Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Sports

Football Season Preview

By Jason Wesseldyk
Sports Editor

Last season, Martin claimed the 8-Player Division 1 state championship thanks to a 74-24 win over Merrill in the title game.
What’s the Clippers plan for an encore this season?
Duplicate that feat, of course.
“Our lone goal is to repeat as state champions,” said Martin coach Brad Blauvelt, who enters the season at 46-9 in his five seasons at the helm for the Clippers.
“Our expectations are just as high as they were last year and we have the pieces to repeat as champions. Now that we’ve tasted that championship, we want nothing more than to get back to the Superior Dome and have that same experience.”
Not that he expects doing so to be an easy task.
“Last year, we had the toughest strength of schedule in all of 8-Player football by a lot,” he said. “This year will look very close to that. Starting the year with Colon, which is coming off a 10-1 season and has a strong tradition, is just the start. We also play NorthPoint Christian, Bridgman, Fennville and Maple Valley, all schools that are too big to qualify for the playoffs but give us some of the best competition of the year.
“We must peak at the end of season and throughout the playoffs.”
In addition to that tough schedule, filling the void left by the loss of some key players to graduation—including QB/LB JR Hildebrand—will also be a challenge for the Clippers.
“Gavin started at cornerback in the championship game and happened to intercept three passes during that game,” Blauvelt said. “Football runs deep in that family. Gavin’s brother Gabe played QB for us three years ago and is now a starter at Kalamazoo College.”
The return of the entire offensive line—led by seniors Jackson and Bryce Robinson along with junior Carson Cameruci—should help Meyers.
“Our up-front play should be very good this season,” Blauvelt said.
Defensively, Blauvelt thinks the Clippers have the potential to be even better than last season.
“This year’s defensive group is fast,” he said. “Every position can run and run fast. We will look to play a physical brand of defense. The Robinson twins lead that charge up front.
“Sophomore Haylen Buell, an All-State wrestler, will be a kid to keep an eye on. He played significant minutes during last year’s championship game as a freshman. Senior Abe Dykstra will also be a big component to our success as team captain.
Senior slot/DB Taegan Harris and senior DL/C Ben Jager also return.
“We have to stay healthy,” Blauvelt said. “We aren’t as deep as we were last year. That will be a big key to this year’s outcome.”

That’s what Allegan coach Tony Danzig saw from his team last season, as the three wins amassed by the Tigers represented the program’s most victories since 2011.
And with 11 returning starters on the roster, Danzig is hopeful that the upward trend Allegan enjoyed last season will continue.
“We are senior loaded with all of our returning starters, meaning we are a veteran team,” Danzig said. “We also have some talented newcomers. With that combination of veterans and newcomers, it looks to be a great season.”
WR/DB Brayden Schafer and RB/DB Dom Bury lead the senior contingent after garnering All-Conference honors in the SAC last season.
Classmate Luke Ellis (QB/DB) returns as his third season as a two-way starter.
Other returning senior starters are WR/DB Alex Davis, OL/DL Miguel Perez, OL/DL Carson Wagner, OL/DL Peyton Keilman, OL/DL James Milbocker and TE/DE Chris Smith.
Junior FB/LB Cade Fulton and sophomore OT/DL Sullivan Garvin are also back after starting last season.
With that group leading the way, Danzig has high hopes for the 2023 campaign.
“Our goals are to represent the Allegan community to the best of our ability,” he said. “We also want to contend for the conference title and qualify for the MHSAA playoffs.”
And it’s not just the varsity roster that has Danzig excited.
Rather, the size of the JV squad also brings a smile to his face.
“For the first time in 10 years we have 30-plus players on the JV team,” Danzig said. “Allegan football numbers are growing and we’re ready to compete.”
As he did last season, Danzig plans to take advantage of the MHSAA’s fifth-quarter rule that allows younger players to get playing time at both the sub-varsity and varsity level.
“The fifth quarter rule will definitely help us identify the younger players who can contribute on varsity this year,” he said.

