Seven area teams reached the Michigan high school football playoffs last season, with Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central using a simple but highly effective running attack to advance to the Division 6 state semifinals under coach Jack Giarmo.
Erie Mason reached the D-5 state quarterfinals before suffering its first loss.
Here is a look at area Michigan teams:
Coach: Phil Jacobs, first year
Last season: 10-1, 7-0 in Southeast Conference
Returning letter winners: 16
Returning starters: offense 1, defense 1
Schemes: Spread/4-3 and 4-4
Top players: Seniors Toff Meyers, 6-0, 170, SE/FS; Donte Howard, 5-8, 150, RB/CB; Ronald Tindall, 5-10, 200, FB/NG; Ryan Graham, 6-0, 205, G/DE; Euseblo Varo, 5-10, 215, LB; Jacob DeRoeck, 6-7, 200, SE/DE.
Outlook: Coach Bill Kohn departs after seven seasons, including two unbeaten regular seasons and last year's advancement to the second round of the Division 2 playoffs. Longtime assistant Jacobs, the defensive coordinator for six years, inherits a very inexperienced team, but the roster numbers are great with 90 players in grades 10-12.
Although this is one of Adrian's smallest squads, physically, team speed is good, especially at the skilled positions. Sophomore QB Steven Threet is promising, but overall inexperience leaves many questions to be answered.
"We have high expectations, no question," Jacobs said. "We'd like to get back to the playoffs, and I think we can. We'd like to compete for the league, but Ann Arbor Pioneer is pretty good and they have everybody back."
Coach: Craig Trychel, fourth year
Last season: 2-7, 2-4 in Southeast Conference
Returning letter winners: 20
Returning starters: offense 3, defense 5
Top players: Seniors Brandon Jackson, 5-8, 212, QB; Dakota Cousineau, 5-10, 143, RB; Jim Simpson, 6-2, 201, FB/DB; Bryan Strouse, 6-1, 161, WR/DB; Mike Walling, 6-0, 256, OT/DT.
Outlook: The Mules hope to bounce back to winning form (they were 5-4 in 2002), but will start off at a disadvantage with five would-be starters serving two-game suspensions to start the season.
Size on the offensive line is good, team speed has improved, the Mules are physically stronger than 2003, and the skilled-position players are solid. Simpson rushed for 400-plus yards last year. On the flip side, Trychel sees an inexperienced squad overall, particularly on defense, hindered further by the suspensions, and has no game-breaking threat on offense.
"If we don't make a lot of mistakes there's no reason we shouldn't be competitive with everybody we play," said Trychel, whose team must overcome SC favorites Ann Arbor Pioneer, Saline and Adrian to win a title.
Coach: Ron Estes, third year
Last season: 8-3, 4-2 in LCAA
Returning letter winners: 14
Returning starters: offense 5, defense 4
Top players: Seniors Chris Saylor, 6-1, 170, QB; Justin Wilson, 5-11, 180, RB/S; Neal Sheldon, 6-1, 180, WB/LB; Josh Johns, 6-1, 180, LB; Nate Raburn, 5-10, 170, DB; Ray Stange, 5-11, 195, G/LB. Junior Dustin Gardner, 5-8, 175, 5-8, 175, RB.
Outlook: Estes, who inherited a long losing streak two years ago, hopes to continue an uphill climb that put the Royals into the playoffs last season.
Depth, team speed and overall experience are good. Size is down, and the Royals, who reached the second round of the D-6 playoffs, must replace their front six offensively. Wilson and Gardner each rushed for over 900 yards in 2003, and Johns was one of team's top tacklers.
"We expect to be good and to compete, even though we lost a lot up front," Estes said. "The key will be getting off to a good start. We play Hudson in week three, and they are loaded. We need to grow up quick."
Blissfield should challenge favorite Hudson, a defending state runner-up, for the Lenawee County Athletic Association title, along with Erie Mason, Ida and Onsted.
Coach: Chris Etts, second year
Last season: 3-6, 3-4 in TCC
Returning letter winners:16
Returning starters: offense 4, defense 7
Schemes: Hybrid West Coast with Wing-T and option/4-3
Top players: Seniors Jeremias Miller, 5-6, 170, TB/LB; Kyle Moss, 6-0, 195, G/LB; Justin Preece, 5-11, 170, QB/S; Ben Piotter, 6-1, 320, G/DT; Andrew Jeffery, 6-1, 180, TE/LB; Robbie Hannah, 5-8, 130, FL/S.
Outlook: The team with no nickname, B-D is in its 12th season combining Britton-Macon and Deerfield high schools into one football team. Etts looks for improvement via a solid running game, good team speed and better special-teams play. With just 33 players total in grades 10-12, however, depth may be a problem, along with an inexperienced, all-new offensive line. Miller ran for around 700 yards last year and made 87 tackles at LB.
What will it take for B-D to compete with favorites Morenci, Sand Creek, Whitmore-Lake and Whiteford for the Tri-County Conference title?
"We need to control the football and dictate the pace with our running game,'' Etts said. "I think it's going to be tough for any [TCC] team to beat Morenci.''
Coach: Ryan Irwin, first year
Last season: 2-7, 0-6 in LCAA
Returning letter winners: 9
Returning starters: offense 7, defense 6
Top players: Seniors Adam MacIver, 6-0, 200, G/DE; Zach York, 5-10, 205, G/LB; Jake Costello, 5-10, 175, RB/LB; Troy White, 5-10, 170, QB/DB; Jon Griggs, 6-2, 240, OT/DT. Junior Joe Vella, 6-3, 200, TE/DE.
Outlook: The Vikings adjust to a new head coach and a new offense, switching from the veer. Overall numbers aren't great, and overall experience is thin. But Irwin, a Monroe High grad who was 6-21 in three years as head coach at Vandercook Lake, remains optimistic because of solid senior leadership, a deep backfield and good-sized lines. A lack of overall depth is the chief concern.
"I think we've got a good enough group of competitive seniors that we should be in every game," Irwin said. "We'll try to get to the fourth quarter close and see how it goes. If we stay healthy we should be over .500."
Coach: Don Lessner, first year
Last season: 12-1, 6-0 in LCAA
Returning letter winners: 15
Returning starters: offense 2, defense 2
Schemes: Multiple pro sets/5-2
Top players: Seniors Aaron Roelfs, 6-4, 195, QB/S; Nick Owens, 6-2, 209, TE/LB; Dewey Russeau, 5-11, 168, LB; Shawn Bates, 6-1, 165, S; Ben Horvath, 5-10, 153, DB; Charles Krawetzke, 6-2, 221, DT.
Outlook: In the midst of one of the best football periods in school history, the Eagles replace one veteran head coach with another. John Wachsmuth retired and moved back to Texas, and Lessner, the head coach for 35 seasons (223-104-1, 1967-2001) at Riverview, steps in.
He inherits just two starters on each side of the ball, but one of them is Roelfs, a third-year QB starter who passed for 19 TDs last year. Owens is also a veteran of Eagle teams that went 11-1 and 12-1 the past two years, reaching the D-5 state semifinals last year.Team speed and overall depth are good, but inexperience, especially on both lines, may be a problem.
"We hope these [new] kids come around because they have a golden opportunity for playing time," Lessner said. "We'll know a lot more after a couple weeks."
Coach: Tom Walentowski, 13th year
Last season: 7-3, 4-2 in LCAA
Returning letter winners: 13
Returning starters: offense 2, defense 4
Top players: Seniors Chris Roach, 5-11, 175, FB/DT; Corey Setzler, 5-9, 165, WB/FS; Kyle Roebuck, 5-11, 190, OT/NG; Joel Gerweck, 5-11, 205, C/DT; Charlie Keesee, 6-2, 210, OT/DL; Jim Beach, 6-1, 175, TE/LB.
Outlook: The Streaks have good quickness in the backfield and on defense, but depth is a problem and inexperience leaves plenty of question marks early. Roach is the top returning rusher, with 600-plus yards in 2003.
Will they compete for the LCAA title or get back to the D-5 playoffs?
"It just depends on how quick our younger, inexperienced kids develop," said Walentowski, whose team reached the playoffs for the first time since 1990. "They all worked hard in the offseason, so we'll see what happens."
Coach: Greg Hudkins, first year
Last season: 3-6, 1-4 MMC Red Division
Returning letter winners: 17
Returning starters: offense 4, defense 5
Schemes: Wing-T double slot/4-4
Top players: Seniors Kris Evans, 6-0, 170, RB/CB; Chuck Bowman, 6-0, 228, G/LB; J.P. Russeau, 6-0, 175, SE/FS; Chet Hesson, 5-10, 173, HB/CB; Mike Noel, 6-1, 275, OT/DT. Junior Jeff Maddux, 6-4, 285, OT/DT.
Outlook: The Trojans are adjusting to a slight change in the offseason with Hudkins, a 1987 Monroe grad who was an assistant for nine years here before becoming head coach five seasons at Livonia Clarenceville.
The new coach likes his team's overall speed, physical presence and aggressiveness on defense. His concerns are an overall lack of experience, combined with the conversion to a new system. He looks to recapture the winning attitude established during former head coach Ralph Carducci's tenure, when the Trojans were playoff regulars.
"We think we can make something happen if we stay healthy and grow as a team," Hudkins said. "We're looking to finish near the top of the league and get into the playoffs. We just have to get everybody on the same page."
Michigan Mega Conference Red Division favorites include defending Division 3 state runner-up Allen Park, Dearborn Fordson and Bellville.
Coach: Marc Cisco, 39th year
Last season: 7-3, 6-1 Huron League
Returning letter winners: 12
Returning starters: offense 6, defense 6
Top players: Seniors Ryan Richardville, 6-1, 203, RB/DB; Angelo Eppler, 5-7, 175, RB/LB; Kyle Hall, 5-11, 175, SE/DE; Ray Rochleau, 6-8, 187, OT/DT; Kelly Kohler, 6-2, 187, QB/DB; Bryan Phinezy, 5-9, 230, OL/DL.
Outlook: The Bears' roster numbers are down a bit, but they return five two-way starters from a D-3 playoff team, so the experience is good. The skilled positions are well stocked with quickness, and the interior lineman bring experience. Depth and a revamped secondary are concerns.
"I'd like to think we'll compete for the league title," Cisco said. "That's what we're out here for. If everything goes OK, I think we can be in that fight. The keys are staying healthy and developing a total defense."
Coach: Jack Giarmo, seventh year
Last season: 10-3, 5-2 Huron League
Returning letter winners: 20
Returning starters: offense 6, defense 6
Top players: Seniors Kris Fanslaw, 6-1, 170, QB; Nathan Roelant, 6-3, 210, TE/DE; Mike Mueller, 5-10, 170, LB; Nick Jordan, 6-1, 195, DB; Eric Wickenheiser, 5-11, 180, LB; John Carter, 6-1, 240, OT.
Outlook: St. Mary Catholic Central looks to recapture the form that took it to the D-6 state playoff semifinals last year, and Giarmo is optimistic when he sees his team's experience, depth, improved physical strength and overall size. His main concern is improving the passing game to help complement an effective run-heavy attack. Fanslaw rushed for over 700 yards, and Jordan was the top tackler with 120.
"We're optimistic," Giarmo said. "We hope to compete with the teams at the top of the Huron League, but we're focusing on not looking ahead more than the next game."
Coach: Mike Williams, 11th year
Last season: 1-8, 0-6 in TCC
Returning letter winners: 7
Returning starters: offense 3, defense 4
Top players: Seniors Chad Keeton, 5-11, 265, G/DE; Matt Jambor, 5-10, 160, HB/LB; Eric Downing, 6-4, 200, OT/DE. Juniors Nick Walters, 5-10, 170, QB/DB; Rusty Willard, 6-1, 215, FB/LB; Jamie Schulte, 6-0, 225, G/LB.
Outlook: Williams sees good defensive potential led by a good group of linebackers and defensive backs, but feels his team really needs to pick things up offensively. A lack of depth and experience, especially on the offensive line, are other concerns. Williams feels a good early start is must to help shake the negative mental effects of four consecutive 1-8 seasons.
"I like the way we scrimmaged, but [with just 20 varsity players] we need to stay away from injuries, and get some [injured] people back," Williams said. "We need to be good on defense because we've given up a lot of points in recent years."
Coach: Jack Luettke, 24th year
Last season: 6-4, 3-3 in TCC
Returning letter winners: 14
Returning starters: offense 7, defense 7
Schemes: Veer option/5-2 and 4-3
Top players: Seniors Jake Gust, 6-3, 220, TE/DT; Ken Worden, 5-9, 190, RB/LB; Shane Kellerbauer, 6-1, 200, OT/DE; Jed Bunge, 5-10, 145, QB/DB. Juniors Chris Wohlfarth, 6-2, 240, C/DT; Chuck Tabbert, 6-0, 190, G/DE.
Outlook: Luettke is high on his team's depth on both lines, their experience at running back, and their overall experience and team speed. His top concerns include an inexperienced secondary and a lack of consistency.
The Bobcats had star running back/linebacker Nick Wohlfarth for only four games last season before he reinjured his knee. In those four games he rushed for 1,000 yards and 17 TDs. Whiteford was a drastically different team without him, but still managed to reach the D-8 plaoffs.
"We feel we'll easily be in the mix at the top of the league, if the guys work hard," Luettke said.
Luettke sees defending champion Morenci, Sand Creek, and Whitmore Lake as the Bobcats' biggest obstacles in the Tri-County Conference race.