PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
TOP FIVE NON-CONFERENCE MATCHUPS
1-Week 3 Zeeland West v West Catholic
2-Week 2 Zeeland West v Mona Shores
3-Week 1 Zeeland East @ Saginaw Swan Valley
4-Week 4 Byron Center v Muskegon
5-Week 1 Holland Christian @ South Christian
FIVE MATCHUPS THAT WILL DECIDE THE OK GREEN
1-Week 4 Unity Christian @ Zeeland West
2-Week 5 Byron Center @ Zeeland West
3-Week 9 Byron Center @ Unity Christian
4-Week 9 Zeeland West @ Zeeland East
5-Week 7 Unity Christian @ Zeeland East
TEAM BY TEAM PREVIEWS
Byron Center (10-2 in 2016)
A season ago, Byron Center was one of the best teams in West Michigan as they won the OK Green with a 10-2 record. The lone team that had their number was the Muskegon Big Reds, and they handed Byron Center both of their losses, including a 62-7 defeat in the district finals.
This year, coach Marc Cisco and the Bulldogs are loaded and ready to make another playoff push this season. They will be led by Shane Tagg and their stout offensive line. The anchor of the offensive line is Evan Gast, who was an All-State Division 3 player, and a two-time All-State Heavyweight wrestler. Keegan Deppe, Tyler Abuelhawa, and Blake Pekel are three other strong linemen that will pave the way for Tagg. A season ago, Shane Tagg was one of the best rushers in West Michigan, and over the course of two seasons, he has rushed for 1370 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is also a two-time OK Green champ in the 100-meter run, with a best time of 11.03 seconds.
Defensively, expect Abuelhawa, Deppe, Gast and Pekel to anchor the defensive line and create pressure up front. The Bulldogs lost a pair of All-Conference players in the linebacking core, but two-year starter Chas Shride, who was named honorable mention all-OK Green a season ago, returns. In the defensive backfield, Tagg will be joined by Marcus Cisco, who also earned honorable mention honors in 2016. While there is uncertainty in the skill positions offensively, the line brings back experience that can lead the way up front.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 9 @ Unity Christian
The schedule is difficult to navigate, as the Bulldogs will face six teams that qualified for the postseason a year ago, but the biggest game may be the regular season finale against Unity. The Crusaders are strong yet again off of a Division 4 semifinals appearance, and the OK Green can be decided in this contest.
Hamilton (6-4 in 2016)
The Hawkeyes were very senior-led a season ago, and they started 5-0. They reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but they were defeated in the first round by Edwardsburg.
This year, coach Chris Myers has a very empty cupboard. The Hawkeyes only return two starters, one on each side of the ball. On offense, Hamilton will look to seniors John Dekkinga and Leighton Rhoda to lead the way. Defensively, Jacob Sterenburg is the lone returning starter for the Hawkeyes, as he leads the way at the defensive end position.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 5 vs Holland
Last year, this was Hamilton’s fifth win in a row, as they defeated the Dutch by sixteen. This year, this game may be important in determining the pecking order of the OK Green.
Holland (2-7 in 2016)
Holland Dutch football has struggled mightily since reaching the playoffs in 2011. In the five seasons after their 9-3 campaign, the Dutch have posted a combined record of 9-36. Coach Andrew Pratley’s bunch was very young last season, so this year they should be more experienced.
They will be led offensively by three-year starter Cole Schut, who will anchor an experienced offensive line at tackle. The quarterback behind Schut’s line looks to be junior Isaac Cassell. On defense, their experienced secondary will be led by seniors Corbin Choummanivong and Ty Lefurge. This year’s Holland team should be much improved from the five seasons prior, as they look to improve their record above the two-win mark.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 8 vs Coopersville
A crossover matchup for the Dutch against Coopersville is critical to their goal of increasing their win total. Last year, the Broncos lost eight games, and though they will be much improved, a home game would be a big get for Holland.
Holland Christian (3-6 in 2016)
The Maroons finished 3-6 in 2016 a season ago, and three of their losses were one touchdown games. As a result, they missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. This year, they are under the direction of new head coach Chris Kuipers, who will try to build off the momentum of better football the Maroons played in the season’s final three weeks.
