The OK Blue Conference underwent slight membership changes as a result of the realignment this past offseason. Belding has left the conference and will be playing in the OK Silver this fall. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (OK Gold) and Spring Lake (Lakes Eight) are newcomers to the Blue this fall and will be tough competition for traditional powers Comstock Park and West Catholic. The Falcons are the favorite, but there are five teams that could contend for the title.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1- GR West Catholic
2- Comstock Park
3- GR Catholic Central
5- Spring Lake
ALLENDALE (5-4 in 2015)
Allendale has built a consistent winning program with just one losing season since 2001. Last year, the Falcons were one win shy of the magical six win total, but they were not close in any of their four losses. Three of those four losses return to Allendale’s schedule this fall, but the Falcons will have experience on their side, especially on offense. Quarterback Colton Kloote returns for his second season under center, coming off a year in which he averaged over 200 yards per game in the air. His top two targets, wide receiver Drew Courtier and tight end (Western Michigan commit) Nate Umlor are also back, so expect the high levels of production to continue this fall. Allendale will host West Catholic and Catholic Central, however road trips to Comstock Park and Spring Lake appear to be large challenges. If the Falcons can take care of business at home, expect the Falcons to be in the mix for the OK Blue title.
COMSTOCK PARK (8-3 in 2015)
Last fall, Comstock Park averaged 34 points a game as they reached the district finals before falling to Forest Hills Eastern. In order for the Panthers to return to the postseason for the seventh straight year, they will have to replace several skill players including first team All-State quarterback Pat Naughton. Also gone is former head coach Mark Chapman, who has remained in the conference at Sparta. Longtime varsity baseball coach Tim Johnson, an assistant the past four years in the football program, will take over the reins and try to continue its winning ways. The Panthers return junior running back Zaavon Scott, who has been a strong player the last two seasons. A favorable schedule gives the Panthers a realistic shot at starting 5-0 before a huge matchup against West Catholic.
COOPERSVILLE (4-5 in 2015)
For the third straight year under Jared Hudson, Coopersville improved their win total as they reached the four win mark. The Broncos lost two games by one point, and those two victories would have earned them their first playoff spot since 2008. This fall, they will have to replace their quarterback and top receiver, however they return Brendan Serba on the offense and defensive lines. Austin Fritz and Cole Howe will also be back as two way skill-players. Expect a step back from the Broncos as they sort out their quarterback and try to navigate through a tough home schedule.
GR CATHOLIC CENTRAL (9-2 in 2015)
Last season, the Cougars lost their season opener to East Grand Rapids. For the nine weeks that followed, Catholic Central was one of the top teams in the area as they won all nine games before getting knocked off in the district final by Unity Christian. The reigning OK Gold champions are moving to the OK Blue this year as a product of realignment and should contend for league championships immediately. This fall, the team will have their own home stadium as they open a brand new state-of -the-art football field. A key to success this season will be replacing several key skill players that graduated, but the Cougars traditionally excel at this every year. Key returning players include Carter Trudeau and Max Vicari.
GR WEST CATHOLIC (12-2 in 2015)
Ten straight conference championships. Three straight state championships. If there is one team that is the ultimate measuring stick of success in West Michigan, the Falcons are just that. For all of the certainty that has come with WC football the past decade, they will have a big change this fall. Dan Rohn has stepped down as the head coach, and Joseph Hyland has been hired to run the show. Hyland will benefit from having quarterback Gaetano Vallone back under center, and he is coming off a very strong sophomore season in which he led the Falcons to the state title as a dual threat quarterback accounting for at least ten touchdowns on the ground and in the air. As in most seasons, the Falcons will be tested against two very strong non-conference opponents (Jackson Lumen Christi and Zeeland West), but with Vallone and two-way skill player Zack Zenner returning, they appear to have enough talent to win their eleventh straight conference title in Joseph Hyland’s first year.
SPARTA (1-8 in 2015)
Other than a nail-biting 20-19 come from behind win over Fremont in last season’s opener, the Spartans have lost every game since October 4, 2013. Despite coming up short in 21 of the last 22 contests, there is plenty of optimism towards this upcoming season as there is new leadership. Former Comstock Park coach Mark Chapman has been hired to rebuild a program that reached the playoffs twice in 2011 and 2013. Chapman led Comstock Park to six straight playoff appearances and he will look to do the same at Sparta. He will have quarterback Grant Kelley back under center, as well as Justin Caine and Nate Robbins on the line.
SPRING LAKE (4-5 in 2015)
After a fifteen year hiatus, Spring Lake is returning to the OK Blue where they were members from 1995-1999. Last year, the Lakers were a very young team and they did not beat a team with a winning record. They went 1-1 against OK Conference competition as they defeated Holland but lost to Coopersville. This fall, Spring Lake is going to be much improved as they return key skill players Isaiah Pierce and Drew Cather, along with quarterback Cameron Ball. Experience should help the Lakers in their debut in the OK Blue, however they travel to West Catholic, Catholic Central and Comstock Park, so this may hinder their ability to make noise in the standings.
2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS