The OK Gold brings in some new members and some former members to go along with mainstays Middleville, South Christian and Wayland. East Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Christian come in from the OK White, and neither of these schools have been in the Gold before. Wyoming, in from the OK Bronze, is new to the Gold as well, however Wyoming Park, one of the two schools that merged to become Wyoming, was a part of the OK Gold from 2000-2004. Forest Hills Eastern, an OK Gold member from 2008-2011 is back in the conference after four years in the OK Bronze. These schools join Middleville (2003), South Christian (1984) and Wayland (1984), who have spent many years facing off in the OK Gold conference. This league has three schools (East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Christian and South Christian) that have won a state championship this decade.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1-East Grand Rapids
2-Grand Rapids Christian
6-Forest Hills Eastern
EAST GRAND RAPIDS (9-4 in 2015)
East Grand Rapids is one of the premier programs in West Michigan since the turn of the millennium, as they have made the playoffs in thirteen of those seasons, including seven state championships. The Pioneers went back to back in 2002 and 2003, followed by five in a row from 2006-2010.
Coach Peter Stuursma left this offseason for Hope College, and new coach Casey Longo has a strong tradition to uphold at East. Longo will rely on quarterback Mike Malewitz, lineman Jack Foy and wide receiver Jack Combs to lead the offense that Longo coordinated a season ago. With three tough non-conference opponents in Catholic Central, Forest Hills Northern and Lowell, the Pioneers will be well tested by the time conference play rolls around. A September 30 visit from Grand Rapids Christian should be the biggest challenge for the Pioneers in their pursuit of the OK Gold crown in their first year in the league.
FOREST HILLS EASTERN (11-2 in 2015)
Forest Hills Eastern made their twelfth football season in school history one to remember last fall as the Hawks won the OK Bronze, the school’s first league title, set a program record for wins, recorded their first playoff win and reached the state semifinals. The Hawks were very senior-led a year ago, so this year’s team will be inexperienced. They also will have to overcome the loss of Coach Eddie Ostipow, who left for Greenville. Former defensive coordinator Ben Sherman has been appointed as the new leader of the Hawks, and despite plans to keep things schematically similar, he is faced with the challenge of replacing a wealth of talent that graduated.
Davidson St. Jean and Caden Peters will both return in the backfield for the Hawks, but they lost star two-way players in Jack Clark, Ryan Knight, Jake Sypniewski and Chase Krueger. FHE also must replace a solid majority of their offensive line, their leading tackler at MLB, Joe Dault, and a host of other players. Expect a step back from Forest Hills Eastern as they will have to replace a lot this year.
GRAND RAPIDS CHRISTIAN (5-5 in 2015)
Last year, the Eagles reached the postseason for the sixth straight season before falling to East Grand Rapids in the first round. This year, Christian will try to make their seventh straight postseason, but they will try and reach the six win plateau during the regular season, something they have not done since 2013. Quarterback Isaac Dykema is expected to call the shots for the Eagles this year, and he will be joined by Devaunte Dickens in the backfield. Facing a non-conference schedule of Culver Academy, Caledonia and Cedar Springs, the Eagles will need Jarrett Dykema and Malachi Price to play well on the front lines. September 30 and October 7, the Eagles will take on East Grand Rapids and Forest Hills Eastern in two games that should decide the fate of the OK Gold title.
MIDDLEVILLE (3-6 in 2015)
A year ago, the Trojans suffered an early season quarterback injury that set the team back as they finished 3-6 in 2015. This year, the injury will pay off as senior Gabe Krusinga will return with a partial season under his belt to lead Middleville at the quarterback position. Ike Possett and Matt Lark, offensive weapons as well as starters in the defensive backfield, will be back as the leading skill players. On the interior line, senior Josiah Vantil will be back on both sides of the football. A senior led Middleville football team will be much improved from a season ago. In a league that has four teams that are similar talent levels, Middleville could make some noise and push toward their first winning season since 2011.
SOUTH CHRISTIAN (2-7 in 2015)
After three straight state finals appearances, including two state titles (2012 and 2014), the Sailors took a huge step back last fall. Having to play with just three returning starters, South Christian lost their first five games of the season before a Week 6 win over Hastings. Quarterback Eric Dykstra grew into the role as the season went on, and he will be back for another year this fall. The improved and more experienced Sailors will have a new home location this fall as they will be playing their home games at the brand new stadium in the Farmers Insurance Athletic Complex on the campus of Davenport University. There is a lot of positive momentum for South Christian entering this season, and they should easily surpass last year’s win total as they look to make the postseason, something they missed last year for just the third time since 1999.
WAYLAND (2-7 in 2015)
In 2015, the Wildcats were under new leadership as Michael Doupe, the school’s baseball coach, took over as the head coach on the gridiron. Wayland bested their results from the 2014, as they won two more games and they also were in two other games that they could have won. An improved team that faced two other OK Conference champions in the non-conference, Wayland showed positive strides in the first year under Coach Doupe. This year, Wayland will have to replace quarterback Tanner VanDyke, but the new quarterback will be under excellent protection as Chad Stopeker and Mike Velting, two of the area’s top lineman, return for their senior seasons. Stopeker and Velting will once again be involved on the defensive front line as well, as they will take on blockers allowing for linebacker Brody Place to get in the backfield. Wayland faces a far more manageable non-conference slate this fall and as a result, they should improve on last year’s win total.
WYOMING (3-6 in 2015)
Under the new direction of Sam Becker, a senior-laden Wolves team improved their record for a third straight season in 2015. Running the Wing-T offense, Wyoming gave many teams fits as they nearly won three other contests, all losses by a touchdown or less. The Wing-T, built around its four member backfield, provides a scouting nightmare for many teams. Unfortunately for Wyoming, three of their league opponents (Middleville, South Christian and Wayland) have been facing this offense for years as former league member Hastings ran this system. When the offense has to throw, Frankie Arguelles will be the premier target. Becker is building a positive culture at Wyoming, but with many parts in need of replacement this fall, it will be put to the test.
2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS