Chippewa Valley Leads Macomb Charge

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 8, 2018

CLINTON TOWNSHIP – Since winning the Division 2 title in 2001, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley has played in the shadow of traditional Macomb County powers Macomb Dakota, Romeo, Sterling Heights Stevenson and Utica Eisenhower. 

Before this season, Chippewa Valley’s record against those four schools over the last 17 years was 26-52. The Big Reds did own a 10-8 record against Stevenson, but twice Stevenson reached MHSAA Finals while Chippewa Valley’s best showing since its championship season was a Semifinal appearance in 2003.

That trend started to change in 2017 as Chippewa Valley went 4-1 against these teams (including a second win over Dakota in the playoffs). This season, the Big Reds took another step forward posting a 6-0 mark and capturing their first outright title in the Macomb Area Conference Red.

And for the first time in program history, Chippewa Valley is 11-0. The Big Reds were 9-0 in 1975, the first season the MHSAA sponsored state playoffs, but did not qualify for the postseason (only four teams in each of the four classifications were selected for the playoffs that first year).

Scott Merchant is in his 10th season as head coach at Chippewa Valley, and the Big Reds have made the playoffs eight times during his tenure. These past two seasons have been his best by far. Last season, Chippewa Valley finished 10-2 losing to Detroit Cass Tech, 32-26, in a Division 1 Regional Final.

Most expected a rematch of that game this week. But Dearborn Fordson (10-1) upset Cass Tech last week, 41-14, and Chippewa Valley will host Fordson in the Division 1 Region 4 Final at 7 p.m. Friday. The teams have met just once before – and that game, in 2003, also took place in a Regional Final with Chippewa Valley claiming a 30-12 victory.

Merchant’s team is experienced, confident and loaded with talent. He has four three-year starters and eight seniors starting on defense.

“Dakota set the bar for the whole conference,” Merchant said of Chippewa Valley’s sister school (both are in the Chippewa Valley school system) and biggest rival. “In the mid- to late 2000s they had like five or six Regional titles. Our streak of losing to Dakota started in ’04, and I didn’t get here until ‘09. It was huge for us to win in 2014. It was the first time we beat them in 10 years. That was a big weight being lifted.”

When a team loses so often to another, especially a rival, the losses and the years often run together. For the record, here’s how bad it got for the Big Reds:

Beginning with a 7-0 loss to Dakota in a Division 1 Regional Final in 2004, the Big Reds lost 16 consecutive games to Dakota, and only six of the 16 were by 10 or fewer points. A 28-27 victory in a 2014 District Final ended this streak.

One loss stung most. In 2013, both teams were 7-0 and state-ranked. Dakota won 52-7.

“To this day I can’t explain what happened,” Merchant said. “It was one of the most disappointing losses I’ve had. A lot of it was mental.”

The tables have turned. Chippewa Valley has won five of the last six in the series and is two wins this month from reaching what would be the program’s second MHSAA Final.

The Big Reds’ success last season gave the players confidence and also fed their appetite for more. The 2017 team scored a school-record 463 points, and this season Chippewa Valley has scored 445.

The productivity is similar, but the means by which the offense this season has been successful is different. There’s a difference in personality. Last year Chippewa Valley was more of a finesse team that concentrated on the passing game. This team is more physical and its offense is geared more for the run, which is often more effective in November playoff games.

Quarterback Tommy Schuster is a three-year starter who threw for 3,100 yards over his first two seasons. His numbers (1,400 yards) are down a tad this season, but he’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and just one interception. Schuster also is carrying the ball more as he showed last week by rushing for 60 yards in the 51-10 victory over Dakota.

This added dimension has become a fine complement to the Big Reds’ top two running backs, Andre Chenault and Ja’Von Kimpson. Chenault is the team’s leading rusher with 888 yards and 13 touchdowns on 107 carries while Kimpson, who also starts at cornerback, is more of a featured back in 3rd down situations. He’s scored nine touchdowns rushing and one receiving.

“Our run game has been dominant all season,” Schuster said. “The offensive line has gotten better and better. It took a little time. They’re all (first-year) starters, and they’re confident now.”

Replacing the entire offensive line was the main concern for Merchant and his staff coming into this season. With just one senior, this group grew up fast. In the opener, Chippewa Valley trailed Saline 13-0 before the offense began to click and the Big Reds won 31-26. Senior captain Ryan Cyrowski, the center, is the leader and juniors Charles Wesley, the left tackle, and Donovan McBride, the right guard, have developed nicely. The Big Reds rushed for an-eye-popping 445 yards last week.

Merchant’s top two players could well be linebacker Marcel Lewis, who also sees time at tight end, and David Ellis. Ellis rarely comes off the field as he starts at receiver and defensive back and is a dangerous kick returner. He has 33 tackles on defense, five rushing touchdowns, six receiving scores, three more on kickoff returns and he’s returned a punt for a touchdown.

“We don’t have any weaknesses,” Schuster said. “This team, all year, hasn’t panicked. We’re ready for whatever happens. Last year’s team was like that, too. The reason we’ve been so successful (the past two seasons) is we have great players and great coaches.

“Playing quarterback on this team is a lot of fun. There’s so many options. If the run game isn’t working, we have no problem throwing the ball.

“I’ve grown up a lot over these three years. I’ve gotten to work on my speed, and I’m able to help the younger guys out too. It’s easier for me now. There’s nothing that’s new to me.”

The experience Schuster and many of his teammates have is a big reason Chippewa Valley has come out on top in a number of close games. In addition to the victory over Saline, the Big Reds held on to defeat Romeo (41-34) and Dakota (24-17) during the regular season. All three of those games were on the road.

“We’ve had way more close games this year than last,” Merchant said. “It’s been great to see the program grow.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Chippewa Valley’s defensive front lines up against Utica during a 49-0 Week 9 win. (Middle) David Ellis (8) follows his blockers into an opening against Utica Eisenhower in a 34-7 first-round playoff victory. (Photos courtesy of the Chippewa Valley athletic department.)

MHSAA, MHSFCA to Provide Spring Evaluation Camps for College Football Hopefuls

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 27, 2023

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, in partnership with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA), will be hosting first-ever Spring Evaluation Camps to provide athletes with aspirations of playing college football opportunities to show their skills and abilities to college coaches at one of five locations.

The one-day camps will take place between May 15-18 at Jenison High School, DeWitt High School, Jackson High School, Brighton High School and Detroit Country Day High School. The MHSAA’s involvement will allow for the opportunity for Division I college coaches to attend, and representatives from college football programs at all levels are expected.

Athletes who will be juniors or seniors in Fall 2023 may register to participate via a link on the Football page.

“This is an attempt by the MHSAA to help our athletes get exposure during the spring evaluation period in a way that does not intrude on spring sports,” said Brad Bush, an MHSAA assistant director and past high school and college football coach. “We are working with the MHSFCA to help put together a first-class experience for the athletes and college coaches.”

Cost is $20 per player, and each registrant will receive a shirt to wear based on the athlete’s graduation year and registration number so college coaches in attendance can monitor their camp performance. College coaches also will receive registration information for each athlete in attendance.

All athletes must have a coach from the athlete’s school staff present at the camp, and that coach must be a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

MHSFCA executive director Andrew Pratley called the Spring Evaluation Camps a tremendous opportunity for high school athletes in Michigan.

“We are very excited with the partnership with the MHSAA that allows our kids the opportunity to wear a helmet and do drills in front of college coaches in the spring at a minimal cost,” Pratley said. “College coaches are thrilled, and it's a unique opportunity to have the rules waived by the MHSAA at these events only in order to showcase the tremendous talent all over the great state of Michigan.”

The Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) has been devoted to the promotion of high school football since its inception in March 1972. The MHSFCA has more than 2,500 members and provides several educational and development opportunities for members and their athletes, including an annual coaching clinic, an annual leadership conference for coaches and potential team captains, and the annual summer East-West All-Star Game for graduated seniors. Additionally, the MHSFCA’s Leadership Development Alliance is in its third year of training coaches and offering veteran members of the association as mentors.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.