The OK Red’s members are relatively unchanged as only Caledonia is added to the mix this fall. The Scots have been facing top competition in the OK White the past four seasons, but the OK Red is a stronger league with more depth from top to bottom. In a tough league, quarterback play is essential for a team’s success. East Kentwood, Grandville, Hudsonville and Rockford return their quarterbacks this fall while Caledonia, Grand Haven and West Ottawa will have to sort that position battle out. It appears that Rockford is the favorite to win the league with East Kentwood and Hudsonville right behind them. Caledonia and Grandville could upset any of the top three teams and compete for the title as they will look to make the postseason this fall.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
CALEDONIA (5-4 in 2015)
The Scots posted their fourth straight winning season a year ago, however they missed the playoffs. For the second straight year, the Scots will have to return their top rusher as quarterback Tanner Christian graduated. This fall, the Scots’ strong point will be their defensive backfield as three of the four starters, Bryce Houser, Kyle Murphy and Justin Zoet return. All three of these players should also see time in the offensive backfield as the Scots will be looking for answers at quarterback and running back. Senior Michael Silveri is a lead candidate for the quarterback position, and one of his top targets this upcoming season should be senior Cam Robinson. Despite moving up to the biggest OK Conference, the Scots have proven they can compete with the big boys by defeating some of these programs over the past three seasons. While there are questions on offense, do not be surprised if the Scots make some noise in the Red this season.
EAST KENTWOOD (6-4 in 2015)
Last fall, the Falcons’ record was strong enough to return to the postseason for the third year in a row, but they struggled down the stretch going 2-4 in their last six games. In the playoffs against Hudsonville, East Kentwood led by ten points with two and a half minutes to play before Hudsonville promptly scored two touchdowns to knock the Falcons out of the playoffs. This fall, East Kentwood will have some experience back as they return quarterback Evan Maday and running backs Andre Welch and Ansen Jeffries to spark the big plays out of the backfield. Turner Ruby, Mazi Smith and Logan Brown will lead the Falcons in the trenches, as East Kentwood will be in pursuit of their fourth straight trip to the state playoffs. East Kentwood should be one of the better teams in the area and they host Rockford and Hudsonville, giving them a great opportunity to win the OK Red.
GRAND HAVEN (3-6 in 2015)
Change is in the air on the lakeshore as the Buccaneers have appointed a new head coach. Former Muskegon Catholic Central player Jason Tester has been hired to turn around the Grand Haven football program. The Buccaneers have not had more than three wins since 2011 and they only have three conference wins total in those four seasons. Tester will benefit from having three way player (WR/DB/K) Brady Jonas back to lead the offense and special teams. Last fall, Jonas’ leg delivered the game-winning field goal against Reeths Puffer in Week 3. This will be another rebuilding year for Grand Haven, however things should move in the right direction under new leadership.
GRANDVILLE (6-4 in 2015)
The reigning OK Red champions, Grandville lost just one game in league play a year ago. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Rockford Rams were also their first round playoff matchup and their playoff win drought has extended to ten seasons (their last win was in 2005). A quarterback change in the season’s sixth week sparked Grandville as Brady Paganelli won all four of his regular season starts. This fall, Paganelli will be back under center, but the rest of the offense is rebuilding. On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will return large amounts of experience including Jake Tipton, Connor Fisher, Jalen Raninga and Luke Ensing. In a deep league, offensive inexperience may cause some issues for the Bulldogs, but the defense should be amongst the best in the league. If they take care of business in the non-conference, Grandville should qualify for the postseason.
HOLLAND WEST OTTAWA (2-7 in 2015)
After five straight winning seasons, the Panthers struggled in 2015 as they just won two contests. Only one of the seven losses for West Ottawa was within a touchdown, and their two wins were against teams that combined for six wins. This year, West Ottawa will be under the direction of Ryan Oshnock, the former head coach at Forest Hills Northern. Oschnock, who has been an assistant at the college level (Eastern Michigan and Ferris State) led the Huskies to the postseason in both of his seasons at the helm. This will be a very tough task for him to accomplish in his first season at West Ottawa, as they will rebuild on both sides of the football.
HUDSONVILLE (7-4 in 2015)
Last season, the Eagles made the playoffs for the third straight season but they lost three of their games by a touchdown or less, including two losses to Rockford by a combined nine points. Experience should help Hudsonville in their close games this year as they have quarterback and free safety Jack Mandryk, two-way lineman Lane Potter and running back/middle linebacker Dalton Agers all returning for their third seasons on the varsity team. A big target for Mandryk is Bryce Akins, who also plays end on the defensive side of the football. The Eagles should return to the postseason, and a week nine home matchup against Rockford could be for the OK Red championship.
ROCKFORD (8-4 in 2015)
For the Rockford Rams, injuries derailed what could have been a promising season. Quarterback Jason Whitaker suffered from pneumothorax entering the ninth week of the season, and then in the regional final the Rams lost running back Nick Isley. The Rams eventually lost the regional final to Grand Ledge. Whitaker and Isley are both returning this fall healthy as ever, and they will be joined by Alex Blick and Marcus Remtema at wide receiver to provide solid experience and consistency. Rockford should return to the playoffs for the twenty-second straight season in 2016, and if Whitaker can stay healthy, they will vie for an OK Red crown and a deep playoff run.
2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS