The OK Black has been a top heavy league since its creation. In every season since 2011, the league champion has ran the table and the runner-up has only lost to the champion. Usually a three team league, this conference lost its third competitor as Zeeland East heads to the OK Green as a product of the realignment. In to replace the Chix, the Jenison Wildcats will feel relief avoiding the perennial powers of Grand Rapids Christian, East Grand Rapids, Lowell and Caledonia in the OK White. The Fruitport Trojans also join the OK Black, as they move in from the Lakes Eight Conference to be paired with area competition such as Muskegon, Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer. Muskegon is a heavy favorite, however the league is once again a two team race in 2016 as the Muskegon Big Reds and Mona Shores Sailors should enter their Week 8 matchup undefeated in league play. Fruitport, Jenison and Reeths-Puffer could all contend for playoff spots, but they stand no chance against the big two in league play.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Fruitport (4-5 in 2015)
The Trojans are joining the OK Black after ten years in the Lakes Eight Conference. Last fall, the Trojans suffered their second straight 4-5 season, losing the two games against OK Conference members (Grand Haven and Mona Shores). Senior running back and linebacker Levi Six returns for Fruitport, and he was the leading tackler a season ago. Six was named honorable mention All-State, and he will be starting both ways for a third straight year. They also return lineman Derek Monje, wide recievers Wyatt Kendra and Connor Schuitema. 2016 brings a tough challenge for the Trojans as they will face two of the top ten teams in West Michigan in their own conference (Mona Shores and Muskegon). Most of Fruitport’s new opponents are a step up from their Lakes 8 competition, and as a result, their record may not be indicative of the talent and experience on this team.
Jenison (3-6 in 2015)
There are many up-sides in terms of Wildcat football this fall. Jenison is coming off the most wins in a season since 2005, and they were 3-2 with a lead against Forest Hills Central before being shut out in the second half, then losing to three area powers in a row. Another positive, area powerhouses Caledonia, East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Christian and Lowell are no longer on the schedule for Jenison after four very tough years in the OK White. This may actually be the easiest conference Jenison has played in since 2004 when they were part of the OK-Red Metro. While they will have to replace star running back Brock Bethke, the Wildcats should be strong on defense as they return defensive backs Dylan Taylor and Carson Kunnen to anchor the secondary. Jenison should continue to improve this season, and the lesser competition of the OK Black will aid in their record.
Kenowa Hills (4-5 in 2015)
Last fall, Kenowa Hills fell one game short of the school’s seventh winning season in eight years as they finished 2015 at 4-5. This year, the Knights will be looking to rebuild offensively behind quarterback Benito Hernandez, wide receiver Kyle Wisneski and center Lucas Snider. This young Knight team will rely on returning starters Nick Reardon and Jared Ching defensively to carry the load early on. Ching will also be featured as the tailback on the offensive side of the ball. The Knights have a favorable start to the year as they take on Ottawa Hills and Greenville, two games in which their new offensive assets will gain experience prior to the start of league play. In this two-team league, the Knights could finish anywhere from third to sixth.
Muskegon (9-3 in 2015)
After two seasons of falling short in the OK Black conference race to crosstown rival Mona Shores, the Big Reds are poised to take back the crown this fall. Led by Virginia Tech commit Khalil Pimpleton, senior wide receiver Jacorey Sullivan and linebacker Andrew Ward, Muskegon is loaded with experienced players that fielded multiple Division I scholarship offers. They bring in LaDarius Jefferson, a quarterback transfer from Mississippi, who should add an extra dynamic to the already potent offense. Muskegon has a challenging start to their 2016 season as they will play Ann Arbor Pioneer at Michigan Stadium in Week One, followed by a game against Adlai Stevenson (IL), the high school home of Rob and Rex Ryan. Following these two games, the Big Reds should not be challenged the rest of the season prior to the playoffs.
Mona Shores (10-1 in 2015)
Last season, the Sailors went through the regular season with a perfect record, but they were knocked off in the district finals by Muskegon. Mona Shores needs to rebuild on both sides of the football, especially defense. Evan DeYoung is the lone defensive returner, however he has moved positions from defensive end to linebacker. On the offensive side of the football, Tristen Robbins will be the man under center for Mona Shores at the beginning of the year as Drew Switzer suffered an injury in the preseason scrimmage. Robbins, who has a very strong arm, will have sophomore DeMarre Roberson in the slot as a big play target. Marcus Collins, a very strong runner in the backfield, will benefit from having a large offensive line that has four of its members weighing in over 250 pounds. This team faces a daunting schedule as they will play Zeeland West and Rockford in non-conference play. If the youth of the Sailors can gel, Mona Shores should return to the playoffs and finish second in the OK Black.
Reeths-Puffer (3-6 in 2015)
For the second straight season, the Rockets beat Holland and Fremont to start 2015 2-0. Just as they did in 2014, Reeths-Puffer then lost six of seven games with their lone win being Union as they limped to a 3-6 finish. This fall, the Rockets will look to improve on their consecutive three win seasons as they return eight starters on both offense and defense from 2015. The top two leading rushers Nate McCrary and Theo Stevenson will be back along with starting quarterback Blake Ross, so the offensive continuity in the backfield should propel them early. With the schedule they have, Reeths-Puffer can expect to be favored in at least five games, and they have seven that are realistically winnable. While the Rockets cannot contend for the OK Black crown, they can take third in the league and put themselves in the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Union (1-8 in 2015)
Grand Rapids Union has been a struggling program since the start of the new millennium. The Red Hawks have posted a 13-104 record in the thirteen seasons since they last finished above .500. Last fall, they snapped a 25-game losing streak when they topped Wyoming Lee in the season opener, however they were not competitive in any of their other eight contests. Union loses a majority of their key skill players from last season including quarterback Andy Zinck and receivers Keidren Davis and Jonte Gant. In 2016, the schedule does not include Lee, and as a result, it will be hard for the Red Hawks to win a game this season.
2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS