Belleville – Jermain Crowell has taken Belleville’s football program to places it has never been before in his five years as head coach.
Crowell, who was defensive coordinator at Detroit Cass Tech when it won consecutive Division 1 state championships in 2011 and ’12, has guided Belleville to a 43-7 record (.860) in his five years and its first state playoff win in 15 years, in 2017, and its first regional championship last season.
It has been quite a turnaround, especially since Belleville was 27-64 during the previous 10 years prior to Crowell’s arrival, making just one state playoff appearance from 2005-14.
Now, Crowell wants to get Belleville to Ford Field for the state finals.
Belleville – 6-0, ranked No. 2 in The Detroit News Super 20 poll, and on a 30-game regular-season win streak – plays host to Livonia Stevenson (3-3) Friday. A win would put the Tigers into a KLAA East Division showdown in Week 8 at No. 6 Livonia Franklin.
“We’re playing good, just have to focus on working twice as hard now since it’s starting to get to the end of the season, the playoff run,” said four-star junior Jamari Buddin, a 6-3, 190-pound linebacker/defensive end who has 12 offers, including Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa State, Florida State and Kentucky. He went to the Michigan State vs. Ohio State game Saturday in Columbus with teammates Damon Payne and Myles Rowser and plans to attend the Michigan at Penn State game Oct. 19.
“It’s more fun, everybody is more locked in. It’s win or go home now, definitely something to fight for.”
Crowell was thrilled Belleville pulled out a 20-19 win at Dearborn Fordson last Friday, not only because the Tigers remained unbeaten and held on to a share of the KLAA East lead, but also because he felt his team didn’t play one of its better games, opening the door to for the players to pay closer attention to detail during practice.
“We have a lot of talent and it’s hard to get the guys motivated until they lose or almost lose, and then it’s like, ‘What Coach has been saying is true – we can’t just walk through practice and expect to win,’” said Crowell.
“So I’m excited and the coaches are excited to see the kids fired up again and ready to get things done in practice.”
It has been an unusual season for Crowell, who assessed himself a one-game suspension for an incident with a parent following Belleville’s win at Livonia Churchill on Sept. 6. In addition, two of Belleville’s games were terminated early due to the number of injuries suffered by opponents (Weeks 3 and 4 against Dearborn and Westland John Glenn).
“The next few weeks are big, and we could be facing Plymouth (in KLAA championship game in Week 9) if we do what we’re supposed to do, and that game could be for the No. 1 seed in our region, and we’ll be in the same region with Saline (5-1, ranked No. 18).”
Belleville has more than a dozen players with Division 1 offers, along with three-year starting quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid, who is still without one despite helping his team average nearly 43 points a game.
Dhue-Reid operates behind a huge offensive line, led by four-star junior tackle/defensive tackle Damon Payne (6-3, 260 pounds); three-star junior Ramier Lewis (6-6, 330), who has offers from Michigan, Iowa State and Kentucky; and Indiana-bound Coleon Smith (6-5, 300).
Joining Dhue-Reid in the backfield is running back Michael Jenkins Jr., who has an offer from Central Michigan.
Connor Bush, a 6-4 senior and Belleville’s top basketball player, was on the field for just one offensive snap Friday night, coming up with a 10-yard TD reception on a fourth-down pass from Dhue-Reid with 3:24 left for the difference.
“We had a lot of adversity, but still we fought back,” Bush said. “We had a lot of fumbles, a lot of turnovers and a couple of flags that held us back, but at the end of the day we came out, fought hard and got the win.”
Dhue-Reid completed 12-of-23 passes for 210 yards and two TDs, putting things together during the fourth quarter, when he hit on 6-of-10 for 123 yards and the two TD passes.
“I kept my composure because my team looks after me and if I’m mad, yelling and all that, then they’ll do the same thing, so I just tried to stay calm,” said Dhue-Reid. “We’re a big-play team and they (Fordson) stopped the big plays in the first half, but then we started to make some.”
Joining Bush in the receiver group are senior Jalen Williams, a 6-4 three-star who has offers from Toledo, Central Michigan and Ball State; three-star senior Deion Burks (Kentucky, Rutgers, Toledo, Eastern Michigan); Michigan-bound four-star receiver/cornerback Andre Seldon; junior Darrell Johnson; and sophomores Jeremiah Caldwell (Iowa State, Kentucky), Deshaun Lee (Kentucky, CMU) and Christian Rapley (Tennessee, Kentucky).
Crowell calls Johnson “Mr. Belleville” for his love of the program even before his arrival, going to games in his middle school days since his father played at Belleville.
Johnson showed his big-play ability by grabbing a 33-yard pass, advancing to the Fordson 27 on the winning drive.
“My dad played at Belleville, I watched Belleville games when I was little, and in the seventh grade I used to come out here and work out with the team,” Johnson said. “I have a big role here and my teammates count on me to make plays. I feel we have one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Christian. We want to win a state championship, so it’s state championship or bust.”
Belleville’s defense is led by Payne and Buddin up front, and Seldon and sophomore Deshaun Lee and Myles Rowser in the back end.
“I think our team is one of the more peculiar teams because we’re young; some of our best players are young guys,” Crowell said. “A lot of people talk about our 2021 and 2020 guys, but Christian Rapley, Jeremiah Caldwell, Myles Rowser and Deshaun Lee are some of our best players.”
Payne’s first offer was Georgia – when he was in the eighth grade – and the list now stands at 23.
“Our main goal is to win the state title, but we’re taking it week by week,” said Payne, who attended the Mississippi vs. Alabama game in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 28. “Sure, we have to work on things we need to correct, but we’ll be fine.”
Top Metro Detroit teams since 2015
Detroit King: 53-8; Division 2 state champs in 2015 and 2016; Division 3 state champs in 2018
Detroit Cass Tech: 46-11; Division 1 state champs in 2016
Walled Lake Western: 45-10, Division 2 state finalist in 2016
Birmingham Groves: 43-10
Chippewa Valley: 43-9; Division 1 state champs in 2018
Clarkston: 42-14; Division 1 state champs in 2017
Romeo: 40-13; Division 1 state champs in 2015
West Bloomfield: 40-13; Division 1 state finalist in 2017
Livonia Franklin: 40-16; Division 2 state finalist in 2017
Dearborn Fordson: 38-12
Warren De La Salle: 37-16; Division 2 state champs in 2017 and 2018