Coach: Ron Dunn, first year
Last season: 0-9 overall, 0-7 North Central Thumb Stripes
Key returners: Sr. RB/LB Kenny Hawley, Jr. OL/DL Seth Sherd, Jr. OL/LB Willie Hawley, Jr. WR Dalton Gucwa
Top newcomers: Fr. QB Wyatt Brink, Fr. WR/DB Todd Brink, Fr. WR/DB Xander Tkacz, Huston Michael, Corbin Clark, Reese Campbell, Emma Britton, Breezy Gonzales, Tristan Nusz, Keaton Cetas
Coach Dunn’s season outlook: “We’ll treat the football field as a classroom to help us better learn the game and also help teach us valuable life lessons. We’re hoping we can get some wins this year, and build off of that.”
Last year’s A-F JV coach steps up to varsity
BY ADAM SMITH
New Akron-Fairgrove varsity football coach Ron Dunn knows he’ll have his hands full taking the reins of a Vikings’ eight-person football program that was winless last season.
Helping his situation was the A-F athletic administration’s decision to forego having a junior varsity team this year with just 16 kids out for the program. Knowing there weren’t enough players to fill out two rosters, the Vikings are now pretty comfortable with their depth as a result of the consolidation.
This year’s A-F schedule is a mixture of varsity and junior varsity games that were able to be coordinated with other schools faced with low numbers of their own.
Dunn coached the Akron-Fairgrove JV to a 4-0 mark last year, but another reason for switching to varsity only was the struggle to find games with so many Thumb area JV programs facing player shortages. An obvious starter goal for this year’s Vikings’ varsity is to find a way to win a game or more as a sign of improvement over last year.
“It’s a rebuilding year for us, but we’re looking to get that winning mentality back,” said Dunn.
The team’s lone senior, running back/linebacker Kenny Hawley, will of course be looked to for leadership and production. Juniors Seth Sherd, Willie Hawley and Dalton Gucwa are also varsity returners.
Freshman Wyatt Brink will start at quarterback for A-F.
“He’s very mature to be able to start at quarterback for us as a freshman,” said Dunn.
Coach: Mike Muron, first year
Last season: 2-7 overall, 1-5 Tri-Valley East
Key returners: Sr. QB Nathan Furst, Sr. RB/S D.J. Daniels, Sr. RB Caleb Graves, Sr. RB/LB Ryan Giddings, Sr. RB/LB Brandon Messing, Sr. LB Kyle Severn, Sr. OL Christian Buniack, Sr. TE/DE Peyton Wyckoff, Jr. WR/DB Miles Campbell
Top newcomers: Soph. OL Jacob Nichols, Jr. WR/DB Logan Vandecar, Jr. OL/LB/DE Isaac Joslyn, Jr. OL Logan Middaugh, Jr. C/DT Hunter Dickson
Coach Muron’s season outlook: “The program’s been down for a few years and has to be built back up. It’s going to take some patience, but I want the kids to have some fun while we do it. I think we can compete with anybody in the new (Greater Thumb West) conference. It’ll come down to who’s most prepared and who’s most committed to their program.”
New Caro head coach leads Tigers into inaugural GTC West season
BY ADAM SMITH
It’s the dawn of a new era for football at Caro High School.
The Tigers will transition into their new home in the Greater Thumb West this season after leaving the Tri-Valley East. They’ll do so with a new varsity head coach in Mike Muron, who was the defensive coordinator on last year’s Mark Brimmer-led staff. Brimmer stepped down as head coach due to undisclosed personal reasons, but Caro athletic director Dave Bitzer liked last year’s coaching staff enough that he offered Muron the promotion, which both parties agree is good for the continuity of the program.
This year’s Tigers offer plenty to be optimistic about with nine returning defensive starters and a stable of depth at the running back position. Senior Nathan Furst will look to lead Caro from the quarterback position while senior backs D.J. Daniels, Caleb Graves, Ryan Giddings and Brandon Messing will all have opportunities to run the ball.
Muron said the Tigers will look to gel along an offensive line with potential that includes all juniors and one sophomore. He added that being in good shape coming out of offseason workouts will greatly impact the developmental process.
For his part, Muron said he’s proud to be the one coaching Caro in its first year as a GTC West member.
“I’m really excited about it,” he added.
“I know we’ll be one of the biggest schools in the league, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve only got 18 players. We’d like to get our numbers up a bit, but we still feel like we can compete with anybody in this conference.”
School: Cass City
Coach: Scott Cuthrell
Last season: 9-2 overall, 4-1 Greater Thumb West; lost to Laker High in the second round of the Division 7 playoffs
Key returners: Sr. G/LB Hank Janik (first team all-league G), Jr. QB/S Sandyn Cuthrell (first team all-league S, second team all-league QB), Sr. RB/DB Luke Stern, Sr. WR/DE Zack Beecher
Top newcomers: Soph. RB/LB Noah Zaleski, Sr. RB/DE/DB Jarod Naegele, Soph. C/LB/DB Alex Perry, Soph. G/DT Matt Mihalic, Jr. T/DT Logan Boynton, Jr. T/DT Hunter Caister, Jr. RB/DB Hayden Horne, Jr. WR/DE Collen Wrubel, Jr. OT/DE Brent Lord, Sr. RB/S Dylan Crase
Coach Cuthrell’s season outlook: “I think we’re talented enough to hang with everybody. A lot of it will come down to the fourth quarters of games, and turnovers and injuries are always key. Our goals are always to win the league, get to the playoffs and move on after our district game.”
Key players from last year’s playoff team return for Cass City
BY ADAM SMITH
Both junior quarterback/safety Sandyn Cuthrell and senior running back/defensive back Luke Stern were highly productive in their roles as contributors to last year’s 9-2 Cass City team that reached the second round of the Division 7 football playoffs.
They’ll get a chance to showcase their abilities with even greater consistency this year due to the loss to graduation of Greater Thumb West first team all-league backfield mates Brendan Hamilton and Nick Perry.
Joining Cuthrell as returning Cass City offensive starters are first team all-league senior guard Hank Janik and senior wide receiver Zack Beecher. Cuthrell was a first team all-league safety and a second team all-league QB.
Stern was the third running back option behind then-seniors Hamilton and Perry last year, but played extensively in the Red Hawks’ run-heavy offense that is known for throwing three and sometimes four different looks at opposing defenses. When his number was called, he made big plays of his own.
“I feel very confident with what we have right now,” said Cuthrell.
“Luke is very fast and will do a great job for us, (senior running back) Noah (Zaleski) is a tough runner who gives us a little more speed and (senior running back) Jarod (Naegele) is a big strong kid who can help us power the ball ahead,” he added. “Sandyn is a good athlete and leader who should once again be a key factor for us. That gives us some great options because teams won’t be able to just key on one guy.”
The three returning offensive starters — Cuthrell, Janik and Beecher — will also return to their starting defensive roles and be joined by Stern as the fourth returning starter on Cass City’s defense.
“I’ve been happy with the effort, but each player’s got to learn to master their job. If we can do that, we’re going to be fine,” said Cuthrell. “We don’t have the big numbers, but the kids that are out there give me everything they’ve got. That’s the thing I’m most proud of and it carries over to the field on Friday nights.”
Coach: Phil Martin, sixth year
Last season: 12-1 overall, 6-0 in the Tri-Valley East; the Eagles advanced to the Division 5 state semifinals for the second year in a row
Key returners: Sr. RB/LB Nate Stone, Sr. QB/S Connor Campbell, Sr. FB/DE Alec Yagiela, Sr. WR/DB Tyler Somerville, Sr. WR/DB Nick Hartman, Sr. RB/DB Drew Martin, Sr. RB/DE Jacob Brownell, Sr. OL/DL Sergio Llamas, Jr. TE/DE Shiloh Kotch, Jr. OL/DL Jon Kelley
Coach Martin’s season outlook: “We’re going to be young in some areas, with no returning starters along our offensive line. How fast they can gel is going to predicate a lot to our season. We return quite a few kids on defense, and we’ll rely on that strength to carry us early on as the offense learns to gel.”
