New Season, New Stadiums: Can’t miss openers

Thursday, Aug. 25

Cedar Springs (6-4 2015) @ Zeeland West (14-0): Defending state champ West will again contend in D4, if not quite in such juggernaut fashion after graduating three-year QB , LMFR 2015 defensive MVP Zack VanValkenburg and 2,000-yard, 30-TD back Darius Perisee. Though Byron Center is one of the fastest overall teams in the Lake Area and will return to the playoffs. Zeeland West should again go through the O-K Green slate clean. The non-league schedule is legit with games at Mona Shores and West Catholic following this home opener with Cedar Springs.  No team in the Lake Area has a better tight end combination than the Dux with grinding blocker 6-4 275 senior Conner Chupailo and long, athletic catch-and-run threat 6-5, 235 senior Jayk Slager. HOF coach John Shillito rarely lacks for running back depth so pencil in a 1,000+ back, senior Drake Fincannon getting the first crack. Cedar Springs is Dux Lite, a blue-collar wing-T team in its own right with a third-year starter at QB in 5-11, 205 Collin Alvesteffer. Cedar will be challenged to return to the playoffs as the newfangled O-K White is a strong league than they faced in the Bronze, plus West and Grand Rapids Christian non-conference.

Forest Hills Eastern (10-2) @ Petoskey (8-4): This game marks the debut of a new stadium for Petoskey, which doubles the seating of decrepit Curtis Field. Helping break in the turf is FHE coming off the best season in school history. Both teams must replace record-setting QBs, Eastern’s Jack Clark and Petoskey’s Evan Whitmore. Also among the 20 graduated Northmen starters is all-time rusher Brent Murray. Whitmore’s replacement, Joel Wilson, is a good athlete with size. The Hawks will lean heavily on Cade Peters, a revelation running the ball as a sophomore.

Friday, Aug. 26

East Grand Rapids (9-4) @ Grand Rapids Catholic Central (9-2): A pair of the Lake Area’s historic programs will christen Catholic’s new stadium, which is at the intersection of Knapp and Leffingwell. It’s a big day for East as well, the first time in 16 seasons Lake Area legend (seven state titles in 13 playoff appearances) Peter Stuursma won’t be on the Pioneers sideline. He’s now the head coach at Hope College,  as Casey Longo steps in for the Pioneers. Easing his transition is EGR’s move from the weekly battleground that was the O-K White to a more pedestrian O-K Gold. Catholic Central would’ve been the defending champ in the Gold, but now will fight it out with West Catholic for O-K Blue supremacy. The Cougars’ top college prospects are in the 2018 class with versatile, athletic juniors 6-5, 245 Jalen Mayfield and 6-0, 205 Nolan Fugate.

Saline (10-1) @ Rockford (8-4): The Rams are looking to avenge last season’s opener a 13-point loss at Saline. Rockford has the edge in experience this time around and is poised to win yet another O-K Red title. The junior class is particularly strong with prospects like 6-5, 200 QB Jason Whittaker, 6-5, 300 center Cody Carone and 6-0, 185 cornerback Marcus Remtema. Saline has to replace star QB Josh Jackson, now at Virginia Tech, but his favored target tight end Bryce Wolma is back. He’s going to Arizona.

Saturday, Aug. 27

Muskegon (9-3) vs. Ann Arbor Pioneer @ U. of Michigan: This scenario might faze some programs, but Muskegon is used to facing high-end talent (Pioneer’s Antjuan Simmons is one of the state’s top players), winning programs (Pioneer trails only Muskegon in all-time wins), and competing in big-time venues. That’s what you sign on for when becoming a Big Red. Simmons, Jordan Hubbard and Jordan Nwogu will challenge a young Muskegon line that lost the Lake Area’s top 2018 prospect, left tackle Antwan Reed, to Florida’s IMG Academy. Once the bigs gel watch out, because Muskegon has an embarrassment of playmakers on both sides of the ball. QB/receiver Kalil Pimpleton isn’t big but his college is — Virginia Tech, so will that of linebacker Andrew Ward and while 6-2, 205 senior Jacorey Sullivan won’t blow by you he’s a physical receiver and as a safety seems to always be around the ball. Sullivan and Pioneer’s Cedric Benton could both help their stock if they’re matched up.

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