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 Red conference: East Kentwood, Rockford, Hudsonville, West Ottawa, Grandville, Grand Haven and Caledonia.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After missing the postseason in back-to-back years, East Kentwood made a triumphant turnaround last season en route to winning the outright O-K Red conference championship.
The Falcons went unblemished in a competitive conference and reeled off nine consecutive wins after a season-opening loss to Division 2 state runner-up Mona Shores. East Kentwood’s season ended with a 42-7 loss to Saline in the district finals.
“It’s always good to win a conference championship, but you have to move on from that,” Falcons coach Tony Kimbrough said. “We were hungry last year and to do what we did was awesome, but we can’t live on that.
“Everybody is going to be coming after us because you have a target on your back so we have to play our best ball week in and week out.”
The Falcons graduated several talented players, including a trio currently in the Big Ten, but return a pair of Division I commits in senior offensive lineman Dallas Fincher (Michigan State) and senior defensive lineman Bryce Mostella (Penn State). Defensive linemen James Mackey and Anthony Brown also are expected to have big seasons.
“I’m not worried about those two (Fincher and Mostella) because they are going to be good for us and do some great things,” Kimbrough said. “We have some other guys that have been under the radar and I’m excited to see them play.”
A transfer from Virginia, defensive back/wide receiver Willie Berris, will be a key addition on both sides of the ball, while Christian Tanner will take over the quarterback duties.
“We will be pretty solid on both lines, but I’m worried about our inexperience at linebacker and we have some guys starting for the first time,” Kimbrough said. “We have some juniors from last year that have to step up.”
Perennial powerhouse Rockford overcame a 1-3 start to make a late charge and qualify for the postseason for the 24th consecutive season. The Rams reached the regional finals before falling to Saline, 13-12.
The Rams return three starters on defense and six on offense. Junior quarterback Chris Corey is back, as well as standout wide receiver Eli Haddad. The backfield will consist of seniors Jaiden Friesen and Bradley Rohen-Blanton.
Longtime head coach Ralph Munger underwent open heart surgery before the start of the season and longtime assistant Randy VanderVeen is filling in until he returns.
“He’s still with us and his message was to be Rockford,” VanderVeen said. “We’ve been together for a long time and I think it’s about maintaining his voice. He wants things done correctly and he’s done an incredible job with this program.”
Munger is in his 40th year of coaching.
The Rams open against defending O-K Gold co-champ Grand Rapids Christian Thursday.
Hudsonville was one of the most improved teams in the area last year as Brent Sandee’s first year as head coach proved to be a success.
The Eagles went 7-4 and won their first playoff game since 2015. Their season ended in the district finals against O-K Red rival Rockford, 24-21.
Hudsonville believes it can continue its winning ways in 2019 with a majority of its offensive line back and the addition of transfer Carter DeGraff. Other key returners to the line include Hayden Willis, Sam Walters, Ryan Kavaluskis and Owen Boonie.
Sandee also will look to three-year starter Brandon Vredeveld, Brennan Hayes, Josh Hoekstra and Bryce Ouding to make an impact.
WEST OTTAWA PANTHERS
West Ottawa, conference champs in 2017, returned to the postseason last season and went 6-4 overall. The Panthers lost to Hudsonville, 49-42, in the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Ryan Oshnock’s team will be young, but motivated to compete for another conference crown.
An experienced offensive line should help first-year starting quarterback Jake Zimmer. The junior replaces three-year starter Isaac VanDyke. Junior Blake Bosma is a big-play receiver, while senior captain Davon Phetthongdy is the lone returning starter on defense.
Grandville and coach Eric Stiegel hope to return to form after suffering their first losing season since 2013.
The Bulldogs, who shared the conference title in 2015 and 2016, went 4-5 last season with three losses coming by a combined 13 points.
Cam Terry will lead the rushing attack. The junior standout rushed for more than 1,200 yards last season.
Grandville has a talented core of juniors, including Caden Peters, Drew Betteridge and Tommy Gregwer, to complement the returning seniors.
Senior Jaydon VanDuesen will move from defensive back to starting quarterback, while returning linemen include Max Mingee and Connor Rigerink.
GRAND HAVEN BUCCANEERS
Grand Haven is searching for redemption after a seventh straight losing season in 2018.
The Buccaneers went 3-6, an improvement over their one-win campaign in 2017, but was winless in conference play.
Grand Haven, coached by Joe Nelson, will be bolstered by the return of several starters on both sides of the ball as well as senior leadership. The Buccaneers return nine on offense and nine on defense.
Returning senior Connor Worthington will anchor the defensive line, while senior Owen Krizan will be the team’s top running back.
CALEDONIA FIGHTING SCOTS
Caledonia struggled to its worst season since 1991, going 2-7 overall, and gave up the most points (327) in school history.
The Fighting Scots will be led by senior quarterback Jax Kinninger and senior running back/defensive end Marcus Joplin-Pinero.
Seniors Jack Snider and Jerry Manfield also will be key contributors for head coach Tom Burrill.