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Moving football to spring would rob many Michigan stars of senior seasons

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Clarkston won three state championships in the past decade and is expected to be in contention to win another this fall, but that will all change if football is moved to spring, which Gov. Whitmer has told the MHSAA to seriously consider.

“I’m calling on the Michigan High School Athletic Association to consider postponing fall sports that have the impossibility of social distancing that’s a part of them; consider moving those to the spring and running some of the more individualized sports like track and field or tennis or golf to the fall,” Whitmer said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Whitmer anticipates a decision from the MHSAA in late July.

Rocco Spindler

Clarkston could be ranked as high as No. 3 in the state when The Detroit News publishes its preseason rankings next month – behind No. 1 Belleville and No. 2 West Bloomfield – if the season goes on as scheduled in the fall.

But if the season is moved, Clarkston will suffer a huge drop in expectations, since four-star linemen Rocco Spindler and Garrett Dellinger (LSU) will be graduating in December and enrolling in college early.

“Yes, I’m concerned if that happens,” Clarkston coach Kurt Richardson told The Detroit News. “Rocco and Delly would be gone and I’m sure there’s a lot of kids throughout the state that are doing that (enrolling early).

“I have no idea of how they (MHSAA) would do it and I don’t know if they have any idea of how to do it. I’m sure they’re struggling with everything, but they have good people up there and they’ll make the right decision.

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“I don’t know how the calendar would be, when they’d play the state playoffs, but that’s got to be one of the concerns because you’d end the season and then turn around and start conditioning the next week for the following season. And I was reading a story on Texas and how they’d possibly start in February (with football). Well that’s great in Texas but it’s not going to work up here.”

Richardson is starting his 34th season as head coach at Clarkston with state titles in 2013, ’14 and ’17, when it defeated West Bloomfield, 3-2.

Donovan Edwards

West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy said his team would lose several players enrolling early, including Donovan Edwards, who has 43 offers and is ranked the No. 2 running back in the country by 247Sports.

“We’re anticipating three to four kids graduating early and my message to my kids has been, ‘You’re going to college and not playing your senior year,’ which you have to think if you truly care about the kids,” Bellamy told The News. “You have to do what’s in their best interest, and for going into their senior year of high school football, that’s sounds crazy even saying. But that’s the reality we’re facing right now. If it’s in the spring, we move forward to getting those guys graduated in December and signed and off to their colleges.

“We’re probably one of the fortunate teams that if you lose a Donovan Edwards, you have another top-10 running back in the nation in Dillon Tatum, so I wouldn’t say we’re short on talent, that’s for certain.”

Tatum, a junior, holds 30 offers, including Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

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“But Donovan Edwards, from a high school standpoint, he’s a once-every-10-years type of kid, and I’m not just talking about football, but as a complete person, and I just hope we get the opportunity to coach him up this last year. We’ll find out in three weeks what will happen. I do know they (MHSAA) want to play football in the fall.”

Bellamy doesn’t know when a spring season would begin, but he’s more concerned about when it would end.

“If it ends in June that’s not good, because playing football and then coming back and playing football again (in the fall) wouldn’t be beneficial to the kids,” he said. “You would literally have to shut them down all summer and just start them back up in August when camp started.”

Bellamy said Edwards plans on taking official visits this fall before making his college decision. Bellamy said Edwards has told him there is no clear-cut leader, nor a top-three or a top-five. Michigan is high on his list, along with Michigan State, Notre Dame, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M and Southern Cal.

Raheem Anderson

Michigan-bound center Raheem Anderson of Detroit Cass Tech said he would be heartbroken if football is played in the spring. He said he is among a half-dozen Cass Tech players enrolling early.

“It would be devastating,” Anderson said. “I’ve been working so hard during the offseason to go out with a (championship) ring, so that would be tough on me as well as my team. There’s like six or seven of us leaving early – me, Kobe, Kalen (King twins), Terrance Enos, Doran Ray and Clarence Wilson, we’re all going early.”

Anderson is ranked No. 8 on The Detroit News Top 50 list of seniors with cornerback Kalen King (Penn State) at No. 9, offensive lineman Terrence Enos (Pittsburgh) at No. 13, linebacker Kobe King (Penn State) at No. 14, defensive tackle Doran Ray (Toledo) at No. 44 and defensive end Clarence Wilson (Toledo) at No. 45.

Elliot Uzelac, 79, took over the head coaching job at Berrien Springs in January, feeling he would get a chance to see his players in action during 7-on-7s in June. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Uzelac did an impressive job at Benton Harbor when he took over a program in 2015 that had a 4-68 record the previous eight years, guiding Benton Harbor to its first winning season since 1989 in that ’15 season, along with the school’s first state playoff appearance.

Uzelac led Benton Harbor to an unbeaten regular season in 2016, then to another state playoff appearance in ’17 before stepping down in June 2018.

Uzelac hopes, like most everyone else, that football is played in the fall.

“I think there’s negative things for both sides – spring sports moving to fall and football moving to spring,” Uzelac said. “I know it would be very difficult for spring sports to compete in the playoffs late when the weather is real bad unless they start extremely early.

Christian Dhue-Reid

“And then with football going to spring I worry about a couple of things. No. 1, the lower-tier athletes, Michigan has a ton of kids who go to lower-level schools and that’s been the history of our state, and those kids are always recruited their senior year. Well, if you don’t have football until spring, these universities are going to sign kids out of state because they can’t change their signing concepts. So I think a lot of kids in our state are going to lose out on the opportunity to play at anywhere from the Mid-American Conference to Grand Valley and lower. I worry about that a lot."

Belleville senior quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid is one such player who could be hurt in the recruiting process if football moves to spring.

Dhue-Reid, who played at 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds last season, has worked hard on his conditioning during the past months to show he can be more of a dual-threat quarterback. He has the arm strength and accuracy but is still without a Division I or II offer, despite throwing for 7,195 yards and 95 TDs while leading Belleville to a 34-3 record.

“And then you wouldn’t have your two-a-days," Uzelac added. "You’d be starting in March and you know how that is (with the weather) in Michigan. So, now you’re saying you can’t have nine games and then the playoffs so there’s a lot of ramifications that are negative. I’m just hoping we can play in the fall and see what happens.”

Uzelac said he’s ready to continue coaching despite being at higher risk for COVID.

“My wife and I have talked it over and that’s my call and I want to coach,” he said. “We’ve been testing my players, we take their temperature. We all wear masks, we wipe down the equipment. We’re trying to do it right and that’s what we would do in football this fall, so I’m hoping that we go through the natural process.”