GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — It’s been over 9 months since the state championship football games took place at Ford Field, but it should come as no surprise that the top 3 teams in this poll all played in championship games last Thanksgiving weekend, 2 of them brought home the title.
With that being said, here is my top 10 teams heading into the 2013 season:
1 – Grand Rapids Christian
The defending division 3 state champions lost their share of offensve talent like quarterback Alex VanDevusse and 4 starting offensive lineman, but they do return a few of pretty good ones like wide reciever Sam Kuiper and future Big Ten players Drake Harris (wide receiver) and Tommy Doles (left tackle). When you add in the transfer of quarterback Tyler Sigler (Jenison) and running back Dominick Piaz (Grand Rapids Catholic Central) the offense should still be very explosive. On defense the Eagles should be improved, they were in young in 2012 and did struggle at times. The schedules is tough, they open with #2 on this list South Christian, then host #3 on this list Muskegon in week 2 plus the rugged OK White schedule.
2 – Grand Rapids South Christian
The Sailors won the division 4 state championship last season despite playing the title game without then sophomore quarterback Jon Wassink. This season, with Wassink back in the saddle and a great deal of talent back that helped South to the title, an OK Gold championship and another deep postseason run seem to be in the works. Week 1 will be a major showdown against Grand Rapids Christian, 2 great rivals and the top 2 teams in this poll.
3 – Muskegon
The Big Reds were runner-up last season in division 2 and under head coach Shane Fairfield have proven to be a contender year in and year out. Expect the defense to be strong this season for Muskegon with some veteran talent on that side of the ball, the offense doesn’t have as much experience, but Deshaun Thrower is a good quarterback and guard Malik King is a division 1 talent. The schedule is extremely tough just like it always is, Grand Haven, GR Christian, Rockford and Lowell all in non-conference play.
4 – Lowell
Last season the Red Arrows were led by one of the best defensive units in the state, but most of the contributors on that side of the ball graduated. This season it is the offense that returns a bunch of experienced and talented players. Kyler Shurlow became the teams quarteback late last season and appears to be ready for a breakout year for Lowell. The Red arrows lost twice to Muskegon in 2012, they play week 4 at Red Arrow stadium and I’m sure again this postseason in what I can only imagaine to be another great set of games between these 2 great programs.
5 – Zeeland West
The Dux are coming off another playoff season and another year with an explosive offense. This season, look for the defense to be better and the offense to be just as good. Jordan and Marcus Lambert return at quarterback and fullback respectively plus Danny Bauder gets his chance at running back. The Dux open on the road at division 4 state runner-up Detroit Country Day, that should be a great gauge as to just how good Zeeland West will be this season.
6 – Grand Rapids West Catholic
The Falcons were division 5 state runner-up last season and quarterback Travis Russell returns to lead the offense in his junior season, Andy Corey, David Bancuk and Drake Wooten lead the way from a skill position standpoint plus some talented newcomers that will make this team the heavy favorite in the OK Bronze. All 4 of West’s non-conference opponents made the playoffs last season, including week 1 opponent Oakridge who they beat 13-6 in the district final.
7 – Zeeland East
The Chix bring back almost their entire defense from a year ago including all 4 starting linebackers led by 4-year varsity player Spencer Viening. On offense Viening leads the way at running back but he will be far from the only strong ball carrier this season. If Zeeland East can find a way to replace the graduated Michael Custer at quarterback, they could repeat as champions of the tough OK Black.
8 – Rockford
The Rams generally start the season a little higher than 8, but Rockford returns only 1 starter on offense in wide receiver Austin McKellar who played quarterback at the start of last season due to injuries. The defense does return a pair of outstanding linebackers both entering their 3rd year starting on varsity in Brent Showers and Randy Garvin. Rockford opens at Utica Eisenhower in a game that was originally scheduled for Ford Field but later moved to Eisenhower High School. The Rams will also play at Muskegon before OK Red play begins.
9 – Portage Central
The Mustangs finished 2012 at 7-4 with 2 losses by a single point. This season they return almost their entire offense which was very good last season. They do need to replace leading rusher Dejuan James and left tackle Nate Jeppesen who is now at Toledo. The defense isn’t quite as experienced but does return some solid players led by Matt Capasso. Central starts division play in the SMAC with Mattawan (week 3), Lakeshore (week 4) and Portage Northern (week 5), we’ll know by the end of September if they are East division champs.
10 – East Grand Rapids
Last season the Pioneers missed the playoffs for the 1st time since 2000, I’ll be surprised if that isn’t just a 1 year hiatus. East returns quarterback Mikey Roth who saw a good deal of playing time last season as a sophomore, the offensive line also looks to be strong suit. Replacing star running back Jahaan Brown will be the biggest challenge for the Pioneers offense. Junior linebacker Carter Masek leads the defensive returners. East is playing the same non-conference schedule as a year ago, OK White play begins with conference favorites GR Christian (week 5) and Lowell (week 6).
There you have it, my top 10 teams before practice officially starts. Let the debate begin.