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 Black conference: Muskegon, Mona Shores, Jenison, Reeths-Puffer, Kenowa Hills, Fruitport and Grand Rapids Union.
MUSKGEON, Mich. (WOOD) — When it comes to football in West Michigan, the name Muskegon is no stranger to anyone.
Over the last three seasons, the Big Reds have racked up a record of 39-3. It has traveled to Detroit for the state championship game at Ford Field six of the last seven years.
But the team is not invincible. After running the table and going 9-0 heading into the Division III state title game a season ago, Detroit Martin Luther King Jr. stopped the Big Reds in their tracks with a 41-25 victory.
Arguably the top returning quarterback in the state and Ohio State commit Cameron Martinez, back for his senior season, remembers that game. Last year, he rushed for a single-season record of 2,316 yards and 36 touchdowns.
He and his team have a schedule loaded with challenges to start the campaign: Warren De La Salle Aug. 30, the rematch with Detroit MLK Sept. 6 and the home opener against East Grand Rapids Sept. 13.
Martinez said his team is ready for all of it.
“It’s a challenge, but I think with this team and this coaching staff and the community support behind us, I think it will be fun,” Martinez said. “We are just super excited to get after it.”
Junior quarterback Amari Crowley will see time at the signal caller position as well after leading the junior varsity squad to 9-0 in 2018. Head coach Shane Fairfield said he has a very strong arm.
One easy challenge to spot for the Big Reds offense: losing four of five starters on the offensive line from last year.
That doesn’t change the goal of where Fairfield wants the season to close.
“The greatest thing is where does that season end? On the east side of the state. You have to win that last one, so let’s start the season on the east side and let’s finish the season on the east side,” Fairfield said. “Hopefully Nov. 30, we are playing just like we were Aug. 30. Our kids have always done well traveling. Our kids always do well handling it like a business trip. We have a good system.”
2018 O-K Black records:
- Muskegon – 13-1 overall, 6-0 conference
- Mona Shores – 12-2, 5-1
- Jenison – 7-4, 4-2
- Reeths-Puffer – 5-4, 3-3
- Kenowa Hills – 2-7, 2-4
- Fruitport – 1-8, 1-5
- Union – 0-9, 0-6
MONA SHORES SAILORS
Last season included two close calls for Mona Shores in the conference and the Division II state title games. In both, the Sailors ended up in the runner-up slot.
While the Sailors want to continue to grow their successful program after finishing 12-2 a season ago, they will have to do so with a lot of new faces.
On top of that, they will have to start the season without 2018 first-team All-State quarterback Caden Broersma. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder recently broke his throwing hand, which could have him sidelined for the first two games.
Junior Brady Rose, 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, will be looking to take his place as the season gets going. Head coach Matt Koziak said he has taken on the role well.
“When I asked him to take the position, he asked me if he could still return kickoffs,” Koziak said. “He’s going to still be our starting free safety and when Caden comes back healthy, he will move over to the slot while returning punts and kicks.”
The Sailors lost 22 seniors from a season ago, Koziak said. Regardless, he wants his team to be ready to go with a “next-man-up” mentality.
“Our young guys are full of energy and just ready to get on the field and play,” Koziak said. “It’s tough to lose players who mean a lot to your program but these guys (this season) are ready to go.”
The Sailors start the season Aug. 30 at home against East Kentwood, a team that should present a challenge with lots of returning talent. They open the O-K Black schedule against rival Reeths-Puffer two weeks later.
Jenison’s 2018 season was more than just one for the record books. It could also be a turning point for the program.
The Wildcats capped off a six-win regular season with their first win in the playoffs since 2001. Their qualification for the playoffs was the first time since 2001, and they saw the most wins since 2001, when they finished 11-3.
The change at quarterback is one the Wildcats will have to overcome to continue success. Kyle Nott was leader for the team and is going to Central Michigan on a baseball scholarship.
The Wildcats do have some key returning players to help lead the 2019 unit. Senior Logan Kopczynski will help guide the offensive line. At linebacker, junior Connor Flynn and seniors Andrew Medley and Caden Beurkens will try to be the glue for a defense that looks to propel the team to the playoffs again.
The Wildcats open the season Aug. 29 at Forest Hills Central and start the O-K Black portion of the campaign Sept. 13 at Fruitport.
When the Reeths-Puffer Rockets look back on the last two seasons, they see end results that are just short of making strides of a playoff-built program. Reeths-Puffer has finished the regular season 5-4 the last two years, knocking on the door that leads to the road to Ford Field.
Matt Bird is now the new head coach after Kyle Jewett resigned. In his first season, Bird said he wants to make the team more “unified.”
At Grand Ledge, Bird led a very successful program. He said that he came to the Muskegon area to coach because he wanted a new task at this point in his career.
“When I was leaving Grand Ledge, I told the kids there that I hope they have the chance to be here in their careers,” Bird said. “When a challenge comes that is something you want to take on, you go and take it. Now I get to start working with kids here in the Muskegon area who have a lot of different backgrounds.
“I can’t wait to see what happens with what talent we get.”
The Rockets open the season Aug. 29 at Grand Haven and start their conference schedule against Sept. 13 at Mona Shores.
KENOWA HILLS KNIGHTS
For Kenowa Hills head coach Sam Becker, the goal right now is to simply turn things around.
The Knights finished 2-7 last year to cap off their fourth consecutive losing season. The last winning season was 5-4 in2014 under then-head coach Scott Van Essan.
Becker felt the team wasn’t finishing games and has made it known to the 2019 unit that has to be a priority.
“We wanted to get to a position defensively where we are more sound and force teams to drive on us,” Becker said. “We talked about vision development with our defensive staff. We want to trust each other, swarm and then tackle. It’s those three things with a high school football team you have a chance to be successful.
“We’ve done a lot of good things this summer to put our kids in a position to succeed.”
Becker spent time with Wyoming before being signed by Kenowa in June of 2017. Wyoming was 1-17 in the two seasons prior to Becker’s arrival. They turned it around to 3-6 in his first season and then 5-4 in 2016.
With an offense that is still growing for the Knights, Becker is looking to bring a “bend-don’t-break” strategy to the table.
“We need to be the kind of team that can hold on and make a 17-year-old quarterback beat us,” Becker said. “Offensively, everyone thinks we just throw jabs. We’re going to be able to throw counterpunches.”
The Knights kickoff the 2019 season Aug. 29 at home against Wayland. Their first challenge of the O-K Black season is Union Sept. 13.
Fruitport’s only win a season ago came in-conference against Union, the only school in the O-K Black not to earn a win in 2019. Rebuilding and finding success is what the Trojans are aiming for this season.
It will happen in year two of the Nate Smith era. The head coach will look to turn the tide for a program that has not seen the playoffs since 2012, when the Trojans ended 8-2 overall. Since then, they have seen more losses year by year.
The school will look to Ethan Flores as a leader. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior playmaker is a hurdles state champion in track. Standing behind him is fellow senior tailback Crue Cooper, who the team will look to for yards on the ground.
The Trojans open the season Aug. 29 at home against Forest Hills Eastern, before opening O-K Black play Sept. 13 at Jenison.
GRAND RAPIDS UNION RED HAWKS
The Red Hawks have nowhere to go but up from where they finished the 2018 season.
Union went 0-9 in the regular season, also failing to defeat a single team in the O-K Black.
It opens the regular season at Houseman Field against Ottawa Hills on Aug. 29 and will look to get back on track in league play when it travels to Kenowa Hills Sept. 13.