Coming off second straight state semifinal appearance, Eagles have new look at QB and offensive line
BY ADAM SMITH
FRANKENMUTH — Frankenmuth has some question marks coming into the 2018 high school football season, but they’re relative to a school that’s coming off making a second consecutive trip to the Division 5 state semifinals.
The Eagles held a 21-0 lead over eventual state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic in their semifinal matchup last season, with then senior all-state quarterback Zach Jacobs — currently playing for Saginaw Valley State University — scoring all three touchdowns to spur them along. However, a second-half injury to Jacobs knocked him out of the game and West Catholic proceeded to score 25 unanswered points to nail down the win.
The most pressing issue the Eagles have had to address is the need to find Jacobs’ replacement as the architect of the school’s storied veer-option offense, which the team has found in Connor Campbell.
“He’s a good-sized kid with a strong arm who runs hard,” said Frankenmuth coach Phil Martin of Campbell. “He got quite a bit of experience carrying the ball for us last year and knows what it’s like to play in big games.”
Frankenmuth returns 24 seniors this year to account for the majority of its 38-player roster.
Linebacker Nate Stone returns as one of the top players in the TVC East, Alec Yagiela will retain his starting running back post and Nick Hartman returns as a starting wideout for the Eagles. Drew Martin and Tyler Somerville return in the secondary, with Jacob Brownell returning at defensive end. John Kelley and Sergio Llamas return to play on either the offensive or defensive lines.
There are no returning starters along Frankenmuth’s offensive line, but Martin trusts in the guys he’s got to fill those spots.
“We’ve got some good kids up front going through position battles that haven’t shaken out yet,” said Martin. “Just like every year, we’re finding the right places for players to try and best utilize their talents.”
The first three games on the Eagles’ schedule will tell them a lot about where they stand. Frankenmuth hosts Class A Bay City Central in Week 1, travels to face Division 5 state runner-up Swan Valley in Week 2 and then heads to a Week 3 road date with Bridgeport as the third playoff opponent in as many dates to start the season.
“Those three games will help us get better every week and be ready for the end of the season,” said Martin.
Coach: Brandon Jones, second year
Last season: 7-3 overall, 7-2 North Central Thumb Stars; reached the Division 1 8-person playoffs
Key returners: Sr. QB/DB Hunter James (first team all-state quarterback, All-Thumb 8-person Player of the Year), Sr. RB/DB Lane Torrey, Sr. WR/DB Levi Cryderman, Sr. OL/DE Brian Hobson (second team all-league defensive back, All-Thumb 8-person defensive back), Sr. OL/DL Gunnar Thompson (All-Thumb 8-person offensive line), Jr. TE/DE Jack Green, Sr. DL Andrew Tucker, Sr. LB Colton Stadler
Top newcomers: Sr. Nate Dawson, Jr. Tristen Skinner, Jr. Jacob Savage, Jr. Jake Delong
Coach Jones’ season outlook: “2006 was the last year that Kingston won a league title in football, so that is obviously a big goal of ours. Our mott this year is ‘Embrace the Process.’ We had good participation all offseason in the weight room, so with the talent we have returning, we feel that if our kids can take pride in the process it takes to be a league-title caliber team, then we will get better every day and be right there at the end.”
Cardinals to follow lead of returning all-state QB
BY ADAM SMITH
Kingston senior quarterback Hunter James is ready for the encore performance to his first team all-state season of a year ago that also netted him 8-person All Thumb Player of the Year and helped put the Cardinals in the playoffs.
Defenses are decidedly less enthusiastic about the prospects of facing an even better version of someone who was mostly unstoppable last year in leading Kingston.
“You can ask any defensive coordinator in 8-player football and they’ll all tell you how difficult it is to prepare for a team with a quarterback that can make big plays with his feet,” said Kingston coach Brandon Jones. “My goal as the offensive coordinator is to throw out a balanced attack that will obviously depend on offensive line play, and I feel that we have enough athletes on that side of the ball that it’ll be hard for teams to just focus on Hunter. That should make him even more dangerous in all facets of the game.”
Jones raved about his returning signal-caller’s preparation leading into the 2018 season.
“Hunter had another great offseason with perfect attendance in the weight room since December,” said Jones. “Physically, he’s a lot stronger than last year and his fundamentals are much improved from this time last season. I think we are yet to see what he’s fully capable of.”
The Cardinals head into the season looking to build off reaching the 8-person Division 1 playoffs last year.
“We want making the playoffs to be an expectation year after year, so I think it was huge that we were able to do so last season,” said Jones. “We want to be playing our best, toughest football come late October.
“Deckerville is still the team to beat,” he added. “We have the utmost respect for what coach Brown and his staff have been able to do with their teams year after year.”
Coach: Denny Lester, 16th year
Last season: 3-6 overall, 1-4 Greater Thumb East
Key returners: Sr. WR/DB Brett Havens, Sr. WR/DB Logan Marshall, Sr. OL/LB Kyle Abbott, Sr. OL/DL Micah Hager, Sr. RB/LB Isaiah Perales, Jr. QB/DB Peyton Dale, Sr. OL/LB Chase McGinnis, Sr. OL/DL Caleb Storm, Sr. OL/DL Will Chapin, Jr. RB/DB Dillen Cook
Top newcomers: Jr. OL/LB Leo Macha, Jr. OL/DL Casey Hudson, Fr. TE/LB Chyler Chisholm, Soph. RB/DB Ian Schetter, Jr. WR/DL Edwin Fuller, Jr. TE/DL Jonathon Jackson
Coach Lester’s season outlook: “Last year we had a really great group of kids that improved every day. We were able to get three wins and were really close in two other games. We expect to take the next step this year and improve our win total.”
Experienced Marlette team returns eight offensive starters
BY ADAM SMITH
MARLETTE — As a newcomer to the starting quarterback position at the varsity level, Marlette junior Peyton Dale has a solid support system in place with eight of last year’s 11 offensive starters back.
The Red Raiders return offensive weapons in senior wideouts Brett Havens and Logan Marshall as well as senior running back Isaiah Perales and junior backfield mate Dillen Cook. In addition to having experienced players to throw or hand the ball off to, Dale stands to benefit from experience along the offensive line that returns senior starters Micah Hager, Kyle Abbott, Will Chapin and Chase McGinnis.
“There is a lot of trust in that group, and they’re working hard,” said Marlette coach Denny Lester of his returning group of linemen that also includes senior Caleb Storm. “They have steadily improved over time and are now ready to take that next step in terms of being consistent blockers.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Red Raiders return six players who started last year.
“I thought last season was a step in the right direction for us,” said Lester. “We have the talent to get back to the playoffs, but like everyone else, we’ll have to stay healthy as we don’t have a lot of depth.”
Lester said he senses the potential for parity in the Greater Thumb East this year.
“More than any other year, I think anyone can be beat,” he said. “There is a lot of balance in the league.
“We just hope to go out and compete this year and be competitive every Friday night.”
Coach: Mike Campbell, 13th season
Last season: 5-5 overall, 3-4 North Central Thumb Stars
Key returners: Sr. RB/LB Logan LaBean (first team all-league), Sr. RB/WR/DB Nick Phillips (all-league), Jr. TE/DE Jeffrey Frost (all-league), Sr. LB Dillon Andress, G Aaron Pollard
Top newcomers: Soph. QB/DB Austin Middleton, Jr. C Hunter Brown, Jr. G Zakk Romanowski, Jr. RB/WR Jerry Gilbert, Fr. RB/WR Steven Gilbert, Billy Petitt (RB/WR/DB)
Coach Campbell’s season 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. On the defensive side of the ball we are aggressive and want to improve each and every week. Our seniors are hard workers that hope to have a successful season.”
Seven returning playoff schools sure to test Mayville
BY ADAM SMITH
This year’s Mayville varsity football schedule features all but two of its nine games against returning playoff teams.
Wildcats’ coach Mike Campbell knows that means there isn’t much margin for error.
“Everybody in the NCTL is going to argue that their schedule is the hardest, but I think ours is the hardest in the NCTL and quite possibly the state,” said Campbell. “Each week will be a challenge for us, but I believe we’re up for the challenge.”
Campbell’s team isn’t selling itself short after making the 8-person Division 1 playoffs in its own right en route to a 5-5 finish last year.
“We hope to finish near the top of the conference standings and, hopefully after everything shakes out, we can make it back to the playoffs,” said Campbell. “The league is going to be very tough this season with Deckerville, Kingston and North Huron among the top teams.”
Mayville returns three starters on offense and four on defense. Senior Logan LaBean, a returning first team all-league player, will start at running back and linebacker, senior Nick Phillips will start at either running back or receiver and at defensive back, junior Jeffrey Frost will start at the tight end and defensive end spots and senior Dillon Andress will fill a starting linebacker position. The three returning offensive players are all entering their third years as starters.
Phillips and Frost joined LaBean in earning all-conference recognition last year.
The new starter at quarterback for the Wildcats will be sophomore Austin Middleton, and they must integrate three new offensive linemen into the fold.
“Middleton got some reps this summer at 7-on-7s and is learning how to read defenses well,” said Campbell.
“He’s 6-foot-1, 190 (pounds), so he’s a solid athlete who I think’s up to the challenge,” he added. “The kids have rallied behind him, and his two best friends are going to be Logan with defenses keying on him, and then Jeff with his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame. Nick adds great hands on the outside.”
With a combined 24 players out for the Mayville varsity and junior varsity teams, Campbell said the plan for at least Weeks 1 and 2 is to only field a varsity team.
“By weeks three and four we’re going to look to make it 14 on varsity and 10 or so on JV,” said Campbell.
Coach: Lenny Dantinne, first year; previously Millington’s varsity defensive coordinator
Last season: 10-2 overall, 5-1 in the Tri-Valley East; the Cardinals made a return trip to the Division 6 state quarterfinals last year
Key returners: Sr. RB/DE Jackson Shreve (first team all-league running back and defensive end), Sr. QB/DB Drew Germain (second team all-league defensive back), Sr. OL/LB Trevor Sherman, Sr. OL/DE Bradyn Henderson (second team all-league offensive lineman), Sr. WR/DB Cole Hill, Sr. OL Wes Vollweiler
Top newcomers: Jr. OL Jake Holtsberry, Jr. TE/DE Zac Yorke, Jr. WR/DB Trent Weber, Jr. WR/LB Zach Finatri, Jr. RB/LB Hunter Maxon, Jr. TE/DE Kyle Paquette, Soph. OL/DL Brody Germain
Coach Dantinne’s season outlook: “It might sound cliché, but our goal is to compete each Friday night. This is the most competitive schedule I’ve seen in my 12 years at Millington. We realize that our challenging schedule doesn’t give us any room for error. We’ll have to continue to improve and play at a high level to accomplish our team goals.”
A challenging schedule awaits Millington new head football coach Lenny Dantinne
BY ADAM SMITH
One of the most challenging schedules in recent Millington varsity football history awaits the Cardinals and their new head coach Lenny Dantinne this year.
Dantinne replaces Roger Bearss as head of the program he’s been with since his 2009 debut as its defensive coordinator under then Cardinals’ coach Tim Furno.
Dantinne’s background has him confident he and his team can handle the rigors of a schedule that includes a season-opening road trip to Sylvania Southview (Ohio), which has an 1,100 student enrollment. Additionally, the Cardinals will face five other returning playoff teams, including Carrollton (7-4) in Week 3, Bridgeport (6-4) in Week 6, Frankenmuth (12-1) in Week 7 and Warren Michigan Collegiate (12-1) in Week 9.
Millington’s long-time Tri-Valley East rival Frankenmuth reached the Division 5 state semifinals for the second year in a row after winning the league last year, while Warren Michigan Collegiate made it to the Division 6 state semifinals.
The Millington program undoubtedly respects each of those obstacles built into its schedule, but don’t look for the Cardinals to question their abilities to hang with or beat any of them. They themselves went to the Division 6 state quarterfinals last year, have produced 29 straight winning seasons and have qualified for 14 straight playoff appearances.
“Our kids enjoy the challenge,” said Dantinne.
“I always tell them to remember when they were (little) kids,” he added. “Everyone pretends to make the game-winning shot in a basketball game, run in the winning touchdown as time expires, etc. No one makes that play against the 1-8 school. It’s always a big game against a great team.”