While there is no returning quarterback, there is some experience in the backfield. Senior running backs Jacob Schaub and Noah Hoekstra will provide some reliability offensively for whoever takes the snaps under center. The offensive line is also a strong point for Holland Christian, as they have seniors Jarod Osborne and Josh DeVries to provide protection for whomever Coach Kuipers plugs in at the quarterback position.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 1 at South Christian
The Maroons have struggled against the Sailors over the years (1-6 all-time), and this year this game will be very important to the Maroons’ playoff chances. Last year, their eight-point loss set them in an 0-1 hole that they were unable to climb out of.
Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-3 in 2016)
Craig Tibbe, the head football coach, has walked the sidelines for all 140 football games in the history of the Unity Christian program. His fourteenth season concluded in 2016, and it was by far the best in the history of the program. The Crusaders recorded a program record ten wins, and they made it all the way to the Division 4 Semifinals before bowing out to eventual champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
This year, Tibbe’s squad has some returning pieces that are hungry to bring home the first ever conference championship, as well as making some noise in the postseason. They will be led by three-year varsity player Alec Headley, who has provided strong play from the running back and linebacker positions. Austin Shaban, Josh VanTubergen and Max Buikema should all see some carries as well this season for the Crusaders, as they build a comfortable supporting cast around quarterback Tyce VanderGoot.
On both sides of the interior line, look for stellar play from Carson Schppock, who was a stellar guard a season ago, as well as Troy Kunnen, who stepped in very nicely after his late-season call-up. In addition to Headley, the Crusaders defense will see TJ VanKoevering, Mitch Wynia and JJ Elders step into prominent roles in 2017.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 4 at Zeeland West
Though the Week 9 matchup at home against the reigning league champ (Byron Center) looms large, a road trip to one of West Michigan’s premier programs serves as a huge challenge that the Crusaders must overcome if they want to win the OK Green for the first time ever.
Zeeland East (6-4 in 2016)
The Chix had a good season in 2016, as they started out with a 6-1 record on the year. The finish to the year was difficult however, as Zeeland East lost their final three contests, including a pair of losses to Byron Center. The 45-6 playoff defeat ended the Chix season in the pre-district round.
Coach Derrick Pennington’s back for his tenth season at the helm, and he expects to play a two-quarterback system. Senior Keegan Ensing and junior Gabe Taylor will split the duties at quarterback this fall for Zeeland East, and they both have significant experience at the position. A key running threat this season for the Chix will be senior Donovan Dy, who had a strong season last year.
Senior Boone Bonnema is the most experienced player in the system, as the H-Back and Linebacker is going to start for the fourth consecutive season. The Chix have been a strong program, reaching the postseason six of the last seven years, and they have the pieces to make a push for another playoff appearance this fall.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 1 at Saginaw Swan Valley
The Vikings have reached the playoffs five seasons in a row, and this Week 1 matchup is an important measuring stick for this year’s Chix team. Last year, Zeeland East defeated the Vikings 39-21 to open the season, and it led to a hot start for the team.
Zeeland West (7-3 in 2016)
The 2016 Dux entered the season as the reigning Division 4 State Champions. They had another strong season last year, reaching the postseason for the seventh straight season, but their two losses cost them the OK Green title. In the playoffs, they fell three points short in the pre-districts against Grand Rapids Christian, leading to their earliest playoff exit in school history (in years that they reached the playoffs).
This season, coach John Shillito’s bunch looks like another deep team. They have a plethora of running backs in their traditional T-Offense, led by senior Aaron Sleeman. Sleeman had a strong season last year, including a Michigan Sports Radio Core Power Performance Impact Player of the Week effort in Week 1 against Cedar Springs.
On the defensive side, look for linebackers Ross Bollman and Caleb Kender to captain the defense. The Dux have depth and talent, and they look poised for another strong season.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 4 vs Unity Christian
The Dux have the strong benefit of playing the other two title contenders, Unity Christian and Byron Center, at home this season. Last year, these two teams defeated Zeeland West, and this kept them from reaching the postseason. Week 4 is the start of a two week stretch that will go a long way in determining the winner of the OK Green in 2017.
OTHER 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS