Prep picks: Kickoff Classic shines with batch of stars in 15th year

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit – The Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic will celebrate its 15th anniversary this week at Wayne State University’s Adams Field with two games each on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Dave Beachnau has been the head of the Detroit Sports Commission since 2001 and has helped bring in elite events, including hockey’s Frozen Four and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament first- and second-round games.

Dante Moore

Beachnau sees an opportunity to one day bring college football’s national championship game to Ford Field, as well as the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament to the Motor City.

But while Beachnau is always looking to the future, he is also proud of what’s going on this week at Wayne State.

“I never would have imagined that the event would evolve to what it is,” said Beachnau of first bringing the Prep Kickoff Classic to Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium in 2005 with a one-day, four-game event before moving it to Adams Field in 2011.

“Now we have schools calling us wanting to get into the event. We now have some of the top teams in not only the area, but in the state. We’ve had over 80 schools participate over the last 14 years.”

This week’s games:

►Thursday: Birmingham Brother Rice vs. Utica Eisenhower, 4 p.m.; Chippewa Valley vs. Saline, 7 p.m.

►Friday: Birmingham Groves vs. Grosse Pointe South, 4 p.m.; Muskegon vs. Warren De La Salle, 7 p.m.

►Saturday: Detroit Catholic Central vs. Detroit King, 1 p.m.; Detroit Cass Tech vs. Wendell Phillips Academy, 4 p.m.

Xenith, a football manufacturing company in Detroit, is the primary sponsor of the event.

“It’s now our third year as the headline sponsor, so for us to support our local community is something that is incredibly important for us,” said Xenith CEO Ryan Sullivan.

Former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner played in the Prep Kickoff Classic while playing for Inkster a decade ago at Rynearson Stadium, losing to Ann Arbor Pioneer, 35-32, when Pioneer scored a last-second TD.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” Gardner said. “I remember us driving and scoring, then they scored a touchdown like with no time remaining. We played at Ford Field (state championship game) the year before, but we had a lot of new kids that didn’t play, but then had the chance to play on the big stage in that opener.

“Not many people remember, but we started 0-2 after being ranked No. 1 in the state. We didn’t have any home games that year, but played some Ohio teams, got on a roll, got in the playoffs and dominated, reaching the state championship game.”

Gardner will have special interest in the King vs. Catholic Central game. Gardner helped mentor King freshman quarterback Dante “DJ” Moore, who was offered a scholarship by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh as a seventh grader.

“I think this is a great opportunity for him to just show everybody that everybody has been right about him, since there’s been a lot of good that’s been said about him,” said Gardner of Moore. “Sometimes you get scared for a kid who has not really faced a whole lot of adversity, but I think he’s been prepared very well, and I think he’ll be just fine.

“He’s really tough, can throw the ball well. He’s accurate and moves in the pocket really well. He’s just very mature for his age and has a great opportunity to maybe go four years in a row and win state championships and be the best quarterback to ever come out of the state.”

Top games

►No. 10 Chippewa Valley vs. No. 18 Saline, Thursday, 7 p.m., at Wayne State: Chippewa Valley won the Division 1 state title last season with a 14-0 record. It lost its quarterback Tommy Schuster (North Dakota), linebacker Marcel Lewis (Michigan State) and cornerback/receiver David Ellis (Indiana), but returns a physical running back in Myren Harris. He will be running behind an experienced offensive line that brings back four starters. Saline will be testing Harris and Chippewa Valley first-year starting quarterback Josh Kulka with a strong defense, led by Air Force-bound linebacker Alex Morrison. Pick: Chippewa Valley by 4.

►No. 5 Clarkston vs. No. 8 Southfield A&T, Friday, 3 p.m., at West Bloomfield: Clarkston is the top program in the state the last six years, winning three state championships and losing to Chippewa Valley 31-30 in last year’s Division 1 title game. Four-star two-way junior linemen Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler return for Clarkston. A&T should be much improved from last year’s 3-6 team with elite receivers in Washington State-bound Christian Fitzpatrick (Waterford Mott) and junior Robert Army (Detroit Renaissance) transferring in to work with standout quarterback Anthony Romphf (Florida Atlantic). Pick: Clarkston by 1.

West Bloomfield running back Donovan Edwards takes the handoff from quarterback C.J. Harris.

►No. 3 Oak Park at No. 1 West Bloomfield, Friday, 7 p.m.: This showdown will have six of the state’s top 20 players competing, including the No. 1 player in Oak Park four-star tackle Justin Rogers (Kentucky), along with his teammates Enzo Jennings (No. 3, cornerback) and Maliq Carr (No. 10, receiver). West Bloomfield returns 15 starters from a team that lost to Belleville 13-10 in a Division 1 regional final, led by Michigan-bound safety Makari Paige (No. 5), Michigan-bound linebacker Cornell Wheeler (No. 15) and four-star junior running back Donovan Edwards (No. 18). Look for two-year starting quarterback C.J. Harris to be the difference. Pick: West Bloomfield by 6.

►No. 6 Muskegon vs. No. 7 Warren De La Salle, Friday, 7 p.m., at Wayne State: The teams played in state championship games at Ford Field last November with De La Salle defeating Muskegon Mona Shores in the Division 2 title game while Muskegon lost to Detroit King in the Division 3 battle. Muskegon will showcase quarterback Cameron Martinez (Ohio State), who rushed for 2,527 yards and 38 TDs, including 352 yards in a 55-35 win over Mona Shores and 291 yards and five TDs in a season-opening 36-21 win over De La Salle. De La Salle returns Ohio State-bound Grant Toutant, a two-way lineman. Pick: Muskegon by 6.

►No. 2 Detroit King vs. No. 17 Detroit Catholic Central, Saturday, 1 p.m., at Wayne State: King, the defending Division 3 state champion, showcases arguably the top running back (Peny Boone, Maryland) and receiver (Rashawn Williams, Indiana) in the state, a reason it is ranked No. 2 by The Detroit News and No. 23 nationally by USA Today. Freshman Dante Moore will be taking over at quarterback, replacing Dequan Finn, who has moved on to Toledo. Catholic Central, which split its Catholic League series with defending Division 2 state champion Warren De La Salle, has a strong defense, led by linebacker Brendin Yatooma. Pick: King by 8.