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: Rockford, Grandville, West Ottawa, Hudsonville, East Kentwood, Caledonia and Grand Haven.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The West Ottawa football team enters the 2018 season as the defending champions in the O-K Red after going unbeaten in the conference for the first time in school history.
The Panthers, guided by third-year head coach Ryan Oshnock, also produced a school record in wins, going 10-2 overall before falling to eventual state champion Clarkston in regional play.
West Ottawa returns seven starters on offense and seven starters on defense. Senior quarterback Isaac VanDyke is back as the catalyst of an offense that averaged 33 points per game last season. He passed for 2,400 passing yards and 34 touchdowns while also rushing for more than 500 yards.
“For us, we try to win each and every day,” Oshnock said of this year’s goals. “That’s where it starts. Win today. Did we get better today than we were yesterday? And at the same time we always want to compete for an O-K Red championship.
“I think we can put ourselves in that position if we take it day by and try to get better and better,” he continued. “For us, those are our goals. Can we get better every day? Can we win an O-K Red championship?”
Several other teams also are expected to be in the mix for a conference crown as they look to dethrone the Panthers.
Rockford, led by longtime coach Ralph Munger, won six of its last eight games last season with both of its losses coming against West Ottawa.
The Rams lost several of their top players on the offensive line and in the secondary, but will be bolstered by the return of their backfield with seniors Jack Richardson, Connor White and Austin Klein.
Senior quarterback Drew Bareno is expected to replace last year’s starter Jason Whittaker.
Rockford opens the O-K Red season against West Ottawa Sept. 7.
Grandville hopes to be in the hunt as well after sharing the conference title in 2015 and 2016.
The Bulldogs went 6-4 a year ago and reached the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. They have won six or more games in the past three seasons under head coach Eric Stiegel.
Grandville has a wealth of senior leadership back in the fold, led by quarterback Landon Poll. It also returns a bevy of talent in the backfield with seniors Nate Nielson, Shane Baker and Noah Atwell. Linebacker Keith Bush is a returning all-conference player on defense.
Stiegel expects the O-K Red to be “deep and talented,” as is usually the case.
“West Ottawa is the defending champ and they return some great players and Rockford is always in the title hunt,” Stiegel said. “East Kentwood is deep, and Hudsonville, Caledonia and Grand Haven all will be improved from last year. We expect to have a tough team that is capable as well.”
EAST KENTWOOD FALCONS
East Kentwood opened last season with four straight wins before faltering down the stretch while missing the postseason for a second straight year with a 5-4 record.
The Falcons, led by head coach Tony Kimbrough, boast several talented Division I prospects on the offensive line with Logan Smith, Mazi Smith and Dallas Fincher.
Kyle Dent returns at quarterback along with a receiving corps that includes Stephan Bracey and Ryel Daye.
Hudsonville endured its first losing season since 2012 after going 4-5, but hopes to rebound with the addition of new head coach Brent Sandee and the momentum of winning three of its last four games.
Sandee was the team’s defensive coordinator and will look to keep the defense a staple while improving on offense.
The Eagles’ allowed 19.7 point per game; however, their offense averaged only 17.7 points per game.
CALEDONIA FIGHTING SCOTS
Caledonia, led by coach Tom Burrill, also went 4-5 for the second straight season, but is looking toward improved results with a deeper and more athletic squad and the return of three-year starter Caleb Bronkema.
Bronkema, an all-conference linebacker, rushed for 1,137 yards as the starting quarterback. He will be assisted in the backfield by Andrew Kuzaba and Seth Morse.
GRAND HAVEN BUCCANEERS
Grand Haven struggled to a 1-8 season under second-year head coach Joe Nelson.
The Buccaneers will be young, with few seniors on the roster, but a more athletic team is expected to take the field in their bid to become more competitive in a rugged conference.