By John Raffel
Rockford won Division 1 state football championships in 2004 and 2005 but has had a two-year title drought that coach Ralph Munger hopes will end this season.
The Rams were 9-2 last season and lost in the second round of the playoffs. Rockford was the state runner-up in 2006.
“The group we had last year really had a great season,” Munger said. “We had good balance. We strive for balance every year. We had a very fine running quarterback (Robert Banasak) who is going to Ferris State University (in Big Rapids, Mich.). We had a nice blend last year of juniors and seniors. This year, it's going to be heavy seniors. We have 49 seniors and 27 juniors.”
That could make Rockford the preseason favorite for another state title. But not so fast, Munger warns.
“We've got a great starting point on paper,” he said. “But that's on paper. Hopefully we'll have depth and hopefully we play great defense.”
Rockford plays in the Grand Rapids area O-K Red Conference, considered among the toughest in the state.
“Hudsonville is going to be extremely tough. They always are. Every week you have to be ready to play,” Munger said. “It doesn't matter who you're lining up against. You have to be ready to go.”
Top Rockford players include defensive backs Brogan Bibler and Ray Sabon, quarterback Tim McGee and offensive linemen Steve Fegel and Cody Knott.
“We have a ton of kids,” Munger said. “I could give you 20 more names.”
Climax-Scotts has been a Division 8 power in past seasons and might be primed for another major run in 2008. But head coach Kevin Langs admits his team will have to win the battle at the line of scrimmage with the necessary speed to cover up for a possible lack of physical strength.
C-S was 12-1 last year before losing in the state semifinals.
“We had a great bunch of seniors who probably overachieved, at least athletically but not mentally,” Langs said. “They just brought some great leadership. That's what we're attempting to replace.”
Langs expects to have another competitive team this season.
“We have a tough schedule. We open up with Class B Stockbridge,” Langs said. “We're actually going to meet Iron Mountain North Dickinson (from the Upper Peninsula) in week 5 at Gaylord (a central location).
“Our kids work hard. They put in quite a bit of time to get ready for their season. Hopefully that will keep us competitive.”
Climax-Scotts, which won the Division 8 state title in 2004, graduated two first team All-Staters in defensive back and quarterback Jordan Langs and lineman Brent Followell.
Quarterback Brandon Weaver, who alternated at the spot with Langs last season, returns to the job.
“That will help because he saw a lot of playing time,” Kevin Langs said. “Our leading rusher, fullback Jake Smith, returns for his senior year. We only have one kid over 200 pounds, our center Joe Troutman. He's 260. He's a three-year varsity player.”
On the line, Climax-Scotts is noticeably small.
“I don't know who's going to win our spots,” Langs said. “But on the left side of our line, we could go 130 pounds at tight end, 165 at tackle and 135 at guard. That's unbelievable. But they're strong and quick for their size. We're hoping to be OK.”
Climax-Scotts will have eight or nine players playing both ways, Langs said.
Morley Stanwood rolled to the Class C state volleyball championship last fall and seem to have enough weapons to do it again. Coach Robin Kozuch has some key players back from her 2007 team that was 51-4-2.
Standouts on the title-winning team that have graduated include outside hitter Ashley Huntey and middle hitter Jenna Kellogg. Both are now playing college volleyball.
“After making it through regionals, which had been our roadblock in the past few years, they pushed each other and they were willing to do what it takes to go all the way,” Kozuch said. “They got along really well. They worked well. Sometimes you have a team like a family and they care for each other. That helps.”
Kozuch enters her ninth season with a career coaching record of 250-71-8.
“I'm extremely excited,” she said. “I think we can do really well this year. We lost Ashley outside and Jenna in the middle. We lost a little bit of power, but with the experience the underclassmen got from winning the state championship last year, they expect a lot from themselves.”
Alexis Huntey, Ashley's sister, will be up on the varsity as a freshman.
“She's three inches taller at (6-foot-2) than Ashley so that's kind of nice. She'll be a big presence on the court. I'm excited for her,” Kozuch said.
Back as Morley Stanwood's setter is senior April Emerson, who was second-team All-State last season.
“Just the improvements she has made in the club season and at some setting camps she has gone to has been tremendous. I look for a lot of leadership from our setter this season. She's just a tremendous athlete,” Kozuch said.
Also back are middle hitter Laura DeGear and outside hitter Katie Spielbauer, a pair of Morley Stanwood seniors.
“Katie led the team in digs last year and has improved her outside hitting skills,” Kozuch said. “There's a lot of veteran players this year so I'm really excited. I have high expectations of ourselves.”
Most of the volleyball players also competed on the Morley Stanwood basketball and softball teams that both advanced to the state quarterfinals last season.
“Success breeds success,” Kozuch said. “The girls expect a lot from themselves. They know how to win so they push themselves to win.”
Powerhouse teams that will test the Mohawks include Alma, Cadillac, North Branch and White Cloud.