Editor’s note: With the high school football season set to kick off Thursday, our Frenzy team is looking at how the competition is shaping up.
This article examines the teams in the O-K Green: Hudsonville Unity Christian, Zeeland East, Zeeland West, Holland Christian, Hamilton, Byron Center and Holland.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Unity Christian football team enters the 2019 season in unfamiliar territory.
The Crusaders are the defending Division 5 state champions after trouncing Portland 42-7 in last year’s title game at Ford Field.
Despite finishing tied for third in the O-K Green, Unity went 12-2 overall to capture the first state title in the program’s 16-year history.
Isaac TeSlaa, a returning senior quarterback and defensive back, will lead the charge for the Crusaders, who lack size and depth with reduced numbers after graduation losses.
“We addressed that right away,” Unity coach Craig Tibbe said. “’Last year was last year and you guys have a new team now.’ We had a lot of learning to do and a lot of guys to replace, but the kids have been progressing.
“We started out with 20 kids, but the kids are starting to get the gist of things and feeling more comfortable. They are making the right decisions and learning fast.”
Also returning to help lead are Hayden Large (running back and linebacker), Jackson Bush (running back/defensive end) and Cam Andringa (offensive line and linebacker).
ZEELAND EAST CHIX
Zeeland East enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history last fall and hopes to build on that this season.
The Chix, coached by Derek Pennington, tied a school record for wins (11) and scored the second most points (506) in school history. They finished one win shy of their first state finals’ appearance after falling to Muskegon in the Division 3 state semifinals.
Several key starters graduated but the Chix return sophomore Tag Bonnema, a middle linebacker who recorded 84 tackles last season and has received Division I offers from Iowa and Western Michigan.
Bonnema or junior Ethan Houghtaling will replace standout Gabe Taylor as the team’s new signal caller, while Brendan Duneghy is a returning all-conference linebacker.
Playmakers include senior wide receivers Ryan Stockdale and Tommy Zegunis. The backfield will consist of Cebastin Hunderman and Adam Cassel.
ZEELAND WEST DUX
Zeeland West continued its unbridled program success last season and advanced to the postseason for the ninth consecutive season.
The Dux went 8-3 overall, and two of those losses came against rival Zeeland East. The Chix ended Zeeland West’s season in the district finals.
Junior Carson Gulker leads the Dux into a new season after setting a school record for passing yards in a season with more than 1,000.
Zeeland West’s ground game will be led by senior Chase Peddie and junior Terick DeYoung.
The Dux and coach John Shilito play Friday in their season opener against defending O-K Gold champion East Grand Rapids.
HOLLAND CHRISTIAN MAROONS
Holland Christian made a surprising run to the regional finals last season and finished 8-4 overall.
The Maroons made their first playoff appearance since 2012 and secured their first winning season in eight years.
They upset South Christian in the district finals before losing to eventual Division 4 state champion Edwardsburg.
Two-way player Zach Dokter will be one to watch along with running back Christian Conklin.
Trent Lamb will be the new starting quarterback for coach Chris Kuipers.
Hamilton will look to its past to help resurrect a program that has struggled through back-to-back losing seasons after a playoff appearance in 2016.
The Hawkeyes, who went 3-6 last season, will be guided this season by former player Phil Koops.
Hamilton, which opens against Godwin Heights, lacks depth this season due to a decline in numbers.
Seniors Riley Tolsma, a linebacker, and Trent Davis, a center, are returning standouts for the Hawkeyes.
BYRON CENTER BULLDOGS
Byron Center and coach Marc Cisco went 3-6 overall and 2-4 in conference play a year ago.
It was the Bulldogs’ second consecutive losing season after four straight playoff berths from 2013-16. They won 10 games and reached the regional finals in 2016.
Byron Center has a roster loaded with juniors to go along with 15 seniors. Junior running back Mason Breit was an all-conference honorable mention selection last season, while senior Austin VanderMarkt is expected to return as starting quarterback.
Byron Center kicks off the season against Forest Hills Northern.
Other top returners include junior linebacker Austin Roon, who has an offer from Western Michigan, junior linemen Nolan Tagg and Connor Bovia, and senior defensive back Cam Schuelke.
Senior Brody Baker will join Breit in the backfield.
“We are fairly young in terms of our varsity experience,” Cisco said. “We only have 15 seniors on the roster, but a few have had great off-seasons that should translate into good fall results for them.”
“We had seven sophomores that saw varsity game action last year. We’re hoping that group, mixed with classmates from the JV team that went 8-1, can create quality depth,” he added.
Holland is turning to a former coach to help turn around a program that stumbled to a 2-7 mark last season
The Dutch opened at 2-0 before losing seven consecutive games to close the season.
Shawn McManus is back for his third stint as head coach. He led the 2011 team to a school record nine wins.
Key players include Zak Jones (defensive back/wide receiver), Nelson Figueroa (running back/linebacker) and Pehyton Woudenberg (running back/wide receiver/defensive back)
The offensive line includes returning starters Andrew Porretta and Evan Grose.