That’s what Wendell Hughes, Sr. hopes to bring to the Fennville football program.
“I am the seventh hire in the last eight years here,” Hughes said. “I want to bring consistency and a sense of pride to the program. I am not looking at this as a steppingstone; this is my last coaching stop. Good Lord willing, I will be leading the Blackhawks for many years to come.”
Hughes comes from a winning culture, having spent the past 12 years of his 23-year coaching career as the JV coach in Centreville. He was part of a coaching staff that helped guide Centreville’s varsity team to the playoffs the past five years, including a state title in 2020.
“In Centreville, I was blessed to be part of a coaching staff that turned around a program and created a winning culture that was built from the ground up over time,” Hughes said. “So, I know what it takes to do it. 
“We are very young, but I expect us to compete. Our upperclassmen are few, but we have strong leadership that I think will bode well in developing a winning mindset.”
Those upperclassmen include the returning senior trio of OL/DL Jacob Williams, FB/DB Aiden Swingle and WB/DB Devohn Calhoun. Juniors Quinn Rosema (QB/DB) and Ashton Vogel OL/DL) also return.
“My goal is to build a competitive culture where the student-athletes are proud to be Blackhawks,” Hughes said. “We are doing things the right way and it will take time to build it.
“Our primary area of strength is the leadership our captains bring to the huddle and our skill positions. Our quarterback is a perfect match for our flex-bone offense.”
Hughes knows his team will face its share of challenges throughout the season as it navigates the tough Southwestern Michigan 8-Man Football League schedule.
“I believe we are in the toughest 8-man conference in the state,” Hughes said. “Top contenders include Martin, Bridgman and Northpointe Christian. Martin was last year’s state title winner, only losing to Northpointe and Bridgman, who were both undefeated.”

It’s been said that you can’t teach speed.
You can, however, enhance it and optimize it.
And that’s exactly what Hamilton coach Phil Koops believes several players on his team have done.
“We are a lot faster than in years past,” Koops said. “A bunch of our players ran track last spring and it’s really showing up in our team speed.”
One player who excelled in track was senior Ben Boehm.
After racking up 935 yards from his running back position last season, Boehm will be expected to help carry much of the offensive load for the Hawkeyes.
Slot receivers/wing backs Lincoln Philips (a junior) and Keaton Haverdink (a senior) should also be weapons offensively.
Senior JT Mcilwain enters the season as the starting quarterback after playing receiver and safety a season ago.
“We feel like we could be much improved from last year,” Koops said “We just want to be the best version of ourselves. Last year we got too much into looking at certain opponents and it hurt us.”
Top newcomers include juniors Jeren Bronkhorst (H-back/ILB) and Brooks Hawkins (RB/ILB).
Hamilton hopes to improve on the 2-7 mark it earned last season. To do so, the Hawkeyes will have to compete at a high level in the always-tough OK Green Conference.
“Unity Christian, West Catholic and Coopersville should all be very good,” Koops said. “Allendale will be better, Holland Christian is excited about their new coach, Fruitport is the defending conference champion and Spring Lake found their stride late last year. 
“Overall, it’s a very tough league.”

The 2022 season was one of streaks for Hopkins.
After a season-opening loss to Wayland, the Vikings put together a five-game winning streak that was punctuated by a 35-0 victory over Calvin Christian in Week 6.
But Hopkins ended the season on a four-game losing streak, culminating with 34-27 loss to Berrien Springs in the opening round of Division 5 playoff action.
According to Hopkins coach Cody Francis, a multitude of injuries was the main culprit in the losses to end the season.
“Those injuries affected us both physically and mentally,” said Francis, who has six OK Silver championships and nine playoff appearances in his first 11 seasons as the Vikings head coach.
Francis is hoping his team is able to stay healthier this season.
“Our biggest concern is staying healthy during our tough start of the season with our first three games,” he said. “We have great numbers at both levels and we need to find our playmakers on the field.”
Among those potential playmakers are returning seniors Colton Kennedy (QB/LB), Grant DeHaan (RB/DB) and Landen Klinge (RB/DB).
Fellow senior Connor Ainsworth (OL/LB) and junior OL/DL Avery Pavlak also return.
“We are young, but have a core group that has set the tone that we will be competitive in every situation on and off this season,” Francis said. “They have asked to be pushed and challenged, which is exciting as a coaching staff.”
Newcomers who could make an impact include the senior duo of Luke Conklin (OL/DL) and Owen Jackson (RB/DB) along with the junior tandem of Milo Brown (OL/LB) and Owen Reed (OL/DL).
Hopkins finished 4-1 in the OK Silver last season.
“Belding and Sparta are always tough games with big consequences for the conference,” Francis said. “We need to step up and be ready for all of our conference games to stay at the top of the OK Silver Division.”

After 16 years on the sidelines for Otsego, John Kubiak decided to resign as head coach for the Bulldogs following the 2022 season in order to focus on his role as the school’s athletic director.
His replacement is Scott McDougall, who comes to Otsego following one season as head coach in Elkhart, Ind.
In addition to his time in Elkhart, McDougall also has collegiate coaching experience at Ferris State University and Northern Michigan University.
He inherits a team that went 0-9 a season ago and enters the season on a 14-game losing skid.
Not that McDougall cares much about the past.
“We’re just focused on playing our best football each and every week,” he said.
The return of senior quarterback Jack Holmes should help the Bulldogs’ chances, as should the group providing protection for Holmes.
“Our offensive line and having Jack at quarterback are two of our strengths this season,” McDougall said.
That offensive line includes returning seniors Ben Ernstes, Zachary Spence, Brennon Syers and James VanDyke. Fellow senior Blake Wilson would have also helped solidify the line, but will miss at least the start of the season with an injury.
Other returning seniors are Brendon Bohl (DB), Gabe Cavazos (DL/WR), Chad Goodrich (DB), Austin Quakenbush (DB/WR), Alex Raseman (RB/LB) and Nolan VanderRoest (WR/LB). Junior WR/DB Louis DiGrandi is also back.
Newcomers who could help the Bulldogs’ fortunes include senior Blake Marks (WR/DB), junior Ryan Cockerel (WR/DB), junior Ken Pomeroy (WR/DB) and junior Carson Arlington (OL/DL).
“Our goal this season is to be the best version of the 2023 Otsego football team that we can be,” McDougall said.

Last season, Brian Huberty led Parchment to a 5-3 record during his stint as interim head coach.
This year, Huberty is returning home to Plainwell after spending several seasons as an assistant coach for the Trojans.
He takes over for Chris Taylor, who guided Plainwell to a 4-5 record a season ago.
“We want to focus on us and the process,” Huberty said. “I believe that our team can be successfully competitive in our conference if we are able to stay focused and hungry. We have a great group of coaches and young men, and I am excited to see what the season has in store for us.”
That group of young men includes 16 returning letter winners, 14 of whom are seniors.
That seniors contingent is: Michael Gonyeau (WR/DB), Jaxson Miller (OL/DL), Thomas Gradwell (WB/DB), Cody Williams (TE/LB), Noah Smith (TE/LB), Landon DeVaney (QB/DB), Ryan McDaniel (RB/LB), Jack Bliss (RB/LB), Nikolas Anastasi (WR/DB), Brayden Connor (WR/DB), Landen Shannon (OL/LB), Owen Lemmer (OL/DL), Skylur Powell (OL/DL) and Noah Miller (TE/LB).
“We have a strong group of seniors who have really dedicated themselves this summer in the weight room,” Huberty said. “It is exciting to see our kids start to embrace the culture that I am looking to establish here at Plainwell.”
Junior OL/DL Healy Easton and Adin Young round out the list of returning letter winners.
“We have a great combination of athleticism and strength,” Huberty said. “We will need to use that to our advantage on Friday nights.  We are not the largest of teams nor do we have a ton of depth, so we will have to be well conditioned and stay healthy.”
When it comes to the Wolverine Conference, Huberty said there is an element of the unknown.
“With a lot of new coaches in the league, it really is hard to gauge the conference,” he said. “But I think the teams that have been perennial leaders in the league will continue to do so.”

