High hopes for 2011 Tigers

August 24, 2011 —

By Bill Mullaly

The football program at Hudson High Schoolis riding a wave of success almost unmatched at a school known for its long-standing tradition of winning. The Tigers begin the 2011 prep gridiron season on Friday night at Hillsdale taking on their long-time rivals the Hornets. Heading into the game the Tigers are in the midst of a 23-game regular season winning streak. They are also the defending division 7 state champions. Hudson has had two back-to-back appearances at Ford Field as the division 7 runner-up in 2009. Coming off a 14-0 season in 2010 gives the Tigers a 14-game winning streak. With that kind of recent success the optimism is again at fever pitch over on North Maple Grove and why not? This team in 2011 is loaded with talent but depth it does not have. The squad is small as 22 boys are rearing to go with a couple of them still not cleared to play yet due to a multitude of reasons. However, the season will begin on Friday with Hudson heading west to Hillsdale riding a modest two-game winning streak over the Hornets. Here is a look at the prospects for the Tigers and head coach Chris Luma as the 2011 gridiron campaign kicks off at 7:00 at venerable Baumgarten Stadium.

Offense to roll

Hudsonis known for scoring points and last year was a record-setting season as the offense posted 527 points in its 14 games (37.6) points per game average. Look for more of the same this year. Yes, gone is state player-of-the-year Drew Milligan at halfback and consensus division 7 all-state tight end Matthew Smith is out of eligibility taking his game to Northern Michigan. Despite those losses Hudson has players to score points and it all begins on the offensive line. Senior Burke Hart will fill in at tight end where Smith was and the team won’t miss a beat as Hart is going to make teams think that Smith never left. “Burke is strong, works hard and he is a leader,” said Luma. “He will do a great job blocking but he also can catch the ball. He is not Smith but he is close and he will make plays.” Back on the line is senior Devan Marry who will fill the right guard spot and Marry is a veteran having played the spot last year earning all-LCAA honors. “Devan will be the leader on the line and will make the line calls and he has valuable experience,” said Luma. The left tackle is another returning starter who can play as senior Cody Walden is back for more fun in 2011. “Cody scared us when he wasn’t at the first practice but he thrilled us with his return the next day and has been working real hard ever since,” said Luma. “He is going to have a real good year for the team.” Nobody can replace Meiko McDaniel at center? Well, yes they can as junior Zach Rieger will get the job done. Rieger is an imposing 6-2, 308 pounds of rock solid muscle and toughness. “My brother, Mark, thought he would be the best choice for replacing Meiko and Zach likes the position and is doing well in it and he can get down the field and block people,” said Luma about his monster lineman.

Another lineman who returns with some experience on the varsity as a starter is junior Elliott Lockhart who came up late last year and played some tight end with the first team when Ricky Beach was injured. “He will be our right tackle and he has size and is learning the spot but will do well for us,” said Luma. That leaves two spots with newcomers on the line. Junior Justin Boies will be the left tight end and he brings good size to the spot. “He will do the job and will get better as the season moves along,” Luma said about Boies who goes about 6-5.

The left guard spot is up for grabs as two players are battling for that spot. Senior Gabe Lee will start the opener as he has earned that right with his hard work. Lee was a back-up last year and will relish the opportunity to play as a starter to open the season. “We have full confidence that Gabe can make the blocks and get the job done,” said Luma. Junior Korey Bodette was fighting for that spot but is sidelined temporarily with an unknown heart condition that appears to be a minor setback. He is expected back for week two if all goes as planned. “I will be back after we get this all cleared up on August 31st,” vowed Bodette. Depth at most positions is not something the Tigers have a lot of this fall. Sophomore Dan Komarynski will be a reserve tight end and another sophomore Jacob Morgan could play on the line if needed. “Our line will be very good and is the strength of our offense with plenty of experience returning,” said Luma, who also likes his backfield.

Hudson will again run its vaunted winged-T attack using clever fakes, hiding the ball and two-handed grips on the pigskin. Leading the team at the signal caller spot will be senior Alex Leathers. He waited his turn as a back-up last year and is ready to go this fall. Another Alex, junior Alex Messer, will be his back-up. Leathers is really a fourth running back as he can rush the ball as well as throw it when needed. “He is like a running back at quarterback but he can throw the ball also,” said Luma. “I like Messer as our back-up and feel we have two dependable quarterbacks.”

Joel Varney will be the senior fullback. He was the back-up last year to Grant Benschoter and when Benschoter had a leg injury Varney was set to take over but he went out sick. Dimitri Nealy took over and the rest they say is history. Varney will get a ton of carries this year and is hungry for action running the ball. “He could have a real big year for us and is a solid runner who runs hard,” said Luma. “Joel can pound the ball and will be real valuable in short yardage situations.”

The left halfback will be senior James Herron who at 190 pounds is strong and he is fast, perhaps the quickest player on the team. “James can move and he is ready for his chance to run the ball after backing up last year and getting limited carries,” said Luma, who noted Herron also could have a big year. The right halfback will be senior Lucas Sparapani. “He can be a deceiving runner and has good moves cutting back and he fakes and blocks well,” said Luma. Junior Kameron Bellfy will get some time at fullback as a sub as will senior Marco Quevedo as a halfback. Morgan could also see time in the backfield as a fullback, if needed. Two newcomers to the program are searching for playing time in the backfield. Senior transfer from Roscommon Zach Stanley will add depth to the offensive backfield and is still learning the nuances of the Hudson running attack. Another transfer, this one from Morenci, is John Martinez a junior halfback who is going to add depth while he also learns the system.

Defense to Rock

Hudson’s defense is going to be rock solid and could be just as imposing as Danny’s D from 2010 that was the key to a state title. Hudson allowed 132 points for an average of (9.4) points per game. Look for more of that hard-nosed defense this fall. The down tackles are two tough boys in Rieger and Morgan. With Rieger a junior and Morgan a sophomore they could be there for a couple of years wrecking havoc on opposing defenses. “I like having those two in the middle and they should do well against the run,” said Luma. The defensive ends will be new to their spots and will have to adapt to playing varsity ball at those positions after being the defensive ends last year on the JV team. The ends are both juniors as Boies and Lockhart have the size to get the job done. “This two are capable and we are counting on them to make the plays,” said Luma.Hudson’s strength on defense will be its line backing corps. In the middle will be two of the toughest

Tigers around. Marry and Hart will hit you and then hit you again and then pound you if you come their way. This tandem could be as good of a middle line backing combo as Rick Sherman and Bill Deo all the way back to 1973. “Both Devan and Burke have two years experience playing defense on the varsity and they are going to be play makers this year and both will be expected to lead this defense,” Luma said.

On the outside will be Varney and Herron. Varney played a lot last year and has plenty of game experience. Herron also was a key part of the famous Danny’s D from last year. “These two are rock solid and will be tough on the outside for us,” said Luma.

Danny is, of course, defensive coordinator Danny Rogers who will again be back running the defense. Rogers is intense, demanding and a no-nonsense coach. He expects toughness and accepts no excuses for not getting the job done. Hudson again will play the kind of tough defense that wins championships. An area of concern could be the secondary. Back is starter Leathers at safety where he one of the team leaders in interceptions last year. However, the defensive backs will be new with Sparapani on the left side of the defense and Komarynski possibly starting at the right halfback spot. Stanley and Martinez will also fight to earn time in the defensive backfield. Look for Quevedo to sub in there also. Bellfy will be a key utility player on defense as a linebacker. Senior Robert Stein will earn playing time on the defensive line as a sub and as a guard on offense or on special teams. Two others on the team are California transfer Dylan Gallegos who is new and will play where needed as he learns the system. Also, back ready to go but waiting for MHSAA clearance is Sang Woo Park Robbins who can help on both sides of the ball. Both Gallegos and Park Robbins are juniors.

The guy doing the kickoffs and extra points will be Hart, who also would kick a field goal if needed. Sparapani is the punter and Marry will be the long snapper on punts and the short snapper on extra points and possible field goals. Herron and Sparapani will return kicks and punts. Luma is always looking for key special teams players on the kickoff and kickoff return teams. “I like to use guys that are not going both ways to really help us on special teams but this year with the small numbers we will have a few guys rarely leaving the field,” said Luma. Mark Luma returns to the team as the veteran offensive line coach and Jim Driskill will be back as the team’s unheralded volunteer assistant. Billy Seymoure returns as a do-everything helper.

Season Outlook

Hudsonis going to be good again. How good? Well, who knows as that is why we play the games but they are capable of winning them all again. They are talented and well-coached but the schedule is formidable. Hillsdale is solid and capable of knocking off the Tigers. Morenci has a new coach who wants to make a name for himself. Beat Hudson and he will have done that. Onsted is also solid and they have a new defensive coordinator who is chomping at the bit to shut down the esteemed Hudson running game. Blissfield over there is always a tough game to play. Ida on the road in week seven is a trap game. Jackson Western in week eight is a school twice the size of Hudson. Then archrival Addison looms large in week nine. Then if we survive that nine-game minefield it is the playoffs and Mendon can’t wait as the third time is the charm they are saying over in green Hornet land.

No game is a win until it is won and the Tigers will take them one game at a time and see what happens. Overall, in the Hudson-Hilldale rivalry it is Hudson leading 32-31-2 so this game is big to keep the Tigers in the all-time lead. Hudson won last year but it won’t be as easy up the road in Hillsdale. This game is key to having a good season by getting off to a win in the opener. Look for Hudson to prevail in a real tough, classic battle against the Hornets. Hudson wins it 15th straight overall and its 24th consecutive regular season game. Prediction: Hudson 22, Hillsdale 14.