Strap on the pads and helmets and get ready for fall football, northern Michigan style.
Optimism is rampant; as of today, every squad has a chance at playing in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Championship Games set for Nov. 28 and 29 at Detroit’s Ford Field. Here are a few schools, teams and players we have our eyes on this season.
GLEN LAKE LAKERS
Coach: Jerry Angers
Conference: Northwest Football League
2013 record: 9-2
Key players returning: Quarterback and linebacker Travis Wiltjer, wide receiver and safety Mac Ewing, fullback and defensive tackle Andrew Lindeman, tight end and linebacker David Greizbenick.
Why watch them: Glen Lake will be running its successful veer offense again this year, though look for “a few wrinkles,” according to coach Angers. After posting back-to-back 9-2 records over the past two years, the Lakers will be challenged in 2014. “This is our hardest schedule in the last 20 years,” says coach Angers. “We start at Frankfort (on Aug. 29) then have Suttons Bay (Sept. 5), then have a big game on Sept. 12 at Grayling, and we’re at Boyne City(Oct. 3). All tough games.”
Coach: Bill Koenig
Conference: North Star League
2013 record: 5-4
Key players returning: Guard/defensive lineman Dave Julka, wide receiver/cornerback Mason VanPamel, quarterback Ty Jones, offensive lineman/defensive lineman Kyle Hennigen, wide receiver/defensive end/ kicker Josh Reinbold and running back Kenny Kolcan.
Why watch them: Hillman returns several players from last year’s squad that was an offensive powerhouse, scoring 58, 55, 48, 48 and 47 points in their victories last year. Coach Koenig is running a pro set offense and expects to keep the scoreboard lit up again in 2014. “Our toughest games look to be Mio (Sept. 26) and Whittemore-Prescott (Oct. 17)” he says.
JOHANNESBURG- LEWISTON CARDINALS
Coach: Joe Smokevitch
Conference: Ski Valley Conference
2013 record: 8-3
Key players returning: Tight end and defensive end Dan Nieman, punter, guard and defensive lineman Trevor Pickelmann, quarterback Brandon Huss.
Why watch them: Last year the young Cardinals started 1-2, then rattled off seven wins in a row before falling to St. Ignace, 2014, in the Division 8 District title game. “We started six sophomores on offense and six on defense in the playoffs,” says second-year coach Joe Smokevitch, who served as an assistant for 15 years. “I expect this year’s team to be even better (than last year’s)…I’ve got some kids who can make plays.” Smokevitch will rely on an array of six different running backs to spark the offense. The Cardinals will be tested in their opener against Mancelona on Aug. 29. The Ironmen won last year’s contest, 28-6. “We’ve got to beat Mancelona and St. Ignace (on Sept. 26),” says Smokevitch. “To win the Ski Valley you’ve got to beat them.”
Coach: Jim Hunter
Conference: Northwestern Six
2013 record: 3-6
Key players returning: Quarterback Jarret Sovereign, running back Jordan Coe, lineman Elijah Hayes and lineman Josh McPherson.
Why watch them: After winning three of their first five games last year, the Portagers struggled at the end losing four straight.
Onekama suffered growing pains last year with eight sophomores in the starting lineup, some going both ways. Coach Hunter hopes to build on last year’s experience and expects improvement, especially as the season rolls on. “Those sophomores got tons of experience last year,” he says. The Portagers will be seeking revenge when they open the season on Aug. 29 at Suttons Bay. Last year the Norsemen blanked Onekama 21-0 during that four game skid.
TRAVERSE CITY WEST TITANS
Coach: Tim Wooer
Conference: Big North
2013 record: 5-5.
Key players returning: Quarterback Jeff Turnquist, wide receiver and defensive back Zach McIntyre, defensive lineman Zach Schwert.
Why watch them: The Titans return six starters on defense and five on offense as they take aim on their fourth postseason bid in the last five years. Offensive linemen Jake Cerny, Thiyo Lukusa and Tommy Roush are three potential Division 1 players to watch. Coach Wooers is cautiously optimistic, citing the Titans tough schedule. The big rivalry game with TC Central is Sept. 12, while an Oct. 10 contest against Cadillac could decide the Big North title.