The 2022 season included its share of challenges for the Saugatuck football team, which finished with a 3-6 record that included two forfeit losses due to injuries.
Longtime Saugatuck coach Bill Dunn believes those struggles will only make the Trailblazers better this season.
Yes, we had losing season a year ago,” he said. “But the young guys gained invaluable varsity-level experience and will have lots of confidence going into game one this season.”
The returning players include seniors Brad Moorer (RB/DB), Matt Hartgerink (QB/DB), Will Doucette (FB/DL), Landon Miller (RB/LB), Noah Lankheet-Rathbun (OL/DL), Shree Patel (OL/DL) and Luke Barde (OL/DL).
Juniors Cass Stanberry (TE/LB), Cam Lewis (kicker/punter), Norm Bos (TE/DB), Jaxon Green (RB/DB), Noah Morgan-Lara (OL/DB), Chris Foley (OL/LB), Mason Rehkopf (OL/DL), Brighton VanHorn (OL/DL) and Carter Miller (TE/DL) also return, as does sophomore Jordan Hoshor (OL/DL).
“We have lots of returning starters from a year ago, which provides us with valuable varsity experience,” Dunn said. “We have a nice blend of size and speed on both sides of the ball. And the kids have put the work in during the off-season in the weight room and have made great improvements in their size and strength.”
Senior RB/DB Luke Mattson, an exchange student form New Zeeland, will add a level of toughness given his rugby background.
“I like our team,” Dunn said. “I like their spirit. I like their strength and speed. I like our level of experience. I like their work ethic.”
Despite all the good things he sees in his team, Dunn doesn’t expect perfection.
“We’re still a young team overall, and we will make mistakes,” he said. “But, this year, those young guys will have more confidence in their strength and ability to overcome those mistakes and make plays.”
Dunn, who enters his 21st season at the helm in Saugatuck with a record of 126-74, expects Lawton, Schoolcraft and Delton to be among the top threats in conference play.
“The goal is to practice and work hard physically and mentally,” Dunn said. “If we do that, then good things will happen.
“And as with any small school, we need to stay healthy in order to be competitive week to week. That will be the key to our success.”

Senior RB/OLB Cam Bogart is back for his fourth season as a starter at the varsity level for Wayland. Classmates Bryce Calkins (TE/FB/LB), Noah DeHaan (OL/DL) and Mekenton Wilson (OL/DL) are back for their third seasons as varsity starters.
It’s that group that Wayland coach Tim Gibson is counting on to help lead the Wildcats as they strive to improve upon last year’s 4-5 record.
“We have high expectations for this group,” Gibson said. “Several of the guys are entering their third year as varsity football players.”
Other returning seniors are: Brady Cassini (QB/DB), Kaharrie Pureifoy (RB/DB), David Harter (OL/DL), Dawson Wolowicz (OL/DL), Cam Mulder (LB/TE), Peyton Moore (WR/DB), Eugene Wierckz (RB/DB), Craig Dermody (OL/DL), Colbey Jones (OL/DL), Lucas Varnagatas (RB/DB) and Carter Nesbit (RB/DB).
“Our success is dependent upon our seniors taking ownership of our 2023 team and those assuming larger roles taking the next step in their development,” Gibson said.
Juniors Trent Sikkema (TE/LB), Hudson Biondo (RB/DB) and Carson Reurink (QB/OLB) join the aforementioned seniors as returning letter winners.
“Our skilled position players are dynamic and give us the big play potential we’ve been lacking in the past at those particular positions,” Gibson said. “We return several at key positions, including linebacker, running back, offensive and defensive lines.”
It’s a team that has the potential to finish near the top of the OK Gold standings, according to Gibson.
“We are hoping to push our way into the top tier of our conference and believe we have the ability to do so,” he said.

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