Perhaps the least affected by OK Conference realignment, the OK Green did not lose a single team. The conference added the second Zeeland school as Zeeland East will join the league from the OK Black. This similar scenery should provide similar results as Zeeland West will be the favorite to win their sixth straight OK Green championship. The four time state champion Dux have lost just two conference games since the start of the 2010 season. Last fall, the OK Green placed three teams in the postseason, and they will look to match or improve that number this fall as Byron Center, Unity Christian and Zeeland East are legitimate playoff contenders.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
BYRON CENTER (8-3 in 2015)
Last fall, the Bulldogs reached the postseason for the third straight season where they were defeated by state finalist Lowell in the district finals. This year, Byron Center is poised for more as they return the Saltzgaber brothers, Josh the running back and defensive lineman, and the quarterback Zac. Brayden Smith, a wide receiver and defensive back who earned first team All-State honors a year ago, will also be back for Byron Center for his senior season. Smith, who has committed to play next year at Western Michigan, had ten receiving touchdowns a year ago. The Bulldogs will also have tailback Shane Tagg who scored four touchdowns against Hamilton back in the backfield this fall. A potentially potent offense returns as the Bulldogs should make the postseason for the fourth year in a row and they pose the best threat to knock off Zeeland West for the league crown in a very important September 23 matchup.
HAMILTON (1-8 in 2015)
2015 was a tough year for Hamilton as they lost the final eight games of the season, all by eleven points or more. This year, the Hawkeyes should be much improved as they return their quarterback (Keaton Mudd) and leading rusher (Tyler Geurink). Hamilton has a similar schedule to last year, as they will face Middleville, Coopersville and Sparta outside of league play. With experience and two of the three non-league games at home, the Hawkeyes should be able to improve on last year’s win total in 2016.
HOLLAND (2-7 in 2015)
Last season, a young Dutch team struggled to win ball games as their two wins were against teams that went a combined 1-17. This fall, Holland returns a handful of skill players including wide receiver Brent Aalberts, running back and defensive back Dante Jones, and two-way player Shamon Shinal. Cole Schut will return to anchor the offensive line, which will need to protect the new quarterback, in to replace Wade Buckman who has graduated and is now enrolled at Purdue. The ability for the new quarterback to adapt with their returning athletes will be crucial for the success as they have a favorable schedule this fall.
HOLLAND CHRISTIAN (4-5 in 2015)
Hayden Bakker, the quarterback for the Maroons, grew throughout the season as Holland Christian went 4-5, losing two games by a touchdown or less. He will be back this fall as will senior center Nick Kunkel, who is in his third year starting at the heart of the offensive line. Holland Christian will try to get their first winning season since 2012, but with a difficult schedule in a deep league, this may be tough to do.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN (8-4 in 2015)
Last fall, the Crusaders made large strides as they set a program mark for wins in a season, and they also won the school’s first district championship with a win over Catholic Central. Unity loses the Bos twins, two pivotal parts in their success in 2015. Senior running back and safety Luke DeGroot will return to anchor both the offense and the defense for Unity, along with Conner Ymker and Mason Vedders who will solidify the offensive line at the guard positions. The Crusaders should be able to reach the postseason for the third straight year as they continue to take the program to new heights.
ZEELAND EAST (7-4 in 2015)
After four years in the OK Black, the Chix return to the OK Green where they will be alongside their crosstown rival Zeeland West. Last season, Zeeland East returned to the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons. This year, in a league with far more parity, the Chix will be challenged. They return First Team All-State Lineman Johnathan Berghorst (CMU commit), junior running back Donovan Dy, and Trevor TerHaar, but will have to overcome the losses of CJ Otteman and Khylin Barton. The Chix will be challenged in Week 1 when they take on Saginaw Swan Valley as part of the GRidiron Classic.
ZEELAND WEST (14-0 in 2015)
Zeeland West was led by a plethora of seniors last fall and they rolled to a perfect season that was capped off by a 40-14 win in the Division 4 State Championship over Flint Powers Catholic. This fall, the Dux will have to replace a large amount of those seniors but they will return senior TE Jayk Slager. Similar to Muskegon in the OK Black, the Dux are the front runners to win the league, but they could start the season with a losing record. Zeeland West takes on Mona Shores in the season’s second week and then in week three they will face West Catholic, two teams that won at least ten games in 2015.
2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS