Akron-Fairgrove looking to make waves as NCTL newcomer
Akron-Fairgrove is new to the Stripes Division of the 8-Man North Central Thumb league, making the move from its previous occupancy in the 8-Man Mid-Michigan Conference.
Vikings’ coach Adam Foster comes into the season focusing only on this year’s 0-0 record, leaving what was a tough 2016 season in the rearview. He’s hoping that some of the lessons learned from the adversity will translate to more wins this year.
Seven starters return this year for Fairgrove: seniors Connor Cetas, Joseph Tolles, and Landon Magierka as offensive and defensive linemen, seniors Jacob Southgate and Hunter Ruppal at running back and defensive back, senior Dallas Coleman at tight end and defensive back, and senior Garrett Reder at quarterback and linebacker.
Cetas was a first team all-conference offensive lineman last year.
Foster will look to Tolles and Cetas for leadership in the trenches.
“Tolles leads our line on both sides of the ball, and Cetas is a lot stronger for us this year, and can pretty much play any position (along the offensive and defensive lines),” said Foster.
With a solid core of veteran leadership and another year of seasoning, Foster doesn’t see why his team couldn’t go all the way from one win last year, to the playoffs in this one. He says that should always be the goal.
“As long as we stay healthy and eligible, then we should compete pretty well, and our main goal is to make the playoffs,” said Foster. “With so many returning guys, it’s a little easier to work on things that we already know and have been practicing.”
Back for his second year as the Vikings’ starting quarterback is senior Garrett Reder.
“He’s improved a lot,” said Foster of Reder. “He’s quicker and stronger, and he’s making better throws.
“He’s also our main linebacker, so we look for him to make plays on defense as well.”
Coach: Adam Foster (fourth year)
Last year: 1-8 (1-6 Mid-Michigan 8-Man)
Key returning players: Connor Cetas (sr. OL/DL); Joseph Tolles (sr. OL/DL); Jacob Southgate (sr. RB/DB); Hunter Ruppal (sr. RB/DB); Dallas Coleman (sr. TE/DB); Landon Magierka (sr. OL/DL); Garrett Reder (sr. QB/LB)
Key losses: Ryly Coleman; Martin Wade
Top newcomer: Dalton Gucwa (soph. TE/DB)
New coach, QB to lead Caro this year
Caro comes into the year with a new coach in Mark Brimmer, and a new quarterback in junior Nathan Furst.
One constant for the Tigers is returning junior running back and linebacker D.J. Daniels, who should help both Brimmer and Furst as they adjust to their new roles.
Other returning players looking to help Caro improve upon its two wins from last year are Grant Goodchild, Lance Boyce, Aaron Alhaj, Billy Hudek, Trenten Petri, Shaun Zahn, Bodie Breitbach, and Dylan Flikkie.
Joining Furst as key newcomers are Ryan Giddings, Caleb Graves, Kyle Severn, Peyton Wyckoff, Isaac Joslyn, and Miles Campbell.
“As we build this program, we expect to be competitive and get better with each game,” said Brimmer. “With hard work and determination, our goal is to be one of the top three or four teams in our division, and make a run at the playoffs.”
Coach: Mark Brimmer (first year)
Last year: 2-7 (2-5 TVC East)
Key returning players: D.J. Daniels (jr. RB/LB); Grant Goodchild (sr. QB/SS); Lance Boyce (sr. RB/LB); Aaron Alhaj (sr. OL/DL); Billy Hudek (sr. TE/LB); Trenten Petri (RB/LB); Shaun Zahn (sr. WR/DE); Bodie Breitbach (sr. OL/LB); Dylan Flikkie (sr. RB/DL)
Top newcomers: Nathan Furst (jr. QB/DB); Ryan Giddings (jr. OL/DL); Caleb Graves (jr. RB/LB); Kyle Severn (jr. RB/DB); Peyton Wyckoff (jr. OL/DL); Isaac Joslyn (soph. OL/LB); Miles Campbell (soph. WR/DB)
Perry, Hamilton return to lead Red Hawks
After helping to lead Cass City to the Division 7 state playoffs as juniors, the Red Hawks’ backfield tandem of Nick Perry and Brendan Hamilton are eying a worthy encore to cap off their high school careers.
A fourth-year starter for Cass City, Perry was a second team all-conference runner at the fullback position, and a first team all-conference linebacker for the Red Hawks last year. Meanwhile, Hamilton was an all-league tight end last year, but is switching to the running back position for this year.
“Nick is going to be our go-to guy, and someone our opponents will have to account for on both sides of the ball,” said Cass City coach Scott Cuthrell.
The Greater Thumb West could be up for grabs this year with so much turnover amongst its programs, said Cuthrell, who himself lost 10 seniors to graduation. Cass City has seven returning players, including sophomore second-year starter at quarterback Sandyn Cuthrell.
“Our league was senior dominated last year, so everyone lost some talent,” said Cuthrell. “I think (the GTC West is) up for grabs.”
Effort is Cuthrell’s primary focus as Cass City readies for the regular season.
“The effort we get out of them will dictate our season,” said Cuthrell.
“It’s not all about wins and losses,” he added. “It’s also about attitude, effort, and focus, and if we get to where we need to be with it before our first game, then we’ll be in good shape.”
It’s always a plus when your starting QB has playoff experience in just his second high school season, as is the case with Sandyn Cuthrell.
“He’s very confident, and is becoming a leader for us,” said Scott Cuthrell of his son.
Also in the running back mix for the Red Hawks are juniors Luke Stern and Jarod Naegele.
Coach: Scott Cuthrell (17th year)
Last year: 6-4 (3-2 GTC West); lost 18-14 to Unionville-Sebewaing in the first round of the Division 7 state playoffs
Key returning players: Eric Peters (sr. C); Hank Janik (jr. G); Hunter Vaughan (sr. TE); Zack Beecher (jr. DE); Wyatt Dixon (sr. DT/TE); Sandyn Cuthrell (soph. QB); Nick Perry (sr. FB); Luke Stern (jr. RB); Brendan Hamilton (sr. RB); Jarod Naegele (jr. RB); Connor Sines (sr. DT)
Key losses: Brady Warford; T.J. Moore; Cole Chippi; Shaede Perznowski
Top newcomers: Mike Ziegler (sr. T); Garrett Deitering (sr. G); Noah Zaleski (fr. FB/LB); Alex Perry (RB/CB)
Frankenmuth reloaded, refocused coming off deep playoff run
There’s a lot of turnover at Frankenmuth this year, but not the kind that can derail the program’s always lofty expectations.
The Eagles went 11-2 overall, and claimed the Tri-Valley Conference East Division title at 7-0. They made it all the way to the Division 5 semifinals last season.
A number of key players from last year have graduated, but Frankenmuth still has 21 returning players to go with 25 junior newcomers to the varsity.
“We are bringing up 25 juniors that have had success at the lower levels,” said Frankenmuth coach Phil Martin. “A lot of those guys will compete for starting jobs and playing time.”
The Eagles will have a new quarterback this year, with Zach Jacobs under center, and their depth at the running back position of the option offense they utilize should help him acclimate to his role as the starting signal-caller.
“We need to take advantage of our group of backs,” said Martin. “We have Jacobs, (Ryan) Khan, (Hunter) Schluckebier, and (Garrett) Rezmer returning, and each of them saw significant carries last season.
“In addition, we have a couple other juniors and seniors competing for time, so our backfield has some flexibility and depth.”
With the exception of Rezmer at linebacker, the Eagles are replacing their linebacking and defensive end units from a year ago. Khan and Schluckebier will look to provide stability as returners in the secondary.
“This team will have more depth,” said Martin of the comparison between this year’s Frankenmuth team, and last year’s.
“We have good size, but I’m not sure we’re quite as big as we were last year,” he added. “As a whole, we may be a little quicker.”
The Eagles will look to progress every week toward their annual goals of winning the TVC East, and making the playoffs.
“There is a competitive spirit here, and the kids are always striving for more,” said Martin.
“We’ll need to get better every week before we worry about playoff runs,” he added. “This is a new yearbook picture, and like every year in high school football, you start back at square one.”
Coach: Phil Martin (fifth season)
Last year: 11-2 (7-0 TVC East)
Key returning players: Zach Jacobs (QB/DE); Luke Scharrer (TE/DE); Hunter Schluckebier (RB/DB); Ryan Khan (RB/DB); Garrett Rezmer (FB/LB); Ethan Yatsevich (OL/DT); Evan Geyer (OL/DT); Zach Robinson (OL/DT); Josh Moore (OL/DE); Ben Schuler (OL/DT)
Key losses: Jared Davis, Jack Lee, Grant Bronner, Chris Roche, Dan Stone, Jack Gilmour, Nathaniel Lambeth, Joe Germain, Aaron Haubenstricker
Jones promoted from JV to varsity coach at Kingston
Kingston’s new head coach Brandon Jones isn’t really all that new.
Last year’s Cardinals’ junior varsity coach, Jones this year will be given the opportunity to lead some of the same players he just finished coaching, but do so at the varsity level.
It’s a level of familiarity that’s definitely a benefit to the program’s continuity as it looks to outperform last year’s record of 3-5.
Jones is a 2007 Kingston graduate, and proud to represent his alma mater through a different lens this year, as the one calling the plays and not the one executing them.
“I’ve come through the program myself, and all of the players on varsity now, I coached when I was the junior varsity coach,” said Jones. “I coach JV basketball here, too.
“As for them knowing my expectations and what system we’ll run, it’s been a pretty good transition for us in that way,” he said of his team’s learning curve.
There’s some good quickness and athleticism for Jones to work with, he said, but he wants the offense to have different dimensions to it.
This year’s Cardinals’ defensive coordinator is former two-year Kingston varsity head coach Matt Fields, keeping with the continuity theme.
“He teaches physical education over here, so all the kids know him,” said Jones of Fields. “It’s been a good transition for him as well.”
Key offensive returners for the Cardinals are junior quarterback Hunter James, senior running back Dez Carter, junior running back Lane Torrey, junior wide receiver Aric Hobson, and junior offensive lineman Gunnar Thompson. Defensively, returning for Kingston are senior defensive backs Garrett Green and Quin Western, and junior defensive linemen Brian Hobson and Andrew Tucker.
“We feel that we have some good pieces, and that we’ll be very competitive,” said Jones. “I’ve been proud of our senior leadership so far this season, and throughout the summer.”
Coach: Brandon Jones (first year)
Last year: 3-5 (1-4 NCTL 8-Man)
Key returning players: Hunter James (jr. QB); Dez Carter (sr. RB); Lane Torrey (jr. RB); Gunnar Thompson (jr. OL); Garrett Green (sr. DB); Quin Western (sr. DB); Brian Hobson (jr. DE); Aric Hobson (jr. WR); Andrew Tucker (jr. DL)
Key losses: Bo Mickelson; Grant Koehler; Kyle Ruggles
Top newcomers: Austin Ahern (sr. LB); Jacob McDaid (sr. DE); Colton Stadler (jr. LB); Levi Cryderman (jr. WR); Jack Green (soph. TE)
Marlette eyeing a turnaround in 2017
MARLETTE — Marlette football coach Denny Lester is hoping that the lessons learned from a 1-8 season in 2016 will lead to a significant turnaround with this year’s team.
“We were really young last year, so we took our lumps,” said Lester. “One positive with last year is that we gained a ton of experience with our younger kids.”
The Red Raiders look good on paper this year, with 16 returning letterwinners, including nine returning defensive starters, and eight returning offensive starters.
“We will be led by Tommy Radzialowski and Marcus Armstrong. Both were key players last year, and have really stepped up their leadership,” said Lester. “We will lean heavily on both of them in the backfield.”
Armstrong is moving over from the tight end position to start at quarterback.
“He throws a good ball, and is pretty accurate,” said Lester of Armstrong. “He’s been working really hard in practice.”
Lester said that Radzialowski will get his share of touches at the running back position.
“He’s a strong kid, and runs with lots of power,” he added. “I’m excited to see what he does in his third year on varsity.”
Providing leadership along the offensive and defensive lines of the Red Raiders will be Darren Parke.
“He was second team all-conference last year, and I expect him to take the next step,” said Lester.
Joining Parke as returning starters along the offensive line are Austin Ledsworth, Micah Hager, and Kyle Abbott. Chase McGinnis, another returner, is moving to center this year.
Brett Havens returns to give the Red Raiders a reliable option to throw to, while 6-foot, 6-inch sophomore newcomer Bryce George is expected to be a key target in the red zone at the receiver position.