Realignment within the Tri-Valley Conference will see the Cardinals shift to become a part of a 10-team TVC West Division for next year that will alleviate some of the headaches that come with trying to fill nonconference dates.
“We may have to travel a few extra miles for a conference game. However, we won’t have to worry about completing the rest of our nonconference schedule,” said Dantinne.
“Last year we traveled across the state to Parchment, in the past few years we’ve hosted teams from outside of the country (Canada) and this year we open in another state (Ohio),” he added. “The consistency of our schedule and the ability to play schools within an hour of Millington will provide stability. Scheduling football games for any school is a challenge because it’s the only sport that doesn’t automatically qualify for a district game, and on top of that, playoff locations change based on season performance.”
Simply put, Dantinne feels his program will greatly benefit from the move to a 10-team division.
There are 35 players on the Millington varsity squad, 20 of whom are returners, and the roster includes 21 seniors. Dantinne will have seven returning starters on both offense and defense.
“We continue to get better each day in our backfield figuring out what works for us and what doesn’t,” said Dantinne. “There’s no secret that Jack (Shreve) will carry the bulk of the load.
“Drew was our JV quarterback as a freshman and has played a skill position for the past two years on varsity. His football IQ is incredibly high,” he added. “He’s athletic, and his mobility will add another dynamic to our backfield.”
Dakota McRae at fullback and Joel Smith at running back will also factor into the Cardinals’ ground game.
School: North Branch
Coach: Jeremy Ferman, second year
Last season: 1-8 overall, 0-6 Tri-Valley East
Key returners: Sr. QB Gerid Rutledge, Sr. RB Christian Coy, Sr. DB Kyle Kleinknecht, Sr. WR/S Nathan Farnsworth, Sr. RB Josh Boyne, Sr. C Michael Gormley (2017 all-league first team), Sr. OL/DL Porter Fielder, Sr. OL/DL Michael Orebaugh, Jr. DE DeMarcus Wagoner, Jr. LB Lucas Andrews
Top newcomers: Soph. FB/LB Drake Deshetsky, Jr. LB Kobe Wentzel, Soph. TE/DE Wyatt Howe, Jr. FB/DL Alex Albrecht
Coach Ferman’s season outlook: “We’re going to be a lot more competitive this year without a doubt. Our kids are invested in our program and will look to do everything they can to try and get the best results possible. Winning solves a lot of issues, so we’ve got to get rolling there.”
Newcomer North Branch sizes up BWAC competition
BY ADAM SMITH
NORTH BRANCH — North Branch’s first win of 2017 under then first-year coach Jeremy Ferman came in the regular-season finale with Imlay City.
To Ferman, it felt bigger than a win because it was something the Broncos never quit striving for, showing a strong sense of collective character.
Last year’s Week 9 meeting with the Spartans was a nonconference game that marked the end of North Branch’s final season as a member of the Tri-Valley East. The Broncos are now a part of the Blue-Water Area Conference, of which Imlay City is also a member.
Ferman said beating a future conference rival is good for the morale of his program as it transitions into the BWAC.
“Finishing on a positive note was awesome,” said Ferman. “There were growing pains last year, but the kids stuck with it and learned from the experience.
“From talking to my seniors, they know their legacy will show they were the first North Branch team to play in the BWAC, and they want to set a good example.”
The Broncos return 19 players this season, 17 of them seniors, and have eight returning starters.
North Branch will be led by the likes of returning first team all-league center Michael Gormley, a senior, and Gerid Rutledge as a senior returning starter at quarterback. Nathan Farnsworth, Josh Boyne and Christian Coy will add to the senior stability on offense.
Defensively, the Broncos will lean on the play of Farnsworth, senior Kyle Kleinknecht, juniors DeMarcus Wagoner and Kobe Wentzel and sophomore newcomer Drake Deshetsky.
