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 Gold: Grand Rapids Christian, East Grand Rapids, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg, South Christian, Forest Hills Eastern, Wayland and Wyoming.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Christian coach Don Fellows has had several talented teams during his tenure.
This one has the potential to eclipse them all.
The Eagles, who went 8-3 a year ago and shared the conference title with East Grand Rapids, return 17 starters.
Grand Rapids Christian has qualified for the postseason nine straight years and collected a state title in 2012.
“Expectations are so high that we need to get the kids relaxed and not push too hard because football is still fun,” Fellows said. “With all the experience we have back on offense, we are still going to take what the give us. I think we have one of the best running backs in the area, but we have to take what they give us and that takes discipline from our kids and coaches.”
The Eagles will benefit from the return of senior quarterback Eason Hardouin, who threw for 2,000 yards last season, and senior Thad Gamble, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Senior defensive end Terrell Givens is the team’s top defensive lineman. John Homes, a senior tight end and linebacker, had 60 tackles last season to help lead the Eagles and has committed to Brown University.
Grand Rapids Christian opens the new season against Rockford.
“We have our hands full,” Fellow said. “It will be an interesting match-up.”
EAST GRAND RAPIDS PIONEERS
The Pioneers won their second straight O-K Gold title a year ago, sharing it with Grand Rapids Christian.
East Grand Rapids has dominated the Gold under coach Casey Longo, going 17-1 with its only loss coming against the Eagles last year.
The Pioneers went 6-4 overall last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs (against Muskegon) for the second year in a row.
Running back John Shelton IV, a three-year varsity player, accounted for nearly 1,300 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He will run behind an experienced line that features Will Morent, Jack Backus and Kyle Kirk. Billie Bernecker is a returning defensive end.
East Grand Rapids boasts 27 seniors, and will look to either Robbie Stuursma or David Lime to handle the quarterback duties.
MIDDLEVILLE THORNAPPLE KELLOGG TROJANS
Middleville T-K is coming off the heels of its best season since 2010 and experienced one of the biggest turnarounds in the area.
The Trojans, under third-year head coach Jeff Dock, went 7-3 overall and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2010.
They had a combined five wins the last three years combined, including 2-7 the year prior, but shined behind a defense that allowed the fewest points in a season since 1996.
Middleville T-K started 5-0 and surrendered only 136 points in 10 games. Its season ended with a one-point loss to Battle Creek Central in the first round.
The Trojans have a number of players back at the skill positions, led by senior quarterback Gabe Nelson and junior wide receiver Cole Shoebridge. Other key returnees include senior fullback Brendan Hood, senior wide receiver Colson Brummel and linebacker Adam Bush.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN SAILORS
South Christian is hopeful for a return to the postseason with the hiring of former player and defensive coordinator Danny Brown.
The Sailors, who went 6-5 last year and lost to Holland Christian in district finals, has qualified for the postseason seven of the last eight years.
Brown, who replaced Mark Tamminga, is the third coach in school history.
“The transition has been great,” Brown said. “I had the winter to work with the kids in the weight room and jumped right in. Obviously I’ve coached most of the kids as the defensive coordinator.”
South Christian has a rich tradition, winning state titles in 2002, 2012 and 2014.
“It’s kind of business as usual,” Brown said. “We’ve obviously had a pretty good tradition at South so I’m not going to try and get away from the things that have made us successful. There’s a few little things that I do differently, but for the most part we’re sticking with the same model.”
South Christian returns five starters on offense, led by senior quarterback Chase Bradman, and two on defense.
Other returning players include seniors Ryan Dykstra (cornerback/wide receiver), John Kuipers (guard/nose tackle), Ethan Marsman (center/defensive tackle), Hudson Oetman (wide receiver) and Evan Roedema (safety/wide receiver). The junior class features Eli Smith (running back/spot), Connor Dykema (tight end/linebacker) and Sam Meengs (tight end/linebacker).
FOREST HILLS EASTERN HAWKS
Forest Hills Eastern looks to get back on track after stumbling to a 2-7 mark last year.
The Hawks won their season opener, but proceeded to drop six in a row and failed to make it to postseason play for the third straight season.
Former Belding coach Joe Schwander takes over the reins of the program and will rely on several key seniors. They include Luke Brenner, Joseph Doherty, Alex Smith, Gage Krueger, Austyn Adams and Joe Hoeks.
Wayland had a promising 3-0 start last season, which included an upset of South Christian. However, it lost five of its next six to close the regular season.
The Wildcats haven’t had a winning season since their last playoff berth in 2013.
The team entered training camp still mourning the loss of two-way lineman Ethan Mutschler, who was killed in a two-car crash in mid-July. He was supposed to begin his senior year this fall.
Wayland, led by head coach Mike Doupe, hopes to be competitive with a returning core consisting of seniors Riley Standish, Connor Henney and Will Reurink.
Wyoming is still in search of the program’s first playoff berth after a 2-7 campaign a year ago.
The Wolves, led by coach Irv Sigler Jr., managed only 132 points last year, but optimism has been created this season with five returning starters up front.
Senior Deion Parks is a three-year returning starter on the lines, while his brothers, Monte Parks and Marion Parks, also will play key roles. Demari Parks, Dale Cross and Kyle Ratliff also are expected to be main contributors.