“We can use that size all over the field, and especially in the red zone,” said Lester of George. “We are really excited to have Bryce out for football.
“I’m excited to see him compete out there.”
Lester knows his team will have to show major improvement on the defensive side of the ball to win more consistently this year, and is looking to linebackers Radzialowski, Justin McClelland, and Isaiah Perales for leadership.
“We just need to be tougher from top to bottom,” said Lester. “We’re seeing it in practice, and hope that carries over to Friday nights.”
The Red Raiders will run out of the spread offense full-time this year.
“Everyone in our program is really excited that we’ll be going back to the spread offense full-time this year,” said Lester. “We didn’t really have the right mix to use it full-time last year, but we feel like this group is perfect for it.”
Coach: Denny Lester (15th year)
Last year: 1-8 (1-4 GTC East)
Key returning players: Tommy Radzialowski (sr. RB/LB); Marcus Armstrong (sr. QB/LB); Dylan McClemore (jr. WR/DB); Logan Marshall (jr. WR/DB); Chase McGinnis (jr. OL/LB); Kyle Abbott (jr. OL/LB); Austin Ledsworth (sr. OL/LB); Will Chapin (jr. OL/DL); Brett Havens (jr. WR/DB); Darren Parke (sr. OL/DL); Peyton Dale (soph. WR/DB); Chad Bower (jr. RB/LB); Justin McClelland (sr. WR/LB); Caleb Storm (jr. OL/DL); Micah Hager (jr. OL/DL); Isaiah Perales (jr. RB/LB)
Key losses: Chorben Chisholm; Ryan Bower; Brandon Elliot; Ethan McKenney; Hunter Rye; Stephen Pake
Top newcomers: Caleb House (sr. OL/DL); Bryce George (soph. WR/LB)
Mayville better prepared for second NCTL 8-man season
Mayville coach Mike Campbell expects his team to feel a whole lot more comfortable in its second season as North Central Thumb League 8-man members.
“We think we’ll be better prepared for the challenges that await,” said Campbell of this year’s Mayville outlook. “I think that this edition of the Mayville Wildcats will be very well-balanced.
“This team has some good linemen, and some speed at the skill positions,” he added. “On the defensive side of the ball, we are aggressive, and want to improve each and every week.”
The Wildcats return seven players, led by Mike Redfield moving from his starting receiver position last year, to quarterback. Logan LaBean will be a two-way starter for Mayville at both running back and linebacker, while Jeffrey Frost and Nick Phillips return to man the starting receiver positions.
Three-year starter Jackson Schenk, an all-conference first team selection last year, will anchor the Mayville offensive line that also includes returners Cory Hess, and Vinny Damiani.
“We hope to be near the top of the conference standings, and we hope to compete for a playoff spot; however, the league is going to be very tough this year,” said Campbell. “Deckerville, Kingston, Dryden, and Lawrence should be among the top teams in the league.”
Coach: Mike Campbell
Last year: 4-5 (3-2 NCTL 8-Man)
Key returning players: Mike Redfield (QB); Logan LaBean (RB/LB); Jeffrey Frost (WR); Nick Phillips (WR); Jackson Schenk (OL); Cory Hess (OL); Vinny Damiani (OL)
Key losses: Jared Hoag, Ben Hulley, Zach Lefler
Top newcomers: Nate Dawson, Dillon Andress, Aaron Pollard
Cardinals to lean on record-setting returning offensive arsenal
Millington comes into the 2017 football season loaded with experience, including the most important kind: playoff experience.
The Cardinals reached the Division 6 state semifinals last year, finishing at 11-2 in what was their 13th consecutive playoff appearance.
Last year, Millington outscored its competition by a combined 500-138, setting a school record for total points in a season.
Many of those points came from some combination of current seniors Bryce Bearss and Kohlton Sherman, who were dynamic on offense for the Cardinals last year, and will enter their third year as starters.
Bearss was honorable mention all-state last year at quarterback, and broke the school’s single-season passing yardage record. Sherman, a wide receiver and defensive back, broke the school’s yards per catch record last year.
“If we can stay healthy and keep getting better each day, I think we can be a team that could do really well,” said Cardinals’ coach Roger Bearss of this year’s Millington outlook. “Lord willing, if you do get better each day, then maybe we’ll have a shot at postseason play.”
Millington returns four starters on both offense and defense: Bryce Bearss at quarterback, Sherman at both receiver and defensive back, senior guard and defensive tackle Lukas Selich, junior Drew Germain at receiver and defensive back, and senior Briar Bearss at outside linebacker. Like Bryce Bearss and Sherman, Selich and Briar Bearss are in their third year as starters.
“These kids have all played together since they were young, and are really good friends with high character and integrity,” said Bearss of the trust he has in his returning players.
Upperclassmen make up the entire Millington roster, after Bearss had just one sophomore up last year.
Coach: Roger Bearss (eighth year)
Last year: 11-2 (6-1 TVC East); lost 27-7 to Jackson Lumen Christi in the Division 6 state semifinals
Key returning players: Bryce Bearss (sr. QB); Kohlton Sherman (sr. WR/DB); Lukas Selich (sr. G/DT); Drew Germain (jr. WR/DB); Briar Bearss (Sr. OLB); Jordon Trickey-Wazny (sr. OL); Trent Robinson (sr. DL); Brody Norman (sr. WR/DB)
Key losses: Brady Payne; Jared Roehl; Nick Eickhoff; Cameron Henderson
Top newcomers: Jackson Shreve (jr. RB/DE); Joel Smith (jr. RB/LB); Bradyn Henderson (jr. OL/DE); Ethan Brady (jr. WR/DE); Trevor Sherman (jr. OL/LB); Wesley Volliwheeler (jr. C); Cole Hill (jr. WR/DB); Mason Wolfington (jr. WR/DB)
First-year coach Ferman likes the look of this year’s Broncos
Eight returning offensive starters at North Branch could help ensure that new Broncos’ coach Jeremy Ferman’s debut with the program is a successful one.
Looking to turn a corner from last year’s 3-6 record, and potentially get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2013, North Branch also has several returning starters on its defense.
Blocking could be a potential strength of this year’s Broncos’ team, which returns plenty of starting experience along its offensive line in junior center Mike Gromley, junior guard Porter Fielder, and senior tackles Gavin Mohr and Ryan Beatley.
Benefitting from that blocking will be a senior-laden backfield consisting of running backs Logan Rutledge and Hayden Mabery, and fullback Hunter Murphy.
Kaden Maynard is a returning senior signal-caller for North Branch, while junior quarterback Gerrid Rutledge is among its top newcomers.
Ferman has 25 years of coaching experience, including 19 as a head coach. He was the head coach at Flint Kearsley last year, the head coach at Durand in 2015, and the head coach at Almont from 2004-14.
North Branch will look to make a mark in its final year as a TVC East participant before leaving for the Blue Water Area Conference next school year.
“We’re just looking to build a work ethic where we go out and compete on every rep, at every practice, and on Friday nights,” said Ferman. “Every successful team has great senior leadership, and we’ll be leaning on ours.”
Coach: Jeremy Ferman (first year)
Last year: 3-6 (2-5 TVC East)
Key returning players: Mike Gromley (jr. C); Porter Fielder (jr. G); Gavin Mohr (sr. T); Ryan Beatley (sr. T); Kaden Maynard (sr. QB); Hunter Murphy (sr. FB); Logan Rutledge (sr. RB); Hayden Mabery (sr. RB); Drake DeMoines (jr. LB)
Key losses: Mile Liley; Zach Mindelli; Mitch Bonner; Wyatt Ostrum; Chris Duty
Top newcomers: Gerrid Rutledge (jr. QB); Michael Orebaugh (jr. G/DE); Lucas Andrews (soph. TE/LB); DeMarcus Wagoner (soph. TE)
Owen-Gage hoping success carries over from Mid-Michigan to NCTL
Owendale-Gagetown coach Jim Wencel is hoping last year’s success as a member of the Mid-Michigan 8-Man Conference will equate to a similarly successful run in its first year as a member of the North Central Thumb League 8-Man Stripes Division.
The Bulldogs went 8-2 last year, and won their division of the Mid-Michigan 8-Man Conference with a 5-1 record. They went on to earn an 8-man playoff appearance, falling to New Haven Merritt Academy in their opener.
If Owen-Gage is to extend its run of several consecutive years making the playoffs, it’ll have to rise to the level of its competition. And it won’t be just competing on the field with its new conference mates; it’ll also be faced with challenges from an enrollment perspective, with just 57 students this year.
“We should’ve gone independent with our size,” said Wencel. “We don’t match up with any of the schools except for Akron-Fairgrove, and we play North Huron twice, and they’re huge.
“We’ve been to the playoffs in each of the last five or six years, so we’ll look to get better each week, and just do the best that we can.”
Seniors Luke Retford and Michael Ray are key returning players for the Bulldogs, with each coming off all-league first team seasons. Ray will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, while Retford will look to fill some of the void created by the departures of honorable mention all-state backs Jake Warack and Dave Binder from his fullback position.
Warack ran for 1,757 yards and 31 touchdowns last year, while Binder ran for 1,069 yards and 20 TDs.
“Retford’s a big key for us, and will run the ball a lot out of the fullback spot,” said Wencel.
Also returning for the Bulldogs are Aaron Fahner, Carl Steff, brothers Matt and Brandon Fritz, Brandon Binder, and Cord Clarkson.
Wencel has just 11 players at his disposal, three of which are freshmen, while another is a sophomore.
“They’ve all got to play,” he said of the numbers. “We’ve worked hard, and we’ll see if our hard work pays off.”
Coach: Jim Wencel (third year)
Last year: 8-2 (5-1 Mid-Michigan 8-Man); lost to New Haven Merritt Academy in the first round of the 8-man playoffs
Key returning players: Aaron Fahner (sr. QB/LB); Luke Retford (sr. FB/LB); Michael Ray (sr. G/DT); Carl Steff (sr. G/DE); Matt Fritz (jr. WR/DB); Brandon Binder (jr. RB/TE/DE); Cord Clarkson (jr. OL/FB/LB); Brandon Fritz (soph. C/LB)
Key losses: Dave Binder; Jake Warack; Derek Vincent
Top newcomers: Andrew Partaka (fr. RB/DB); Clay Evans (fr. WR/DE/DB); Boyd Evans (fr. G/DE)
Reese looks to take the next step under Bouvy
Reese outscored its opponents by a combined 366-177 on its way to a 5-5 record last year, getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The Rockets hope to run as efficient or better offensively this year, but show some improvement with holding onto leads, and putting teams away.
There weren’t many plays separating 5-4 last regular season from 9-0, Bouvy contends.
“Almost all of our games were decided in the fourth quarter, and some of them very late (in the fourth),” said Bouvy.
“There’s a lot of parity in our conference,” he added of the Greater Thumb Conference West Division.
Reese lost nine seniors, including several of its top playmakers from a season ago, but is still in decent shape with 11 returning. The returners include seven starters: tight end Kyle Stockmeyer, center Bo Schember, guard Trenton Rambo, defensive end Tyler Terbush, tackle Tony Wark, running back Luke DuRussel, and cornerback Matt Nobles.
“Hopefully, we can get back on top and win the conference,” said Bouvy of his expectations. “We’ve got a lot of kids competing for jobs, which is good.”
Stockmeyer was a key offensive piece for the Rockets last year, and his return should help junior first-year starter Adam Fisher at quarterback.
Bouvy has asked his team to forget about last year’s playoff appearance, if only because it has nothing to do with this year’s playoff potential.
“It’s what you do in this season that matters, and you’re only guaranteed nine games,” said Bouvy, who hopes his offense’s big-game potential carries the team in the early going, while the defense adjusts to its new seconday personnel.
“If things work the way they’re supposed to, you can score a lot of points in the (veer) option,” he added. “I think our defense will get better as we go.”
Coach: Bob Bouvy (third year)
Last year: 5-5 (2-3 GTC West); lost 29-18 to New Lothrop in the first round of the Division 7 state playoffs
Key returning players: Kyle Stockmeyer (sr. TE); Bo Schember (sr. C); Trenton Rambo (G); Tyler Terbush (DE); Tony Wark (T); Luke DuRussel (RB); Matt Nobles (sr. CB)
Key losses: Jacob Galsterer; Jacob Hartman; Mitchell Bender; Brady Bremer; Eli Gorde
Top newcomers: Mason Hawes (soph. T); Adam Fisher (jr. QB); Tanoah Troublefield (jr. TE); Jarod Wortman (jr. T)
Hahn looks to establish identity in first year at USA
SEBEWAING — Before Unionville-Sebewaing Area can look to build on last year’s run to the second round of the Division 7 playoffs, it must first establish an identity under new head coach Josh Hahn.
The replacement for Tyler Langs, Hahn feels as though he’s already got a pretty good read on his players.
“We transitioned coaches late, but my job is to try to make the transition as smooth as possible,” said Hahn. “I’m also the principal here, so I know the student-athletes.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to start, but I always tell the kids that it’s most important how we finish,” he added. “If we play good, smart, disciplined football, we should be able to win some games.”
USA’s only two losses from a year ago were to Ubly, 28-18 in the opener, and 24-16 in the district championship. The Patriots defeated Cass City 18-14 in their playoff opener, earning their second close victory over the Red Hawks last year.
They also went 5-0 to win the Greater Thumb Conference West Division title.
Being looked to for their leadership this year will be returning senior all-league players Josh Lang and Cooper Kuffold.
Lang was one of two USA running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards last year. The other, Tanner Foley, is continuing his career at Lawrence Tech University.
Another returning senior in Hunter Bohn will have the opportunity to help offset the loss of Foley.
The Patriots return five starters on both offense and defense, and will be led by a new quarterback this year in junior Micah Cramer.
“If we stay healthy, I think we can compete for the league title,” said Hahn. “I think it’s also realistic that if we do the right things, we could have the opportunity to compete for the playoffs again.”
USA faced Ubly in Week 1 for the second year in a row in a game that will serve as a measuring stick right off the bat, with the Bearcats reaching the state semifinals last year.
“We’re mirror images of each other from opposite sides of the conference,” said Hahn of Ubly, which plays in the GTC East. “It’ll be a good test for us to see where we’re at, and what we most need to work on.”
Coach: Josh Hahn (first year)
Last year: 9-2 (5-0 Greater Thumb Conference West Division); lost to Ubly in the second round of the Division 7 playoffs
Key returning players: Cooper Kuffold (sr. G/LB); Josh Lang (sr. RB/S); Hunter Bohn (sr. RB/DB); Miles Geiger (sr. OL/DL); Blake Rierson (sr. G/DE)
Key losses: Tanner Foley; Cody Finkbeiner; Ryan Kain; Max Slater
Top newcomers: Micah Cramer (jr. QB); Cade Rierson (soph. G/TE/LB/DL); Seth Hahn (soph. RB/CB)
Vassar hopes to add to its win total from last year
If Vassar improves upon last year’s 3-6 record, it could jump back into playoff contention.
It isn’t a far-fetched thought, as the Vulcans have good numbers this year with 36 on their varsity roster. Of those 36, 15 are returning letter winners, including eight players on each side of the ball with starting experience.
Filling the void of last year’s starting quarterback Sam Rivard will be junior Ricardo Macon, converted from his starting wide receiver position he held last year. Macon, who is also a linebacker, showed his playmaking potential last year with three touchdown receptions, and one passing TD as a backup at the QB position.
Key returning players for the Vulcans include senior offensive and defensive lineman Mason Morley, senior offensive lineman and linebacker Trevor Bellamy, senior receiver and linebacker Collin Bowden, and senior receiver and defensive back Jackson Noel.
“We had a young team last year, and we’re looking for our seniors to lead us,” said Vassar coach Jason Kiss, who has led the Vulcans to five playoff appearances and three league titles, the last of each coming in 2015.
“We have playing experience at all positions,” he added. “Our defense will need to step up early on until the offense can get its rhythm.”
Coach: Jason Kiss (11th year)
Last year: 3-6 (1-4 GTC West)
Key returning players: Mason Morley (sr. OL/DL); Trevor Bellamy (sr. OL/LB); Collin Bowden (sr. WR/LB); Jackson Noel (sr. WR/DB); Ricardo Macon (jr. QB/LB)
Key losses: Sam Rivard; Kane Millikin; Luke Bogert; Josh Waldie
Top newcomers: Richardo Vela Junior (jr. RB/LB); Logan Nelson (sr. WR/DB); Kyle Walker (jr. OL/DL)