Coach: Nick Gibbard, first year
Last season: 2-7 overall, 1-5 North Central Thumb Stripes
Key returners: Soph. RB/DB Andrew Partaka, Sr. QB/LB/S Matthew Fritz, Sr. OL/LB Cordell Clarkson, Soph. OL/DE Boyd Evans, Jr. OL/DE Branden Fritz
Top newcomers: Fr.r WR/RB Levi Weihold, Fr. DL Brett Watson, Fr. WR/DB Jesse Robinson
Coach Gibbard’s season outlook: “My expectations are high. I think we’ve got a good enough group to look for five to six wins, but we’re tremendously young with seven freshmen and sophomores (among a roster of 11). We may struggle some with senior-heavy teams due to our youth aspect, but we’ll give each team the best we’ve got and go from there.”
New coach hopes to lead O-G back to playoff contention
BY ADAM SMITH
GAGETOWN — New Owendale-Gagetown varsity football coach Nick Gibbard believes the Bulldogs’ 2017 season was just a blip on the radar.
After reaching the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, O-G fell to 2-7 while failing to reach the 8-player postseason last year.
“The kids have been great and done everything I’ve asked them to do,” said Gibbard of looking to get back on track.
The Bulldogs have already matched last year’s win total despite not even having taken the field for their opening game due to predetermined forfeit wins over Week 1 opponent Burton Madison Academy and Carsonville-Port Sanilac in Week 5.
Gibbard previously coached the offensive and defensive lines as well as special teams during a nine-year stint on the Bad Axe varsity staff.
“I wanted to be a head coach one day, and here we are,” said Gibbard.
O-G will run out of the pistol spread offense this year and use a 4-2 defensive alignment. Its seven returners all started last year, most notably senior Matthew Fritz and sophomore Andrew Partaka on both sides of the ball.
“Matt will be a leader for us on both sides of the ball, and Partaka will be our workhorse on offense,” said Gibbard. “(Partaka) set a goal for himself of getting to double-digit touchdowns and 1,000-plus rushing yards.
“Our keys will be to remain healthy and stay mentally focused on the job at hand.”
Coach: Scott Long, first year
Last season: 3-6 overall, 1-4 Greater Thumb West
Key returners: Sr. QB Adam Fisher, Sr. WR/S/K Gabe Robinson (all-state kicker, first team all-league safety), Sr. FB/DT Tanoah Palmreuter
Top newcomers: Jr. RB/LB Connor Goka, Sr. RB/LB Logan Rocha, Soph. OL/LB Grant Bouvy
Coach Long’s season outlook: “We want the kids to reach their goals, whether that’s something as small as starting a football game, or competing for a championship. We want to earn everything we get.”
New Reese coach Long looks to acquaint himself with GTC West competition
BY ADAM SMITH
Scott Long is happy to be the new Reese varsity football coach, but he isn’t just happy to be there.
Far from it.
“Getting this job means a lot to me considering where I started and where I came from,” said Long. “The road wasn’t easy to get here.
“Our goal is to compete,” he added of what he expects from his team this year. “As long as we take care of the little things, stay hungry and play with a chip on our shoulder, we should be very competitive.”
The Rockets’ varsity squad consists of 23 players, 13 of which are returners. Eight of the 13 returning players started last year.
Senior leadership should also be in abundance for Reese with 11 seniors on its roster.
A couple of notable returning players for the Rockets are seniors Adam Fisher and Gabe Robinson.
Fisher will look to solidify the Reese offense in his second straight year as its starting quarterback, while Robinson gives the Rockets a versatile athlete who’s 6-foot, 3-inch frame at the wide receiver spot is a matchup problem for defenses Fisher can look to exploit. Robinson was also an all-state kicker and all-league first team selection at safety who amassed six interceptions in eight games last year.
“Gabe gives you the flexibility and freedom to do a lot of things,” said Long. “You look at all of his talent and yet no one on the team works harder than he does.
“He’s a great athlete in addition to being a great football player. He’s very smart and has a nose for the ball both offensively and defensively.”
Long added that he’s got a lot of trust in his quarterback.
“I don’t know that I’ve coached a tougher kid than Adam,” said Long. “He’s got great size for a young man and is physical to go along with that.”
Backs Logan Rocha, Tanoah Palmreuter and Owen Galsterer will look to balance out the Reese offense, said Long.
