Byron Center (4-5 in 2017)
A season ago, coach Marc Cisco and the Bulldogs missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Three of their five losses came by eight points or less, meaning that the Bulldogs were just a few plays away from reaching the postseason. This year, they will try to make those critical plays down the stretch, and a pair of third year starters look to lead the way. In the trenches, Blake Pekel captains the group, and he is joined by Keegan Deppe. The second third-year starter for Byron Center is running back and defensive back Marcus Cisco.
Non-Conference Schedule: Forest Hills Northern, Middleville, at Comstock Park
This is the sixth straight season that the Bulldogs will face the combination of Forest Hills Northern and Middleville, and they have swept these two teams each of the past two seasons. Byron Center will rejoice at the fact that they do not have to face Muskegon in their crossover this fall, as they instead will travel to Comstock Park, who is still a strong bunch at 7-4 last year.
Hamilton (1-8 in 2017)
The Hawkeyes and coach Chris Myers will look to build off a Week 9 victory over Sparta that allowed them to avoid their first winless season in thirty years. There are seven returning starters on defense for Hamilton. Jack Doeden and Brandon Genzink lead the way in the secondary that will look to slow teams down after allowing 44.1 points per game last season. Doeden will also serve as the top target for quarterback Marcus McIlwain, who takes over under center. Hamilton hopes that its experience from last year will allow them to show results on the field in 2018.
Non-Conference Schedule: at Godwin Heights, Coopersville, Wayland
Hamilton has a tough non-conference schedule this season, as both Godwin Heights and Coopersville made the postseason a year ago. This makes their biggest game in the non-conference slate in Week 8 against the Wildcats of Wayland. The former OK Gold foes have not met since 2007, and the Hawkeyes lost the last two meetings.
Holland (6-4 in 2017)
Coach Andrew Pratley and the Dutch made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 last year. Though they fell in the first round to Muskegon, the momentum of reaching the postseason hopes to carry over to the school’s first consecutive appearances ever. There is returning experience for the Dutch, such as a strong offensive line anchored by Jesus Martinez and Michael Landin. They will aim to keep quarterback Ben Leeka on his feet, as well as allow Donovan Webb to make plays in the running game.
Non-Conference Schedule: Wyoming, at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, East Kentwood
The Dutch face three foes that missed the playoffs last season. Kentwood is a strong team that has perhaps the biggest offensive line in the OK Conference. Loy Norrix finished 2-7 in the SMAC-East last year, their fifth straight season of two wins or less.
Holland Christian (3-6 in 2017)
Coach Chris Kuipers and the Maroons football program have not been to the playoffs since 2012. This year, their strongest asset in reaching that goal is the passing game. They return quarterback Wilson Wirebaugh and his top two targets, Will Van Wieren and Brady Howe. There are returning starters on both lines, including defensive tackle Dan Dekam.
Non-Conference Schedule: at Coopersville, Forest Hills Northern, Spring Lake
The Maroons faces three teams in their non-conference schedule that they have never faced in fifteen seasons of football. Coopersville reached the postseason in 2017, FHN won three games, and Spring Lake finished the campaign without a victory.
Unity Christian (6-4 in 2017)
The Crusaders reached the playoffs again last season, their fourth straight trip. They will try to continue their school record playoff streak this year under coach Craig Tibbe, but there are some questions that must be answered. The main question is whom will take over at the quarterback position. Max Buikema is set to lead the way in the backfield, as well at defensive end, but there are questions surrounding him on offense. TJ VanKoevering and Caleb Heyboer join Buikema in captaining a defense that will also look to juniors to step up and fill key roles.
Non-Conference Schedule: at Allendale, at Godwin Heights, South Christian
Unity has a tough non-conference slate, with a pair of road games and a non-conference battle against a tough South Christian team. This is the fifteenth straight season that Unity Christian has opened their season against Allendale, and the Crusaders hold an 8-6 edge. Last year they won 52-44, their fourth straight victory in the series.
Zeeland East (9-1 in 2017)
Last season, the Chix ran the table in the regular season, winning the OK Green. Their undefeated run was spoiled in the postseason by crosstown rival Zeeland West, who avenged a Week 9 loss with a 42-27 playoff victory. This year, coach Derek Pennington’s bunch will rely on a pair of all-state, Division I recruits to lead the way. Adam Berghorst will man the interior this fall before heading to Michigan State. Tight end and linebacker Boone Bonnema will take his talents to Kalamazoo next fall to play for Coach Tim Lester and WMU. The third impact player is four-year tailback Josh Fusco, who carried the load on the ground a year ago.
Non-Conference Schedule: vs East Grand Rapids, Detroit Douglas, at Catholic Central
The Chix have two very difficult opponents in the non-conference slate. They open the year at Grand Valley State against East Grand Rapids, and in week 3 they hit the road to take on two-time defending Division 4 State Champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Sandwiched in between these games, the Chix host Detroit Douglass. The Hurricanes have lost seventeen of their last twenty-two, including all nine contests in 2017.
Zeeland West (7-4 in 2017)
The Dux, led by coach John Shillito, ended last season in the second round of the playoffs when they lost to eventual state champion Muskegon. This year, the schedule is tough, but so is Zeeland West. They are led by their returners in the trenches, tackle Zane Brooks, guard Ross Gilbert, and tight ends Austin Brower and Zeke Buter. They will all pave the way for running back Chase Peddie, who ran for over 1000 yards a season ago. On defense, Peddie joins Ross Bolman, who was an all-state linebacker in 2017.
Non-Conference Schedule: at Columbus Northland, at Grand Rapids Christian, Lowell
The non-conference slate is a big test for Shillito’s bunch. They open on the road against a Columbus Northland team that won seven games a season ago. They return just six days later in Grand Rapids to take on Grand Rapids Christian, whom reached the playoffs a year ago. Finally, their crossover opponent is the Lowell Red Arrows, a team that may be under new leadership, but they are nonetheless the state powerhouse that has made the playoffs every year this millennium.
The other OK Conference previews can be found at the following links: