PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
TOP FIVE NON-CONFERENCE MATCHUPS
1- Week 2 Rockford vs Lowell
2- Week 1 Rockford vs Saline (Big House)
3- Week 2 East Kentwood @ Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
4- Week 2 Grandville vs Warren De La Salle
5- Week 1 Caledonia vs Howell
FIVE MATCHUPS THAT WILL DECIDE THE OK RED
1-Week 6 Rockford @ Grandville
2-Week 9 Rockford vs Hudsonville
3-Week 4 Hudsonville @ Grandville
4-Week 5 Grandville @ East Kentwood
5-Week 8 East Kentwood @ Rockford
Caledonia (4-5 in 2016)
The Scots suffered through some injuries during the early part of 2016, which led to their first losing season since 2011. This season, they must replace a plethora of skill players who have departed due to graduation. Coach Tom Burrill does have some strong options to fill the voids from a season ago.
Junior Caleb Bronkema appears ready to take over the quarterback position, making the transition from running back and linebacker. The Scots will have multiple running options in seniors Austin Fedewa, Brock Schrader and Mario Mazarelli. Blocking for this group will be a line also led by seniors Caleb Waldmiller, Malachi Brinks and DJ Simmons.
Simmons as well as Daniel Barnett, are both entering their third season on varsity, and will provide leadership and experience on both sides of the football. In the defensive backfield look for Fedewa, Chris Delaney and Nick Krzesowiak to try and stop the dynamic passing attacks of the OK Red. Caledonia is a team that traditionally overachieves preseason expectations, so do not be surprised to see them playing meaningful games into late October.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 1 vs Howell
The Scots need a hot start to reach the postseason this year, and that starts as soon as the Highlanders come to town. With a tough OK Red slate, the Scots may need to go 3-0 out of league to have a shot at the postseason.
East Kentwood (4-5 in 2016)
The Falcons were disappointed with their season a year ago, especially their ending, as their 44-34 defeat at Caledonia in Week 9 snapped their three-year postseason streak. Coach Tony Kimbrough knows that this league is tough, as he called it amongst the toughest in the state. Thankfully for him, and his quarterback, they have two of the state’s best lineman playing down in the trenches this season.
Juniors Logan Brown and Mazi Smith play on both the offensive and defensive lines for East Kentwood, and college coaches have noticed their stellar play. They both have received a plethora of Division I scholarship offers, and from prominent programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State. These two should be open monster holes for a plethora of talented yet inexperienced runners this season.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 2 @ Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
East Kentwood has the chance to return to the playoffs this season, and typically in the OK Red, teams that reach five wins will qualify. A road trip to OLSM in Week 2 provides a tall challenge for the Falcons, as the Eaglets are the three-time reigning Division 3 State Champions. If they can emerge victorious, they would show themselves as a legitimate threat in the OK Red in 2017.
Grand Haven (3-6 in 2016)
In 2016, the Grand Haven Buccaneers were a senior-led bunch, but they struggled in OK Red play, recording their third consecutive 3-6 campaign. This year, the Buccaneers have shuffled their staff around a bit, as Joe Nelson, a longtime teacher and assistant coach will take over the head coaching duties.
Nelson inherits another senior heavy bunch in 2017, though it is not as experienced of a team as you may think. Last year, there was no junior varsity team at Grand Haven High School, and thus, their incoming junior class has a low number of participants. They will be led on both sides of the ball by senior Charlie Young, who saw significant amounts of playing time a season ago at running back and free safety. Young will be spelled at times in the backfield by three-year varsity senior Ryan Mattson, who has mainly found success in the defensive backfield. Last year, he started at cornerback, but Coach Nelson stated that he expects Mattson to move to safety in 2017.
At the quarterback position this year for the Bucs, it appears that senior Adam Nelson will take over. He played sparingly at quarterback a year ago, but primarily thrived at the outside linebacker position. Nelson will have the comfort of two-way linemen Carter Williams and Parker Kingma to protect him in the pocket this year, and they both bring strong varsity experience on both interior lines. Coach Nelson is excited to take charge of the Buccaneers for the first time, and hopes he can right the ship to a successful year, and perhaps he can raid an upset or two.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 4 vs West Ottawa
The Buccaneers and the Panthers have constantly jockeyed for OK Red positioning over the years, and this year should be no different. Much like Caledonia, these three times find themselves in the unique position of being able to almost guarantee a playoff berth at five wins, thanks to the strength of their league. A huge week four matchup between the Bucs and the Panthers will put one team on the inside track.
Grandville (10-2 in 2016)
The Bulldogs won their second consecutive OK Red title a year ago, and by reaching the regional finals, they snapped a ten-year postseason victory drought. Coach Eric Stiegel’s bunch ultimately fell short in the regional finals however to Detroit Catholic Central.
This year, Grandville will be led offensively by Shane Baker, a running back who was very successful in his carries a year ago. He will be complimented by junior Bryce Sanderson, who appears to be more of a passing catching running back, as he also will star in the secondary at cornerback. The quarterback for the Bulldogs will be senior Tommy Blitchok, who played sparingly as the backup a year ago. Up front, they have strong blockers anchored by All-State guard Matt Kelly.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 6 vs Rockford
The OK Red may be decided by the winner of this Week Six matchup. Last year, these two played a classic low-scoring battle in the rain in Rockford, in which the Rams won the game and eventually a share of the league.
Hudsonville (8-2 in 2016)
A year ago, the Eagles rode the strong play of Michigan Sports Radio Player of the Year Jack Mandryk to a share of the OK Red Championship, their first since 2007. This year, Mandryk will be suiting up for the Michigan State Spartans, and the Eagles will be looking elsewhere to get to their fifth straight postseason.
On offense, Hudsonville must replace nearly every starter from a season ago. The lone returner, third-year varsity running back Mike Outing, will be looked upon to carry even more of the rushing load this season. Senior Hunter Stearns, a strong leader, is also entering his third season on varsity, and he expects to see action on both sides of the ball at defensive end and tight end.
Stearns is a part of a strong returning defensive front seven for the Eagles, as they bring back five of the starters on the defensive line and the linebacking core. Senior Jake Hoekstra is back to anchor the defense at the linebacker position, and this front seven should be one of the most experienced in West Michigan.
Behind them in the defensive backfield, look for junior Jordan Wenzel to make some big plays at the free safety, as well as returning kicks and punts. The Eagles have a few uncertainties entering the 2017 campaign, but their backups played solid minutes a year ago, because of many blowout victories. Expect Hudsonville to be near the top of the OK Red yet again this season.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 4 @ Grandville
The Eagles have a tough draw for the OK Red schedule this season, as they must travel to Grandville and Rockford, the two front-runners in the league. Splitting these two contests may be enough to be back at the top of the conference standings, and so the Week 4 matchup against the rival Bulldogs is a huge matchup.
Rockford (7-4 in 2016)
The Rams started slow a season ago, losing their first two contests of the season, and they even trailed Mona Shores early in their third contest. They would come back and defeat the Sailors, en route to winning six consecutive games to qualify for the playoffs and win a share of the OK Red crown. In the postseason, they avenged a Week 9 loss to Hudsonville, before falling victim to conference foe Grandville in the district finals.
This season, Rockford is once again of the most talented teams in West Michigan. They are led by quarterback Jason Whittaker, who has committed to play collegiately at Northwestern starting in 2018. There is some uncertainty in the running game, but Rockford returns a majority of their offensive line, led by three-year starter Cody Carone.
On defense, the line is the weak link, but their linebacking core is strong as they return Paul Reinke and Khale Showers, who are three and two-year starters respectively. The schedule is the same again this season, and it is very tough. For Rockford, they will be a title contender regardless of their regular season record, as Whittaker is one of the state’s elite quarterbacks.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 6 at Grandville
Last year, this contest was critical for Rockford in their pursuit of an OK Red title. Expect this to be the major roadblock in their pursuit of the OK Red title again, as this is by far their most difficult road task.
West Ottawa (2-7 in 2016)
The Panthers had their second straight two-win season in 2016, as Coach Ryan Oshnock’s group had some first-year hiccups. This year, their non-conference schedule gets easier as they replace Mona Shores with Lansing Everett, a team who finished 2-7 a year ago.
The player to watch for West Ottawa is senior Xavier Wade, who will be one of the Red’s top wide receivers. Last year, he was a Core Power Performance Impact Player of the Week in Week 3 as he caught nine passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a win against Caledonia. A dynamic player on the basketball floor as well, Wade will be a big play option for whoever takes over at quarterback for the Panthers.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 3 vs Caledonia
The Panthers are looking to top their two-win total from a season ago. While Week 1 looks manageable against Lansing Everett, they will need to win two of their three contests against Caledonia, Grand Haven or Jenison in order to top the 2-7 record they have achieved the past two years.
OTHER 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEWS