Dave Goricki previews the prep football season with West Bloomfield's Cornell Wheeler, Ron Bellamy, Port Huron Northern's Braiden McGregor, Larry Roelens The Detroit News
Clarkston – Kurt Richardson has enjoyed a great deal of success during his 30-plus years as head coach of Clarkston’s football program.
Clarkston has played in state championship games four of the last six years, and won titles in 2013, 1014 and 2017.
Richardson knows games are won in the trenches and feels fortunate to have two of the top two-way linemen in the country in juniors Rocco Spindler and Garrett Dellinger, who have been impact players for Clarkston since stepping on the field as freshmen.
Spindler and Dellinger were starters on Clarkston’s Division 1 state championship team as freshmen in 2017, then were two-way starters again last season when Clarkston made a return trip to Ford Field, losing to Chippewa Valley in the title game.
Long postseason runs have taken their toll on Dellinger and Spindler. Dellinger’s sophomore year was cut short due to a shoulder injury, putting him on the sidelines during Clarkston’s run in late November. He had labrum surgery not once, but twice, and missed the entire basketball season. He had the first surgery on his left shoulder in November, then on the right shoulder during the winter.
Spindler – ranked as the No. 2 player in the state for the 2021 class by the 247Sports Composite, and the No. 7 tackle nationally – also had labrum surgery. But now both are healthy and ready to make another memorable run this season.
“I’ve been working out like five times a week since summer, and now since I’m seven months out since surgery I’ve been lifting heavy; there’s no fear of getting injured again,” said Dellinger, who took unofficial visits to Ohio State July 26 and to Northwestern the following day. He is trying to plan a visit to Notre Dame this season.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Dellinger – ranked as the No. 1 tackle in the nation for the 2021 class by 247Sports – says Michigan is also in the mix.
“I like Michigan’s coaches,” Dellinger said. “The school academically is amazing, their facilities are great, kind of has everything a smarter player would want.”
When asked what position Dellinger feels he is better at, he replied: “I think I’m better as an offensive lineman, but defense is more fun. I feel like I’m better on offense, as a tackle. I feel like my footwork is among the best in the state of Michigan. I feel like I can just stay in front of people super easily.”
Dellinger would like to play with Spindler in college but admits that might not happen.
“We’ve been playing with each other since flag football,” Dellinger said. “It would be awesome to play together in college, but we’re not going to pick a school based off each other. We’ll see where we fit best, and then when that happens if we go together, that makes it even better.”
Dellinger enjoyed his visit to Ohio State.
“They have after-football programs to help you with getting a job, so they help you with the future,” Dellinger said. “They also have a really good chance of putting me to where I want to be in the NFL, to put me to where I want to be for my Plan A.”
Dellinger has a 3.7 GPA and plans to major in financing.
Dellinger will also get the opportunity to play with his younger brother, Cole, a 6-3, 240-pound freshman who will play center this season.
“He listens to everything we say; it’s almost like watching a little me out there,” Dellinger said.
Spindler, 6-4 and 305 pounds, loves what he sees out of the offensive line.
“I see that our O-line right now is rolling,” Spindler said. “I think our quarterback (sophomore Mike DePillo) is really starting to adjust to our O-line really well.
“We have four returning starters from last year, so we have our whole relationship from last year, understand how to play with each other.”
Spindler had shoulder surgery in late December. He said it has been a long journey to get back to where he was at the end of last season.
“I had a torn labrum in the last five minutes of that state title game so I’ve been working like a maniac to get back,” Spindler said. “It’s 100 percent and I’m ready to go.”
Spindler believes Clarkston has the talent to make yet another long run.
“It’s real humbling to get to Ford Field to play in the state title game,” Spindler said. “We’re not really a flashy type of team, but we work with what we have. We’ve had great players who have led us to success.”
And now Spindler and Dellinger are the leaders who are ready to show the younger players the ropes.
Spindler has no favorite position, just wants to be on the field all the time.
“I dominate on both sides of the ball, and they really like to see that mentality as an offensive player,” Spindler said of his coaches.
Clarkston opens the season Friday at 3 p.m. against Southfield A&T at West Bloomfield.