Pre-Season Big School Team Rankings

1. Muskegon
Muskegon has played in two straight state title games and don’t be surprised if there’s another thanks in no small part to the Big Reds veteran offensive line, including a couple of D1 prospects in the junior class Juanye Johnosn and Dereices Brown. They’ll be blocking for a new quarterback with Deshuan Thrower having matriculated to college basketball, but top running back Caleb Washington and receiver Joeviair Kennedy are both back. Linebacker TJ Smith is the top returning tackler and Alezay Coleman holds down the defensive backfield. They’ll have even more responsibility and be tested without Kenneth Finley up front. The Mona Shores games could be interesting, but other than that Muskegon won’t be tested in the O-K Black — which is saying something because it’s not a weak league at all with four playoff teams in 2013. The non-conference schedule is a diffent story, as it includes Detroit Catholic Central, Grand Rapids Christian and East Grand Rapids.

2. Zeeland West
This is simply one of the state’s elite programs, operating at full capacity under a hall of fame coach. If their season holds to form, they’ll embarrass Detroit Country Day Thursday before rolling the O-K Green, with an intriguing out-of-league respite at Comstock Park. Despite graduating the Lake Area’s best tight end and running back, Jordan VanDort and Danny Bauder, respectively, coach John Shilito’s defending Division 3 state champion will again contend. The offensive line is veteran and athletic, with the top returning lineman, senior Trevor Raby, moving to tight end. Senior Smith Saenbouttarath is the Dux top two-way lineman. Junior Casey Brinks returns at QB. He handled the ball in the wing T deftly as an underclassman. The big-break backs this fall are senior Nick Jasch who has 4.6 speed and junior Dakota Geurink. Junior linebacker Zach VanValkenburg is one of the Lake Area’s top college prospects in the 2016 class.

3. Rockford
The Rams’ defense carried them to a fifth-straight O-K Red crown (5-0) in 2013 despite numerous injuries. Brent Showers and Randy Garvin are gone so the onus will switch to the offense. Rockford will as always be a big-school state powerhouse, though their non-conference schedule got easier without Muskegon bringing a respite to one of the Lake Area’s best (certainly best-attended) rivalries.

4. Grand Rapids South Christian
The Sailors are the Lake Area’s answer to Farmington Hills Harrison’s 2001 offensive juggernaut, with Jon Wassink playing the part of Drew Stanton. They should again get through the O-K Gold clean, but out of the league will have to really earn it early against Grand Rapids Christian — the only D to stymie South last year and winner of four straight against the Sailors — and Caledonia. Wassink has his primary weapons back and they’ll be able to score with anyone. It was the defense that ultimately caught up with them in 2013, surrendering 49 points to Marine City in the Division 4 state final. They have the horsepower for a third-straight trip to Ford Field, led by the Lake Area’s top QB, WMU commitment Wassink. He’ll play toss and catch all day with a pair of big, talented receivers Sam Heyboer and Eric VanVorst, countering with 1,000 yard back Geff Plasman. All this while operating behind a line that includes three third-year starters Mitch Quakkelaar, Casey Elzinga and Brandon Huyser.

5. Muskegon Mona Shores
It’s high times for Mona’s program after making the playoffs for the first time, ever, last season. 2013 should see Mona fighting it out with Muskegon for the O-K Black crown. Before the league season begins, they’ll need to win three of their first four — Saline, Fruitport, Rockford, Caledonia — to justify this ranking. Like South Christian, Mona will be an aerial display thanks to an elite senior QB, in this case Buffalo-bound Tyree Jackson. With a playoff run, he could approach 100 career TDs. He has myriad weapons including an explosive junior receiver in Hunter Broesma and one of the Lake Area’s sleeper senior prospects in running back DeOntay Moffett. The Sailors aren’t just a 7-on-7 squad though. Defensive linemen like senior Zach Hellman and junior Christian Boyd.

6. Hudsonville
It was a great program win for Hudsonville to beat Rockford for a Division 1 regional championship in 2013. A repeat isn’t out of the question, as this is a typical Eagles team with a lot of overall side, and the bonus of Mason Opple returning at QB. He’s not just one of the best quaterbacks in the Lake Area, but one of the best flat out football players. The program’s continuity will really help in the O-K Red. Coach Dave Lidgaard is the second-longest tenured coach in the league after only hall of famer Ralph Munger at Rockford. Three O-K Red schools have first-year head coaches. The out-of-league slate is respectable but not outrageous: Holt, the long trek to Traverse City West, and Grand Rapids Christian.

7. Grand Rapids Christian
GR Christian learned a year ahead of schedule what it was like to play without Drake Harris, and still went 8-3 in 2013. As always, Christian rolls out a bunch of future college talent. There are a lot of new faces on both lines, but the offensive and defensive backfields are veteran with the likes of Malick McLaughlin, Qi’ante Ewing, Jack Bates and Gabe Andree, the Lake Area’s top cornerback. The Eagles’ schedule is beyond legit. Their three non-conference opponents — No. 3 South Christian, No. 1 Muskegon and No. 7 Hudsonville — all reached at least the regoinal finals in 2013. And that’s

8. Lowell
This ranking would seem low giving Lowell’s history, including an undefeated regular season in 2013, but there are a lot of unknowns, and a quick learning curve in the rugged O-K White which begins week 2 with an East Grand Rapids team out to prove something.

9. West Ottawa
West Ottawa seems often on the verge, but just can’t quite break through. It’s the same karma as the basketball team, which has never won a district. There’s enough depth and talent on the Northside to compete with anyone in the Lake Area. eniors James Lacy and Christian Rodino are a dangerous pair of running backs, and first-year QB Caleb McNitt could be WO’s answer to Mason Opple.

10. Caledonia
Cal can’t be ranked any higher because the schedule is about as tough as you’ll fine. In addition to being in the thick of the Lake Area’s strongest league, the O-K White, they face they face the top two QBs, South Christian’s Jon Wassink and Mona Shores’ Tyree Jackson. Tom Burrill is back to coach the Scots and inherits a typical Caledonia roster, not big kids but athletic and tough. Seniors like linebackers Eddie Kelly and Michael Andrusiak, defensive back Logan Soule and QB Kobe Wilson are all college prospects.

  • 11. East Kentwood
  • 12. Portage Central
  • 13. Traverse City Central
  • 14. East Grand Rapids
  • 15. Allendale
  • 16. Traverse City West
  • 17. Portage Northern
  • 18. Comstock Park
  • 19. St. Joseph
  • 20. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central
  • 21. Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills
  • 22. Grand Rapids Catholic Central
  • 23. Stevensville Lakeshore
  • 24. Paw Paw
  • 25. Petoskey
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