight losing seasons, Stoney Creek is expected to take a step forward in 2019, coach Nick Merlo’s second year in charge of the program. There’s good reason for that: Stoney Creek’s defense returns nine starters. But also reason for skepticism: That offense in 2018 was outscored 213-140 and held to single-digit points on four occasions. The team’s offensive line, though, looks strong, which is good news for the two-man backfield of Cam Burford and Davon Morris. Stoney Creek’s front seven, anchored by linebackers Nick Potenza and Cole Luhmann, complement a playmaker at safety in Zach Denha to form a defense that could be tough to beat at every level.
4. BIRMINGHAM SEAHOLM (7-3, 6-0)
Seaholm jumped up to the White division this offseason after going undefeated within the Blue a season ago to make its first playoffs appearance since 2013. Can it keep the pace? The team’s lack of depth will be the first obstacle to overcome, but it does have weapons at the offensive skill positions, most notably explosive RB/WR Will McBride, and a pair of offensive linemen in Caden DeWald and Sathya Siddapureddy who will anchor the new O-line regime. On defense, MLB James DeWald, 2018’s team MVP, will captain the linebacking crew, junior Nick Thorn will lead the defensive line, and junior Jackson Vance’s move to safety is expected to shore up an inexperienced secondary.
5. ROCHESTER (2-7, 2-4)
Rochester has made just one playoffs appearance since 1999, and with just three starters returning on offense and four on defense to a squad that took a step back for the second year in a row, it’s going to be an uphill climb for the program to break that pattern. What Rochester lacks in experience, though, it slightly makes up for with the intrigue of raw, unproven talent. It’ll certainly be a work in progress, but the veteran leadership of QB Peyton Youngblood is a huge asset to a team that desperately needs a sense of stability in its offense. Line play on both sides of the ball is another major question mark. The team’s secondary has a trio of seniors in Paul Miller, Ian Carroll and Jeremy Hessian who will help compensate for an underwhelming pass rush.
6. TROY (2-7, 1-5)
Troy also has a 2-7 season in the rear-view mirror, and like Rochester, doesn’t have a ton of experience to show for it heading into 2019. The team’s offense returns just four starters, with its line posing the biggest threat to an offense that was shut out twice and held to single-digit points on two other occasions in 2018. C Brendan Worton, RB Zahn McClure and WR Corey Pischel are some proven bright spots. On defense, five starters will be back, with DE Jaylen Rowley, LB Ben Benson and FS Javier Banks leading the first, second and third levels.
7. TROY ATHENS (1-8, 1-5)
Athens has won just two games over its last three seasons. It will get six starters returning to its offense, though, and while that’s not that much of an advantage comparatively, bringing back QB Mason Teeter and RBs Carson Eads and Waides Ashmon III means that all the right guys are returning. LB Ashmon, CB Shawn Stefut and DL Shawn Dell will captain a defense that brings back five starters.
1. NORTH FARMINGTON (3-6, 3-3)
As it looks to make its first playoff appearance since 2013, North Farmington not only returns six starters to each side of the ball, but also benefits from the incoming talent from Farmington Hills Harrison, which closed permanently at the end of the 2018-19 school year. The new faces will have an equally new man at head coach in John Herstein, which one could argue actually is actually a benefit — and hey, good on Herstein for taking a chance on up-and-coming assistant coach John Herrington to help ease the transition. The new system, along with line play, will be the biggest question marks facing North Farmington early on. RB Myles Gresham and SE Eddie Lenton are the notable players returning on offense, while DL Malik Hardy, LB Andrew Dooley and DB Taj Cheathem are the names to watch at each level of the defense.
2. FARMINGTON (8-4, 5-1)
Farmington also will receive a few former Harrison players, strengthening a roster that was already planning on bringing back more than half of its starters from a team that reached the regional round in 2018. Not to mention, a large portion of those returning starters are entering their third seasons in a starting role. WR Jacody Sikora, OG Sam Zervos and OT Jeremiah Smith are the main attractions of an offense that put up points at will to start last season and will also have Max Martin, a Harrison transfer, under center. All-State LB Jordan Turner (Wisconsin) will captain Farmington’s defense, which also has three All-OAA players in starting positions -- LB Engelbert Veta, DB Aaron Watson and DL David Palushaj.
3. FERNDALE (7-3, 4-2)
Sixth-year Ferndale coach Eric Royal has made the playoffs three straight years after beginning his tenure with two straight losing seasons. That said, for the most part, things are still on the upswing, and it’s reasonable to believe that Ferndale will challenge for a conference title again this season. The team figures to struggle in the trenches early on as inexperienced starters cut their teeth, but returning are QB Joe Lewis Estell and top rushers Trejon Pickett and Jayshawn Adams to a starting lineup that in 2018 averaged 31.4 points per game. Talented skill players makeup Ferndale’s back seven, too, as Dylan Martin, Kalvin Littleton and Antonie Brown will all major players in wreaking havoc on opposing air attacks.
4. AUBURN HILLS AVONDALE (7-3, 4-2)
Avondale in 2019 will look to make its third consecutive playoff appearance. While ranked right in the middle of the pack, it’s probably a lot closer to first than worst in this division. Still, there are a handful of reasons as to why the season could go one way or another. The team’s senior class is massive, as is the number of juniors pulled up from a junior varsity squad that went 8-1 last season. The experienced roster will be a major plus for first-year head coach Corey Bell, who inherits a team with five offensive and six defensive starters returning. Bell’s new scheme on offense will focus heavily on wide receiver Torey Coleman and running backs David Holloman and Jamason Jodway. On defense, Avondale is stacked at the second level, with Brian Keturakis, Jodway and Coleman leading a nasty linebacking crew.
T5. BERKLEY (2-7, 1-5)
Berkley followed up three consecutive playoff appearances in the middle of the decade with a combined record of 3-15 in 2017-18. Each of those years, they had a new coach and fired him at season’s end. So much for establishing a culture, eh? Sean Shields hopes to be the coach to reverse that trend as he implements Berkley’s third system in as many years. He’ll benefit from a large base of last year’s starters returning, with six returning from the offense and seven on defense. QB/CB Hunter Kiesling, WR/S Liam Sarris and four-year OL/DL starter Justin Anagonye will be the main players to watch from a team desperately searching for an identity.
T5. ROYAL OAK (5-4, 3-3)
Royal Oak is projected to take a step backward after consecutive winning seasons in 2017-18. Just three starters return on offense and defense, and despite having a strong senior leadership corps, the lack of football-playing experience on Royal Oak’s roster is a major concern. RB Earl Weaver and WR Stephen Metcalf will be relied on heavily by whomever is named starting quarterback. On defense, DE James Haser, LB Hayden Costanzo and S Metcalfe will be the leaders of a group that will be a work in progress throughout the season.
7. PONTIAC (1-8, 0-6)
Since finishing above .500 from 2009-11, the first three years in program history, Pontiac has failed to win more than one game in a season. In this division, don’t expect the road to get any easier. Pontiac’s closest loss to an OAA Blue opponent in 2018 was by 20 points. Its last conference win came on Sept. 5, 2014, a 17-0 shutout of Hazel Park.
1. WEST BLOOMFIELD (9-3, 4-2)
West Bloomfield followed up a run to the state title game in 2017 with a push to regionals in 2018. Both seasons ended with a loss, and with an ultra-talented group of five offensive and eight defensive starters returning, the program figures to be in the mix again for a deep run in playoffs. West Bloomfield’s offense is led by senior QB C.J. Harris (Ohio), junior RB Donovan Edwards senior RB Anthony May and four-year starting OL Cole Hall. Four-year starting LB Cornell Wheeler (Michigan), S Makari Paige (Michigan), CB Bryon McCormick and DL Beau Davis headline a strong senior class on defense that prides itself on leadership.
2. CLARKSTON (11-3, 5-1)
Clarkston is coming off back-to-back state title appearances, a win over OAA Red rival West Bloomfield (3-2) in 2017 and a loss to Chippewa Valley (31-30) a season ago. Five starters from both sides of the ball return this season, and in his 33rd season as Clarkston’s head coach, Kurt Richardson is hoping that’s enough to mask question marks in the running and kicking games. OT/DT Rocco Spindler, C/DT Garrett Dellinger are a couple two-way players to watch. WR Matt Miller is the playmaker on Clarkston’s defense, with OG Ben Haas and OT Conner Partee rounding out a strong offensive line.
3. SOUTHFIELD A&T (3-6, 2-4)
Southfield is the dark horse of this year’s race in the OAA Red, with the quantity of Division 1 talent in this team’s lineup making last season’s 3-6 mark seem like a “worst-case scenario.” Standout WRs Christian Fitzpatrick (Washington State) and Aaron Foulkes (Eastern Illinois) will certainly be the key targets of senior quarterback Anthony Romphf (Florida Atlantic), as he looks to overcome a shaky offensive line that could put the offense’s production in jeopardy. DT Bryce Austin (Purdue), DB Jeremiah Piper (Western Michigan) and LB Cardiea Harris are the top seniors from a defense that returns all but one of its front seven players.
4. LAKE ORION (5-5, 3-3)
Lake Orion squeaked into the 2018 playoffs with a win over Monroe in the season’s final regular-season game, but was quickly bounced by Clarkston, 30-7, in the first round of playoffs. The key to success for this year’s team will be meshing a talented senior class with new underclassmen arrivals. Three-year starting QB Blake Lauer, RB/SS Kobe Manzo, WR/SS Andrew Van Heck and OL/DL Mason Slocum are the playmakers from an offense that graduated four out of its five offensive linemen. Four-year starting RB/LB Isaac Kinne, junior FS Kade Manzo, DE Ari Curtis and DL/LB Joe Cady highlight a defense that looks to be one of the strongest in all of Oakland County.
5. ROCHESTER ADAMS (6-4, 3-3)
Man, did everybody from the OAA Red make playoffs last season? Adams, like Lake Orion, only played one game before being sent home for the season, and less than half of its team returns for 2019, with five offensive and four defensive starters coming back. Senior QB Carter Farris and RB Anthony Patritto lead the inexperienced group on offense, while Patritto and LBs Logan Sayre, Tim Anderson and Bob Anderson round out the top returners on defense.
6. OXFORD (8-3, 4-2)
Oxford was projected to take a step back in 2019 after reaching the district finals — a 35-10 loss to Lapeer — last season. The team returns just five starters on each side of the ball, with a handful of experienced two-way players entering the season a step above the rest of Oxford’s squad. QB/FS Drew Carpenter, RT/NG Austin Penzien, RB/SS Matthew Pullman and WR/CB Nathan Call lead Bud Rowley’s squad in the coach’s 45th year at the school.
7. BLOOMFIELD HILLS (2-7, 0-6)
After consecutive appearances in 2016-17, Bloomfield Hills was the only OAA Red school to miss the postseason last year. Already coming off a disappointing season, coach Dan Loria has his work cut out for him going into the 2019 campaign. He returns just four starters on offense and six on defense, and with Bloomfield Hills’ junior varsity and freshmen teams going a combined 2-16 last year, there’s not a ton of talent coming through the pipeline. WR/DB Alec Ward (Central Michigan) is the most notable returning starter on offense, while on defense, DE Owen Winter and Devin Holmes are the outliers of an otherwise inexperienced group.