School: Unionville-Sebewaing Area
Coach: Josh Hahn, second year
Last season: 5-5 overall, 3-2 Greater Thumb West; lost to Cass City in the first round of the Division 7 state playoffs
Key returners: RB/DB Chase Suber, Soph. RB Conner Gettel, G Rocky Hahn, DB Code Rierson, TE/DE Jeremy Pawlowski, Adam Vogel, Matt Harrison
Top newcomers: Jr. QB Landin Zimmer
Coach Hahn’s season outlook: “Our goals are the same as they always are, to compete within the league and try to make a run at the postseason. I like the kids that we have.”
Expectations still high at USA despite concern over low numbers
BY ADAM SMITH
SEBEWAING — After reaching the playoffs for the third straight season last year, Unionville-Sebewaing Area second-year varsity football coach Josh Hahn is hoping the Patriots can do more with less.
USA lost 11 seniors from the program, a number that’s just three fewer players than the 14 that account for the Patriots’ entire 2018 varsity roster.
The USA junior varsity has even less margin for error with a 12-person roster.
It’s clear to Hahn that remaining healthy is of the highest priority if the Patriots are to aspire to reach their goals.
“If we have some injuries, we’ll be week to week, and we’ve communicated that with the league,” said Hahn of both the USA varsity and JV squads. “It’s a concern.”
In a contact sport such as football, there’s always a risk of injury that in USA’s case could deplete its depth even further. Hahn said discussions with the league and its coaches pertaining to teams with low numbers have included taking proactive safeguarding measures against the threat of injury.
If the situation called for it and was mutually agreed upon by competing coaches — and it’d be on a case by case basis — Hahn said one potential tweak would be to eliminate special teams, where the most high-impact collisions occur.
“There are other teams that, if they lost a kid or two, could find themselves in a similar predicament,” said Hahn of the need to raise awareness for teams faced with player shortages.
“A lot of schools are struggling with their JV numbers like we are,” he added.
USA returns seven players from last year, including four starters. There are five seniors on the Patriots’ roster.
New to the quarterback position this year for USA is junior Landin Zimmer. He’ll also play defensive back.
“Landin’s pretty skilled at every sport he plays,” said Hahn. “He was our JV quarterback (last year).
He’s picked things up fast and done well for us,” he added. “By the end of the year, he’ll be a very good quarterback in our league.”
Sophomore Conner Gettel has aligned himself as the team’s top running back heading into the season after contributing as a late-season call-up last year. Returning starter Chase Suber will also carry the ball for the Patriots in addition to playing defensive back.
Coach: Jason Kiss, 12th year
Last season: 2-7 overall, 1-4 Greater Thumb West
Key returners: Sr. OL/DL Max Amend, Sr. OL/LB Mason Amend, Sr. OL/DL Kyle Walker, Sr. RB/DL Colton Huizar
Top newcomers: Jr. WR/LB Max Kukulski, Soph. OL/DL Matt Piazza, Jr. WR/DB Ethan Dunham, Soph. TE/DE Gideon Damm
Coach Kiss’s season outlook: “Offensively we have a lot of starting experience along the offensive line. Defensively we have good size up front and our back seven can run a little. We have several players starting new positions and they’ll need to adjust.”
Macon a key to Vassar’s 2018 season outlook
BY ADAM SMITH
Vassar coach Jason Kiss returns his top player in dual-threat senior quarterback Ricardo Macon, a third-year varsity starter at the position.
Macon is one of 12 returning letterwinners among 27 players on the 2018 Vulcans’ roster. Of those 12, eight started on offense last year and four started on defense.
Last year Macon threw for 1,432 yards and 14 touchdowns while adding 323 rushing yards and six TDs. Those totals were for just seven games.
“This year Ricardo will be able to lead the offense with a deeper understanding of the playbook,” said Kiss.
Expected to help carry the load as key returners for Vassar are Max and Mason Amend, Kyle Walker and Colton Huizar. Top newcomers to this year’s Vassar team are Max Kukulski, Matt Piazza, Ethan Dunham and Gideon Damm.
Kiss expects his team to contend in the conference if it’s able to remain healthy.