By: Scott Keyes
20 most intriguing storylines heading into 2014 season
This has been one of the coolest summers in recent memory. Two-a-days for area players were not too bad, although for the first week of the season, temperatures could eclipse the 90 degree mark for only the second time this summer.
With the weather heating up to start the season, so will the action on the field. Here are 20 story lines to pay attention to heading into the season.
1. Ithaca's Drive for Five
The Yellowjackets hold the longest winning streak in the country at 56 games, including winning the last four Division 6 titles. Although some of the names on the jerseys have changed, coach Terry Hessbrook will have Ithaca primed for another run at the record books.
2. Amazin' Grace
Alex Grace rushed for 2,952 yards and scored 36 touchdowns as a high school junior and broke the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) single-season rushing mark a year ago. The Western Michigan University commitment has his sights on leading Swan Valley to Ford Field and, hopefully, a Division 5 state title.
3. Cole's got Game
Considered by many the No. 1 recruit in the state, Brian Cole announced in July that he will continue his education at the University of Michigan and play football for the Wolverines. Cole, along with teammate Jalen Young, will give Heritage one of the best dual threat combinations in the state. They should be fun to watch as Heritage looks to make the playoffs in 2014.
4. Saying Goodbye
This is likely the last year for the Saginaw High vs. Arthur Hill rivalry game, as one of the schools is expected to close at the end of the school year. Sad times in Saginaw for sure.
5. The Race for Mr. Football
The five likely frontrunners will be Mike Webber (Cass Tech), Alex Malzone (Brother Rice), Grace (Swan Valley), Cole (Heritage), and Joshuwa Holloman (Avondale). However, look for Lansing Sexton's Avonte Bell and DeWitt's Jake Johnson to possibly throw their names into the mix as the season gets underway.
6. Another Smith on Horizon
Ithaca's Travis Smith, last year's Mr. Football, is now at Wake Forest University, and his younger brother Jake is now the man under center for the Yellowjackets. Jake Smith has the skills to be the next great quarterback at Ithaca. Look for him to have a breakout season in 2014.
7. Jankoska Poised
One of the top pole vaulters in the state who also has a strong vertical jump on the basketball court, Freeland's Jake Jankoska has the capability of outjumping most opponents on the football field. Jankoska and the Falcons will square off against Grace and Swan Valley Oct. 3. The game has a makings of a classic written all over it.
8. Sexton has Visions of Big Season
Lansing Sexton advanced all the way to a Division 5 semifinal a year ago before it lost to eventual state champion Marine City. Don't be be surprised if Swan Valley and Sexton meet up again sometime during the playoffs in a rerun of last year's regional final classic. The road to the Division 5 final will likely run through either Lansing or Saginaw.
9. Talented Tight Ends
It's definitely a strong tight end class this season, led by St. Johns' Austin Ervin and East Lansing's Parker Underwood. Ervin has committed to Central Michigan University and Underwood to Western Michigan University. Both players are expected to have big seasons this year.
10. Johnson Back to Lead DeWitt
Equipped with size, strength, and speed, DeWitt's Jake Johnson is back to lead the Panthers' offense this season. DeWitt made it to the Division 3 state final at Ford Field last year, and with Johnson under center, expect DeWitt to be a contender once again.
11. Goode is Solid; Nouvel has Many Questions Entering Season
Khristian Goode returns to give the Panthers a receiving weapon, but the loss of quarterback Garrett Graham and of Ryan Sullivan to graduation is huge. Defense will likely anchor Nouvel this season, as youth on the offensive side of the ball gets acclimated.
12. Dean, Colegrove to Lead Lowell
Max Dean and Josh Colgrove are about as solid as any two defensive players this season. Both are state champion wrestlers, and they can pack a punch on the football field. Lowell should be solid once again this season under coach Noel Dean.
13. Can Montrose Finally get Past Ithaca?
Montrose came very close to knocking off Ithaca in a Division 6 regional final last year. Is this the year Montrose does it? No one really knows, and that's why the games are settled on the field. However, with heavy graduation losses, it could a tall order for the Rams.
14. Bridgeport could Surprise
Second-year coach Anwar Jackson has the Bearcats moving in the right direction, and they could be a sleeper team in 2014. Bridgeport has tremendous size up front. Javaris Jackson weighs in at 270 pounds, while Justin Osswerwaarde is at 340 and Alex Battle is at 350.
15. Another Henderson Emerges for Bullock Creek
Jaylian Henderson rushed for over 2,000 yards last season for Bullock Creek and is expected to carry the load again this season. He is a little undersized, but he has speed and power to help him find separation from opposing defenses.
16. Is it Dow's Year to Finally Win Saginaw Valley League North?
Midland Dow has stood around and watched Mt. Pleasant and Midland dominate the SVL North over the last decade. Can Jason Watkins' team finally make that jump and win the conference title? There is every possibility that the Chargers emerge as title contenders as the season plays out.
17. Is Third Time Charm for Beal City?
The Aggies have advanced to the Division 8 Final for the past two seasons and are looking to make a return trip to Ford Field in 2014. However, a tough schedule to start the season stands in Beal City's way. Coach Lou Rau will have his troops ready to contend once again this season.
18. The New Lapeer High School
Lapeer East and West merged this year, and the new Lapeer High School will play in the Saginaw Valley League South Division. It should be very interesting to see how well the school competes.
19. New Coach at Brother Rice
For the first time since 1969, Brother Rice has a new coach. Legend Al Francassa stepped down at the end of last season after leading his team to its third consecutive Division 3 championship. It's going to be strange not seeing Francassa on the sidelines this season.
20. Just have fun
Finally, enjoy the season. Seniors, embrace it, because when it's done, Friday Night Lights are no longer. High school years are the best years of your life.