PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1-GR West Catholic
2-GR Catholic Central
TOP FIVE NON-CONFERENCE MATCHUPS
1-Week 1 Catholic Central vs Detroit Country Day
2-Week 3 West Catholic @ Zeeland West
3-Week 1 West Catholic vs Jackson Lumen Christi
4-Week 2 Catholic Central vs Detroit Loyola
5-Week 1 Allendale vs Hudsonville Unity Christian
FIVE MATCHUPS THAT WILL DECIDE THE OK BLUE
1-Week 8 Catholic Central @ West Catholic
2-Week 3 Allendale @ Catholic Central
3-Week 9 Allendale @ West Catholic
4-Week 7 West Catholic @ Sparta
5-Week 5 Catholic Central @ Spring Lake
TEAM BY TEAM PREVIEWS
Allendale (8-3 in 2016)
Last year, the Falcons started slow, as they lost two of their first three games. Something then clicked for Allendale, as they won seven consecutive contests, including an upset of West Catholic, to earn a three-way tie for the OK Blue title. In the district finals, they fell short against Catholic Central.
This year, Allendale will have to replace some starters, but they have a strong returning offensive line. Adam Ginn, Jack Snyder, Jared Koekkoek, and Nate Roehr are seniors that are back to anchor the line, and create time in the pocket for senior quarterback Tanner Morren. Another key offensive weapon will be sophomore Owen Burk, the son of coach Ben Burk, and he had a strong freshman campaign running the ball.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 3 at Catholic Central
The Cougars and the Falcons are two of the best teams in the OK Blue, and they will be joined by West Catholic in the league title running. This week three match-up is one of the most crucial in determining who gets the inside track in the conference race.
Comstock Park (2-7 in 2017)
The Panthers started coach Tim Johnson’s tenure out strong in 2016, with a 2-1 record. After a seven-point loss to Allendale, the Falcons took off (as noted above), and the Panthers struggled. Comstock Park lost the remainder of their contests, and finished with their worst record since 1992.
This fall, Comstock Park will return their star running back JoJo Whitley. A season ago, Whitley was named one of Michigan Sports Radio’s Core Power Performance Impact Players of the Year. They will also return quarterback Chase Brown, and two of their top receivers in Hunter Spence and Logan Serba. On the line, look for four-year player and captain Brett Taylor to anchor the unit at guard.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 8 vs Sparta
The Panthers and the Spartans have been league foes since 2005, and former Comstock Park head coach Mark Chapman has made the journey over to Sparta to take over that program. This year, these two teams will be in the middle tier of the OK Blue, and the winner may be able to make the playoffs.
Coopersville (1-8 in 2016)
The 2016 campaign began strong for Coopersville, as they handily defeated Fruitport in the GRidiron Classic out at Grand Valley in the season opener. After that game however, the Broncos lost the final eight games, all by double digit margins.
Ed Kaman, who has spent time in the OK Blue as an assistant at multiple schools, has been hired in to lead the Broncos this fall. Kaman will have starting quarterback Riley Johnson back in the lineup this fall, as well as senior lineman Noah Steffes. The competition in the OK Blue, paired with the fact that Kaman will be installing a new system, could keep the Broncos from posting a good record in 2017, though it is very possible they will improve their win total from a season ago.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 2 vs Hamilton
Kaman’s first home game comes against Hamilton, a team that the Broncos have played in every season since 2008. The Hawkeyes made the playoffs last year, so they will be a big test early in the year.
GR Catholic Central (13-1 in 2016)
Last year, the Cougars accomplished all of their goals under head coach Todd Kolster. The Cougars won the OK Blue, went 13-1 in the season, and defeated Detroit Country Day to win the Division 4 State Championship.
This year, the Cougars must replace some players, but they return a solid offensive core. Quarterback Jack Bowen returns, as do runners Nolan Fugate and Eric Grabow. Blocking for all of these players is star lineman Jalen Mayfield, who has committed to play football at Michigan in 2018. They have a couple of questions on the defensive side, but with a potent offense, the Cougars should be able to contend for the OK Blue title and make another playoff run.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 8 at West Catholic
The schedule for Catholic Central is filled with strong opponents, including a Division 4 State Championship game rematch against Country Day in Week 1. The best game may be in Week 8 when they take on Division 5 Champion West Catholic, with the OK Blue title on the line.
GR West Catholic (12-2 in 2016)
The Falcons continued their dominance in Division 5 in 2016. After winning the OK Blue, the Falcons continued to take off in the playoffs, winning their fourth consecutive state championship, this time a 43-7 win over Menominee.
Coach Joseph Hyland has a pair of Core Power Performance Impact Players of the Year returning in quarterback Gaetano Vallone and kicker Liam Putz. He also has senior defensive back Connor Bolthouse there to lead the way on the other side of the ball. Up front, they can look to seniors Josh Ball and Matt Bilski to take charge on the line. The Falcons will be a force to reckon with in not only the OK Blue, but Division 5 yet again this season.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 8 vs Catholic Central
A matchup of two reigning state champions, with OK Blue title ramifications? Sign me up. These two former City League rivals have played many close games over the year, and I expect 2017 to be no different.
Sparta (4-5 in 2016)
A lot of changes came into the Sparta football program a year ago, as Mark Chapman moved in from league rival Comstock Park with hopes of revitalizing the Spartan football program. Year 1 was a step in the right direction for Chapman as they had their best season since 2013, including their first win over Comstock Park since 2008.
This year, a trio of senior captains have the Spartans thinking about the postseason. Holding down the fort on the interior, Anthony Post will continue to make an impact at defensive end and offensive tackle this upcoming season. The returning All-OK Blue player is the vocal leader of this Sparta team, and is very physical up front.
In addition to some great blocking up front, the quarterback will benefit from a tandem of big play receivers. Garrett Chezslek stands at 6’4” providing a huge target with a knack for going up and making a play on the ball. He will be joined by two-way starter Grant Kelly, who has enough speed to make defenders miss in open space.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 1 at Orchard View
If the Spartans want to reach the postseason in 2017, they need a hot start. Their first four games provide a good opportunity to get some wins under their belt before a daunting middle of the schedule (Allendale, West Catholic, Catholic Central) awaits. Their postseason fate lies in their first four games, starting week one on the road at Orchard View.
Spring Lake (2-7 in 2016)
The first year in the OK Blue for the Lakers was a tough one. They suffered a pair of one point losses to start the season, and that led to a winless September. They played better in October, and they finished that month with a 2-2 record. This season, they will have some returning seniors to pair with a junior group that went 8-1 at the JV level last year.
Two senior tight ends, Griffin Lorimer (who also plays linebacker) and Jason Keena (who also lines up at free safety) will provide reliable options for junior Caleb Montgomery, who will quarterback the offense in 2017. Keena and Montgomery will be joined by junior Joe Chittenden in the defensive backfield as they attempt to slow the passing attacks of their OK Blue foes. Lorimer will be paired at linebacker with juniors Aleck Frederick and Wyatt Lisman, who could also see time on offense at tackle and fullback respectively.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 2 vs Fruitport
Sandwiched between two games away from home, the rivalry game with Fruitport is even more important for the Lakers’ success this season. If they could win a pair of their first three games, they give themselves a legitimate shot at being in playoff talks into late October. If not, their chances look bleak as a 1-2 start with West Catholic and Catholic Central on the horizon would be a tall mountain to climb.
OTHER 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS