The prep football season kicks off Aug. 28 on fields across the state.
Here’s a look at your local squads, along with some thoughts from the coaches regarding what they hope will make this a season to remember.
The opening game for each squad is also listed. For a look at every local team and their complete schedule, visit www.candgnews.com and click on the Sports tab.
Utica Eisenhower Eagles
Last season’s record: 5-4
League: Macomb Area
Conference Red Division
Returning starters: 17
Opening game: at Rockford, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
With 156 points points scored last year, an average of 17.3 per game, Eisenhower produced its lowest scoring output since 1997.
Nine starters return from that group, so the Eagles will look to take a big step forward offensively despite losing quarterback Dan Chmielewski.
“That’s a tough position to replace; he was a great athlete for us,” Eisenhower coach Chris Smith said. “We’re looking at a couple of guys. I think Jake Bradsher may be the guy that takes over at our quarterback position.”
Eisenhower’s offense will also be aided by new offensive coordinator John DiGiorgio, an Eisenhower graduate who played professionally for the Buffalo Bills.
“He’s already installed some great things. With the coaches, we can see where the offense is going to be a little more potent, so we’re hoping to move the ball a little better this year and score some points,” Smith said.
Wide receiver Logan Fredal will become Eisenhower’s first four-year varsity player in program history.
Eisenhower’s defense kept the Eagles close in many games last year, only giving up 16.6 points per game. The Eagles return seven starters on defense, including every defensive lineman and linebacker.
“When we lost games last year, it wasn’t because teams ran the ball on us. The front seven is full of seasoned, tough players, and that’s going to be the core of our team,” Smith said.
Three-year starters and captains Marc Szalkowski (defensive lineman), Chad Sherry (middle linebacker) and Collin Koscielniak (defensive end) will lead the defensive unit.
Preparing a new crop of starters in the secondary will be crucial for the Eagles, who take on several pass-happy teams in the MAC Red.
“The weakness in our defense is replacing all of our defensive backs. That’s a pretty big weakness in our league when you got Stevenson, who’s going to be throwing the ball all over, L’Anse Creuse North and Warren Mott, so we have to replace those guys and we have to do it quick with some good players,” Smith said.
Staying healthy and consistently improving throughout the fall will be Eisenhower’s biggest keys.
“It’s really simple: stay healthy and just try to compete every game and every practice,” Smith said. “If you can get better every practice and be focused on what goals you’re trying to achieve at that practice, then you’re going to get better throughout the week, and then the game will take care of itself. We just try to compete and be in the games at the end, and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Last season’s record: 4-5
League: Macomb Area Conference White Division
Returning starters: 12
Opening game: at Fraser, 7 p.m. Aug. 28
“It all starts up front,” Utica coach Tony Smith said while discussing his offense’s prospects for this fall.
Utica returns four starters on the offensive line, including two juniors who started last year.
“We have good size up front; it’s the first time as a head coach that we’ve had that kind of size. We have another kid that’s going to play that fifth spot that played on the offensive live last year, as well,” Smith said.
That line will open up holes for junior running back Kumehnnu Gwilly, who rushed for 750 yards in his first year of playing organized football. Gwilly was brought up to the varsity team in Week Four last season.
Tight end Will Young is the lone returner for the Utica passing game.
Junior Zach Grohman will start at quarterback, with Jason Grohman and Trevor Luzenski starting at wide receiver.
“The receiving core, I think we have some talented guys, but we’re all new out there. Last year we had four receivers out on that perimeter that were all capable of being really good football players, and they had really good seasons,” Smith said.
With a new quarterback, Smith said it will be up to the coaches to make sure the passing game progresses throughout the year.
“It’s going to be growing pains at times, but it’s our job as a coaching staff to put him in positions to have success, and that’s what we aim to do.”
Four returning starters on the defensive line should help mask five new starters in the back seven of Utica’s defense.
Defensive ends Dylan Demo and Will Young, along with middle linebacker Michael Maday, anchor a defensive unit that gave up 22 points per game last year.
“As we go towards the season, our goal is to stop the run on defense and to run the ball on offense, and that’s what our focus is going to be,” Smith said.
Austin Kowalczyk and Josh Yeager will play at the defensive tackle positions, while Gwilly will start at safety and Jason Grohman is a returning starter at cornerback.
As with most teams, staying healthy will be key for Utica.
“The key to our success is we have to stay healthy. We just don’t have a lot of experience coming back in key backup positions, so we just have to hope to stay healthy,” Smith said.
“If those guys stay healthy and have very good years, then I think we’ll be very competitive in the MAC White. I think we’ll be competitive every Friday night, and I think we’ll be in position to win games.”
Utica played in several one-possession games last year, and Smith hopes that improving in the turnover battle will help swing more of those close contests the Chieftains’ way.
— Thomas Franz