1. Grand Rapids West Catholic 10-4
West Catholic returns some studs from a team that had to win out to make the playoffs, then made the Division 5 state final. Projected to D6 for 2013, meaning season No. 50 may end at the hands of Ithaca. But it should be a fun ride until then, as the defending O-K Bronze champion opens with three top 20 non-league opponents — Muskegon Oakridge, Comstock Park and Grand Rapids South Christian. Junior QB Travis Russell threw for 2,600 yards and 22 TDs as a junior. He returns a favorite weapon in senior running back Andy Corey, his center in Joe Corey and a new dangerous target in senior tight end Mitch Stanitzek. Stanitzek is also a standout rush end who has committed to Eastern Michigan. Nice in for EMU to perhaps get on former West Catholic star lineman Daniel Green, now at Iowa Western. The Falcons have a scholarship athlete at the other end, junior Bryce Witham, and a third-year starter at linebacker Max Boorsma.
2. Traverse City St. Francis 4-5
A mighty high ranking for a team that didn’t even make the playoffs, but the good money is that 2012 was an anomaly for one of the Lake Area’s most dominant programs. How dominant? When their run of playoff appearances ended it was the state’s longest. Veteran, healthy and big, the Gladiators could be adding another date to their super-sweet gloves. How big? 6-3, 285 senior Jake Khoury at fullback and 6-2, 195 senior Byron Bullough at halfback will put shadows on most of the
defensive linemen they’d see in the D7 playoffs. So is their tight end, 6-4, 220 junior Matt Seybert. Among those hurt in 2012 was QB Parker Guss, who is back for his senior year. The Glads have all-state caliber defenders down with Khoury, at linebacker in senior Adam Armour and backfield with Bullough. While there are linemen for days with Khoury and fellow seniors Eric Coggon, Jack Brodeur and Austin Lints. It remains to see if there’s the speed needed to compete at the state level.
3. Muskegon Oakridge 10-1
Oakridge swept one of the state’s top small school leagues, the West Michigan Conference, en route to a perfect 2012 regular season. Any change of 9-0 again will be severely tested as soon as Friday, when No. 3 Oakridge goes to No. 1 West Catholic. 5-10, 190 senior Dan Shoop is poised for an all-state season. He and senior Dom Greenawalt give Oakridge two athletic running/DB options. Senior QB Austin Wright and the majority of the offensive line are back.
4. Constantine 11-3
The Falcons reached the D6 state final in 2012, where they gave Ithaca their closest win of the playoffs. Constantine loses a lot at the skill positions, but it’s all about executing the wing-T. The Zeeland West of the KVA, they rolled up over 5,000 yards last season. The top runner back is junior Justin Hall. There’s a new QB, senior Nic West.
5. Grayling 9-1
Last year’s D5 playoff undressing by Kingsford has to still sting. And motivate. Grayling has a lot of weapons back from what was an otherwise explosive offensive unit It all starts with QB Jake Swander, who puts up big numbers while sharing the wealth and presenting a big downfield threat every play. The most likely recipients are senior receiver Tyler McClanahan and junior receiver Scout Tobin. The biggest school in the Lake Michigan Conference, the VIkings could again come through that league clean. The toughest game on the schedule is against a former LMC opponent, at No. 2 TCSF September 21.
6. Montague 8-2
The Wildcats are hoping green but healthy and available works better than veteran, talented but injured like 2012. Jacob Buchberger actually started last year’s playoff game as a freshman quarterback. Before that, his receiving numbers actually compared favorably to Brandon Moore, the do-it-all prospect, now at Ferris, who spent much of last season at QB himself.
7. Reed City 10-1
There are 10 starters back (most going both ways), including one of the Lake Area’s top 5 senior QBs, Chad Samuels. He’s got everything for the next level accept for being right on the verge at 6-0, 170. Samuels has a big, consistent target in senior receiver Kyle Wright and he’ll take snaps behind three returning starters on the line. That doesn’t include the biggest lineman, junior TJ Patterson.
8. Shelby 10-3
The third WMC team to crack the top 10. The Purple Tigers made it to toe Division 6 semifinals last season, to feel the wrath of small-school juggernaut Ithaca. They will be tough on the interior with linemen Kevin Brink, a junior, and senior Graham Harin.
9. Lake City 10-2
Drew Marion is the AJ Westendorp of the Highland Conference. Not Kirk Cousins, he doesn’t have that kind of polish. But the seniorr QB is the kind of all-around athlete and playmaker that Westendorp was on Holland Christian’s state championship team, before finding obscurity under another shade of Maroon in Mt. Pleasant. Marion just keeps coming at you out of that no-huddle.
10. Hopkins 9-1
NorthPointe has much more talent returning and is the vogue pick in the O-K Silver. But until proven otherwise, cue Ronnie James Dio, the 3x defending champ Vikings remain the Man on the Silver Mountain. Hopkins plays unapologetic, straight-on, punch it, grind it football. They should commission Killdozer to do the soundtrack for their season video. The Vikings want to control the ball and keep you off the field and the board, and did that giving up just 10 points a game last season. Have to go on faith in the program with this pick.
11. Beal City 13-1
12. Muskegon Catholic Central 9-4
13. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 6-4
14. Niles Brandywine 7-3
15. Boyne City 8-2
16. Newaygo 9-3
17. Grant 6-4
18. Grandville Calvin Christian 7-3
19. Maple City Glen Lake 9-2
20. Gobles 8-3
1. Muskegon Oakridge
3. Reed City
8. Berrien Springs
1. Grand Rapids West Catholic
5. Niles Brandywine
6. Boyne City
7, Grandville Calvin Christian
8. Maple City Glen Lake
1. Traverse City St. Francis
2. Lake City
4. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian
1. Beal City
2. Muskegon Catholic Central
4. Central Lake
5. Bellaire (8-man)
7. Kalamazoo Christian
8. New Buffalo
9. Manistee Catholic Central