Detroit News top teams: Experience fuels No. 1 West Bloomfield's state title hopes

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Linebacker Cornell Wheeler, a Michigan commit, is one of 15 returning starters for West Bloomfield.

West Bloomfield enters the 2019 season the same way Clinton Township Chippewa Valley did a year ago, returning a ton of players with experience from long postseason runs from past seasons.

And, now West Bloomfield is hoping to duplicate Chippewa Valley’s success from last season when it won the Division 1 state championship with a 14-0 record, coming back from a double-digit deficit in the season-opener to defeat Saline 31-26, then holding off Clarkston on a two-point conversion late in the state title game to earn a 31-30 win for the right to hold the ultimate trophy at Ford Field.

West Bloomfield advanced to the Division 1 state championship game two years ago, falling to Clarkston, 3-2, after dominating Clarkston, 37-16, during the regular season.

Then, West Bloomfield advanced to the regional final last season, losing to No. 4 Belleville, 13-10.

And, now West Bloomfield is The News No. 1 team in the state.

Coach Ron Bellamy brings back 15 starters, including Ohio-bound quarterback C.J. Harris, along with four-star safety Makari Paige (Michigan) and Michigan-bound linebacker Cornell Wheeler.

And, don’t forget four-star junior running back Donovan Edwards who used his size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) and speed (4.5 40) to rush for 700 yards, seven per carry, before missing the final five games with an ankle injury. He has 30 offers, including Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

“Our strength is our experience,” Bellamy said. “We return 15 starters on a team that was one play away from playing in the semifinals without Donovan Edwards and a slew of others who got hurt last year. Really, our experience and having a quarterback (Harris) that has 13 starts under his belt helps a lot.”

No doubt, West Bloomfield should be putting on a show with so many starters back, and Bellamy is thrilled to have Harris running the offense, the same way the experienced Tommy Schuster was running the show for Chippewa Valley last season.

“C.J. Harris is an unbelievable leader, a poised guy in his second year, so he knows what’s going on,” Bellamy said. “He has a command of what the O-line is doing and what everybody else is doing. It took him a little bit to know it was his show last year, coming in after Bryce Veasley.

“He created his own identity. He’s a big-time, dual-threat guy. He’s a 6-foot-3, 200-pound guy quarterback who can spin it and run it so we’re super excited about him. You’re going to see an exciting quarterback that everyone in high school football will like.”

Said Paige: “C.J. is the truth. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who can run, throw. He can really do it all.”

Harris has 6-1, 185-pound receiver Ethan Bunch, who has 4.5 speed, to work with, along with 6-4, 205-pound receiver/tight end Chase Glover. Bunch suffered a season-ending knee injury during camp last year. Bunch has five FCS offers, including Youngstown State.

“I’m getting to the point now where I know where stuff is happening before the ball even gets snapped, so I feel more comfortable than a year ago,” Harris said. “We have some guys who will have breakout years, guys like Ethan Bunch and Anthony May. It’s great to have Donovan Edwards back and healthy, that will help us be a dangerous team on offense.”

Edwards will be joined by Anthony May at running back.

Bellamy feels West Bloomfield’s defense will be tough to score on with eight starters back, led by Wheeler, who had 146 tackles last season, Paige, three-star defensive end Sterling Miles, (Cincinnati) Paige, lineman Beau Davis (Florida Atlantic, Florida International offers), 6-2, 230-pound sophomore defensive end Michael Williams and sophomore defensive back Dillon Tatum.

“I believe this season we can win the state championship,” Wheeler said. “This is my last year, so I’m putting my all in it. So is C.J. and Makari Pagie, we’re all putting all our into it. I want to work on being a leader this year. We have to be accountable to each other. We want to be the No. 1 defense in the state — that’s my goal, that and winning that state championship.”

Williams has offers from Michigan and Maryland, and Tatum from Rutgers, Central Michigan and Akron.

More: Prep football preview: Scouting reports on every team in Metro Detroit

2. Detroit King (12-2, Division 3)

Detroit King wide receiver Rashawn Williams had 31 receptions for 546 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

King has won three state championships in the last four years and will be a threat to win another title, showcasing the top running back in the state in Peny Boone, along with Indiana-bound receiver Rashawn Williams.

Boone, a Maryland commit, transferred in from Warren Fitzgerald last season, then opened some eyes during the last half of the season when he rushed for the majority of his 961 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Williams had 31 receptions for 546 yards and eight TDs.

King fourth-year coach Tyrone Spencer knows he will have a big hole to fill with the loss of three-year starting quarterback Dequan Finn (Toledo). He is confident that freshman Dante “D.J.” Moore will be able to step in and run the offense behind a talented offensive line anchored by Deondre Buford (Kentucky), along with 6-3, 320-pound Marquis Knolton, 6-2, 265-pound Chris Love and 6-6, 270-pound Brandon Honorable.

Moore received an offer from Michigan before his seventh-grade year was over.

Other key players include cornerback Joe Frazier, slot receivers Marshawn Lee and Montez Archer and outside threats in freshmen Jamell Croft and Kenny Merriweather.

3. Oak Park (9-2, Division 2)

Coach Greg Carter feels this will be Oak Park’s best chance to be playing in late November after being sent to the sidelines by eventual state champion Warren De La Salle the past two seasons, in the regional final in 2017 and the district final last year.

Oak Park has a dominating offensive line, led by the state’s No. 1 player in Justin Rogers, along with three-star junior tackle Rayshaun Benny, to give quarterback Frank Black enough time to find four-star receiver Maliq Carr.

The defense is loaded with talent, including Rogers (Kentucky) and Dondi Price, who has offers from Syracuse and Northern Illinois, along with four-star athlete Enzo Jennings (Penn State).

4. Belleville (12-1, Division 1)

Belleville won its first regional championship in school history last season before a state semifinal loss to Chippewa Valley.

Sure, Belleville lost tackle Devontae Dobbs, defensive back/receiver Julian Barnett and defensive tackle Jalen Hunt, with all three now at Michigan State, but it returns third-year starting quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid who is 22-2 as a starter and threw for 2,759 yards and 39 TDs last season, completing 76 percent of his passes.

And, Dhue-Reid will be playing behind a talented offensive line, anchored by four-star junior Damon Payne, along with 6-6, 340-pound tackle Coleon Smith (Indiana) and 6-7, 330-pound junior tackle Ramier Lewis, who has an offer from Michigan.

Dhue-Reid will have talented receivers in three-star Jalen Williams (6-4, 225), three-star Deion Burks and 6-3 sophomore Jeremiah Caldwell, who has offers from Kentucky and Iowa State. Desmond Stone and Mike Jenkins are among the running backs.

The defense will be led by Michigan-bound cornerback Andre Seldon, junior linebacker Jamari Buddin, who has 20 offers, including Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Florida State, and sophomore defensive back Myles Rowser, who has an offer from Michigan.

More: A look at the top 10 high school football games in Metro Detroit for 2019

5. Clarkston (11-3, Division 1)

Coach Kurt Richardson’s program has advanced to the state championship game four of the last six years, winning titles in 2013, ’14 and ’17, and losing to Chippewa Valley, 31-30, last season at Ford Field when it came up short on a late two-point conversion.

Clarkston returns an outstanding offensive line in four-star junior two-way linemen Rocco Spindler (6-4, 290) and Garrett Dellinger (6-4, 280), along with guard Ben Haas (6-2, 240), tackle Connor Partee (6-4, 215) and center Austin Hurren (5-11, 225). They will be protecting 6-4 sophomore quarterback Mike DePillo, giving him time to find receiver Mike Miller while opening holes for a number of backs, including junior Kidus Johnson.

“We have a lot of question marks, but I still think we’ll be decent,” said Richardson, who will be starting his 33rd season. “Our offensive line will be strong, but we have a sophomore quarterback and we have to find out who will be our main running back.”

6. Muskegon (13-1, Division 3)

Shane Fairfield has guided Muskegon to six state championship game appearances since 2012, winning the Division 3 title with a 28-10 win over Farmington Hills Harrison two years ago and losing to Detroit King in last year’s Division 3 final, 41-25 after defeating King in Week No. 2.

Muskegon returns one of the most exciting players in the state in Ohio State-bound quarterback Cameron Martinez who rushed for 2,527 yards and 38 TDs, including a modern-day school-record 352 yards in a 55-35 win over rival Muskegon Mona Shores.

Martinez will have a strong offensive line in front of him, led by two-way lineman in 6-5, 270-pound Billie Roberts, who has offers from Michigan State, Kentucky, Iowa State and Purdue, and 6-1, 305-pound three-year starting center DeAndre Mills-Ellis, along with tight end Jordan Porter.

And, Martinez will have a lot of weapons to work with, including junior receiver Amari Crowley, Tarran Walker and Quenten Reynolds. Jacarri Kitchen and Tommy Watts will be the running backs. The defense will be led by Roberts, cornerbacks Kolbe Lewis and Myles Walton and linebacker Desjuan Lindsay.

7. Warren De La Salle (12-2, Division 2)

It would be tough to find a better coach than Mike Giannone, who guided Macomb Dakota to consecutive Division 1 state championships in 2006 and ’07, then finished his career at Dakota with four consecutive MAC Red titles (2012-15) before moving on to De La Salle where he directed it to consecutive Division 2 state championships in 2017 and ’18.

Now, can De La Salle win three straight state titles … and with a different quarterback running the show? Nolan Schultz stepped up and took over at quarterback after an early season injury (broken ankle) to Anthony Stepnitz last season.

Now, Stepnitz takes over and is looking forward to his chance of leading De La Salle to another Catholic League title and another state title run. He will be working behind a talented offensive line, anchored by three-year starters in 6-7, 320-pound tackle Grant Toutant (Ohio State), guard Adam Zepp (6-2, 280) and tight end Michael Young Jr. (Eastern Illinois). Junior Brett Stanley will take over at running back. Stanley scored two TDs in a postseason win over Oak Park last year. Braden Babich will be a weapon at receiver.

8. Southfield A&T (3-6, Division 1)

After an 8-4 record and regional final appearance in 2016, A&T slumped to 4-5 in ’17 and 3-6 last season. Coach Tim Conley’s team returns eight starters on defense, including six of its front seven, anchored by 6-2, 290-pound Bryce Austin.

A&T should have an explosive offense with Florida Atlantic-bound quarterback Anthony Romphf (2,000 yards passing, 22 TDs) having an outstanding group of receivers to work with, including Washington State-bound 6-4 Christian Fitzpatrick (a transfer from Waterford Mott) and 6-0 junior Robert Army (a transfer from Detroit Renaissance) joining 5-10 Jeremiah Piper (Western Michigan), Arron Foulkes and junior Jeff Bowens.

Army, an outstanding special teams player, has 16 offers, including Iowa State, Kentucky, Syracuse, Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana. Foulkes has an offer from Central Michigan and Bowens holds five MAC offers.

9. Detroit Cass Tech (10-1, Division 1)

Thomas Wilcher and his staff have accomplished great things this decade, winning three state championships (2011, ’12, ’16) and losing to Romeo in the 2015 Division 1 title game.

Now, Wilcher will try to guide Cass Tech back to a long postseason run after its streak of eight straight years of advancing to at least the semifinal round came to an end last year with a 41-14 district final loss to Dearborn Fordson.

Sebastian Brown takes over at quarterback. He will be working behind a line anchored by four-star junior Raheem Anderson and 6-3, 315-pound junior Terrence Enos, who will be trying to open up holes for 6-1, 230-pound junior running back/linebacker Kobe King and speed back Donny Scott. King’s twin brother, Kalen King is an outstanding cornerback who will also play receiver.

Josh Kulka replaces Tommy Schuster at quarterback for Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.

10. Chippewa Valley (14-0, Division 1)

Chippewa Valley lost the bulk of its state championship team, including quarterback Tommy Schuster (North Dakota), cornerback/receiver David Ellis (Indiana) and linebacker Marcel Lewis (Michigan State).

Still, don’t feel sorry for Scott Merchant’s team, which returns six starters on offense, including four offensive linemen with Charles Wesley (6-2, 270), Donovan McBride (6-2, 275), Alex Lanzon (6-3, 285) and Brendan Barbu (6-2, 275) opening holes for talented running back Myren Harris while protecting quarterback Josh Kulka, who is one of the top athletes on the team.

“We lost some great players, had nine sign from JUCO up to D1, but we have four O-lineman and last year we had five new starters on the O-line, so those guys did a great job coming along last year,” said Merchant, who added 6-2 Corey Anderson and 6-0 junior Quillen Howze will be Kulka’s primary receivers. Howze runs a 4.4 40 and has offers from Indiana, Toledo, Central Michigan and Akron.

Chippewa Valley’s defense is led by cornerbacks Myles Harris — Myren’s twin — and Carde Johnson, along with Wesley.

11. East Kentwood (9-2, Division 1)

The undefeated Ottawa-Kent (O-K) Red Division champions lost tackle Logan Brown (Wisconsin) and defensive tackle Mazi Smith (Michigan), but returns an outstanding offensive lineman in Dallas Fincher (Michigan State) and defensive end in Bryce Mostella (Penn State).

Fincher will be joined by Jeremiah Webb (6-1, 260) and Deivi Martinez (6-4, 260) on the offensive line, protecting quarterback Christian Tanner, who is also an outstanding kicker. Tanner’s primary receiver is 6-0 Jamoni Jones, who runs a 4.5 40. Drapher Cribbs, Josh Ledesma and Silas McNeal are among the running backs.

James Mackey, 6-3, 230, will be a defensive end, opposite of Mostella, and junior defensive back Willie Berris, who ran a 4.38 40 at Ohio State, will be key players on defense.

12. River Rouge (8-2, Division 3)

River Rouge moved up a couple of divisions last year and its reward was a Division 3 pre-district showdown against Detroit King. King escaped with a 7-6 win and went on to win the state championship.

River Rouge returns eight starters on offense, including five offensive linemen to block for physical 6-1, 230-pound De’Andre Bulley (Akron), a 1,000-yard rusher, and to give its quarterback — either junior Mareyohn Hrabowski or junior Davion Haynes — enough time to find Eastern Michigan-bound receiver Xavier Smith, who will also be the kick and punt returner.

Jalen Johnson, a 6-3, 285-pound junior who has an offer from Central Michigan, will anchor the offensive line. He will be joined by 6-2, 280-pound Deshawn Smith, 6-0, 260-pound Dakari Spicer and 6-5, 300-pound Chance Moore.

Eastern Michigan-bound David Carter, a three-star cornerback, Toledo-bound middle linebacker Deshawn Walker, junior cornerback Leroy Watson and 6-0, 245-pound defensive end Amasia Geeter are key players on defense, along with three-star safety Joshua Wiley, a transfer from Detroit Cody who has offers from West Virginia, Western Michigan and Toledo.

13. DeWitt (12-1, Division 3)

DeWitt advanced to the state semifinals last season, losing to eventual champion Detroit King.

DeWitt returns five of its front six back on defense, including 6-3, 295-pound Jacob Redinger, who also plays guard on an offense.

Drew Schorfhaar takes over at quarterback with Blake Gatfield graduating after a 40-3 career record. Schorfhaar, son of former Western Michigan quarterback Andrew Schorfhaar, has a strong arm and has a pair of big tight ends to work with in 6-7, 225-pound Mason Gilbert (Eastern Kentucky) and 6-3, 245-pound Brock Yabs. Tommy McIntosh, a 6-4 sophomore, will be another weapon.

14. Birmingham Groves (10-3, Division 2)

Groves advanced to the state semifinals for the second time in the last three years, losing to eventual champion Warren De La Salle.

Groves has an experienced quarterback in Markis Alexander, a three-year varsity player who will have three-star running back/linebacker Ralph Donaldson and running back Kobe Taylor to work with, along with fullback/safety Kaleb Coleman and receiver Clayton Fox.

Alexander threw for 1,500 yards last season. Other key contributors include safety Markell Harris and offensive linemen Alex Smith and Jordan Broomfield.

15. Livonia Franklin (7-5, Division 2)

After finishing fourth in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East, Franklin went on to win a district championship before a loss to Birmingham Groves in a Division 2 regional final.

Franklin has the luxury of having a three-star quarterback in Jacob Kelbert, who led Franklin to a Division 2 state championship game appearance in 2017, a loss to Warren De La Salle at Ford Field.

Kelbert will be working behind an experienced offensive line, anchored by 6-6, 240-pound tackle Kyle Fugedi, 6-3, 230-pound Aaron Mass, 6-0, 290-pound Jake Swriple and 6-2, 280-pound center Chad Reeves.

Other key players include wide receiver Connor McIntosh, linebacker Evan Pittenger, running back James Carpenter and defensive tackle Erick Reaves.

16. Dearborn Fordson (10-2, Division 1)

Fordson, which upset Detroit Cass Tech to win a district championship for the first time since 2008, returns four starters on each side of the ball, including Ali Baiz and Malek Alshawabkeh, who will protect junior quarterback Ali Beydoun and open holes for Hassan Mansour.

Brandon Thomas and sophomore Antonio Gates, son of Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, will be Beydoun’s primary weapons.

Fordson, which has advanced to the state playoffs 13 straight years, won 7-on-7 competitions at Michigan and Saginaw Valley State.

Coach Walker Zaban is hoping to have talented linebacker James Wheeler back from a collarbone injury. Thomas will also play cornerback.

17. Detroit Catholic Central (7-4, Division 1)

Catholic Central defeated Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle, 10-7, in Week 8 before losing in a rematch in the Catholic League championship game at Ford Field.

Catholic Central, which defeated Canton before a district final loss (20-17) to West Bloomfield, returns quarterback Jack Beno, who started three games last season, going 2-1 as a starter. Beno will have running backs Cole Price and Jace Shular to work with, along with receiver Jacob Young.

Catholic Central returns a veteran offensive line which includes 6-1, 290-pound center Steve Kolcheff and 6-7, 275-pound Zach Carey. Linebackers Brendin Yatooma and Easton St. Clair lead the defense, along with Kolcheff in the middle of the line.

18. Saline (11-2, Division 1)

Saline is 71-12 the last seven years since Joe Palka was hired after the program’s last losing record in 2011, advancing to the Division 1 state championship game in 2014, a loss to Clarkston, and earning a state semifinal run last season, again coming up short against Clarkston.

Sure, Saline lost the bulk of its skilled players, but there’s no reason to think Palka and his staff won’t do a great job of reloading.

Palka said either sophomore Larry Robinson and junior Anthony Ferrari will be at quarterback, working behind a veteran offensive line, anchored by 6-3, 240-pound junior Kyler Blake-Jones, 6-2, 220-pound Lance Blaszak. Robinson and Ferrari will have receiver Kolton Malinczak and running back Cade Gilless to work with.

Saline’s defense is led by Air Force-bound linebacker Alex Morrison, cornerback Noah Nelson and 6-2, 225-pound defensive end Zach Sabin.

19. Macomb Dakota (8-3, Division 1)

Dakota has advanced to the state playoffs 18 straight years and expect the streak to be extended this season with 13 starters returning.

Dakota showcases one of the premier players in the MAC in junior running back/defensive back De’javion Stepney, who has multiple Mid-American Conference offers, along with one from Syracuse.

“The strength of our team should be our offensive line as we return four of five starters there,” said coach Greg Baur of linemen Tyson Wheeler, Connor Wolfgang, Brandon Ross and Zach Greaves.

Receiver/defensive back Eric Reese will be another key player.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s is looking to return to the playoffs after back-to-back seasons of coming up short.

20. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (3-6, Division 3)

St. Mary’s is hungry to make it back to the state playoffs after falling short the last two years. No doubt, St. Mary’s was competitive last year, losing to one of Indiana’s premier teams, Mishawaka Penn 20-17, along with close setbacks to Macomb Dakota (28-24), Birmingham Brother Rice (24-21) and West Bloomfield (13-10).

George Porritt, entering his 30th year as head coach, likes his experience on the offensive line which will protect second-year quarterback Grant Henson, giving him enough time to find standout receiver Kameron Arnold.

St. Mary’s defensive line is anchored by Luke Whalen, Charles Collins and Luke Selakowski with linebackers in Anthony Anton, Jordan Cannon and Lance Hillie with standout Anthony Enechukwu at safety.

21. Rockford (7-5, Division 1)

Ralph Munger starts his 28th year as head coach at Rockford, guiding the team to 24 straight postseason appearances, including a run to the regional final last year, suffering a 13-12 loss to Saline after opening the season at 1-3.

Rockford returns six starters on offense, including junior quarterback Chris Corey, third-year receiver Eli Haddad and physical 6-0, 240-pound running back Jaiden Friesen.

22. Muskegon Mona Shores (12-2, Division 2)

Mona Shores returns standout dual-threat quarterback Caden Broersma from last year’s team, which reached the Division 2 state championship game, a 29-16 loss to Warren De La Salle at Ford Field.

Broersma is among five starters back on offense. He threw for 2,020 yards and 20 TDs with just two interceptions, rushing for 1,100 yards and 19 TDs. Guard Cooper Wieringo and left tackle Blake Bustard also return.

Sure, Mona Shores lost talented skilled players in receiver James Gilbert and running back Sincere Dent, but Tre’shawn Hatcher (1,100 yards, 11 yard-average) will take over full-time at running back while Kolbe Trovinger will be a weapon for Broersma as a slot receiver.

23. Midland (9-4, Division 2)

Midland reached the state semifinals last season, losing to Muskegon Mona Shores, and returns starters in junior quarterback Al Money, along with receivers Bryce Albrecht, Eli Gordon and Maxx Fisher, who will double as kicker.

Tommy Johnstone and Drew Johnson are returning starters at running backs. Solomon Thomas is a returning starter on both sides of the line. He will be joined by Caleb Cummings, Gabe Smith and Eric Kalishek.

24. Edwardsburg (14-0, Division 4)

Edwardsburg has the bulk of its starters back on defense from a state championship team, including linebackers Dillon Hursh and Drew Bidwell, along with cornerback Bryce Blue, who had seven interceptions last year.

Hursh had 14 tackles, three for lost yardage, in the state title game, while Blue had an interception and broke up two passes to allow his teammates to hoist the ultimate trophy.

Conner Nelson will replace Tre Harvey at quarterback and work behind a line anchored by Northwestern-bound Josh Priebe, along with 6-2, 280-pound Ethan Griffin.

25. Grand Rapids Christian (8-3, Division 3)

Christian returns the majority of its starters from last year’s team which earned a share of the O-K Gold championship.

Christian returns quarterback Eason Hardouin, who threw for 2,000 yards, and 1,000-yard rusher Thad Gamble, who will be running behind a line that includes 6-3, 230-pound Cole Weeber and 6-2, 250-pound Mekhi Tyus.

Brown-bound defensive end John Holmes, 6-3, 255–pound defensive end Terrell Givens, who has multiple Division 1 offers, and sophomore linebacker C.J. Jones are also impact players.