By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
WHITMORE LAKE – The move to a new athletic conference has put some renewed energy into the Whitmore Lake football team and has the Trojans thinking playoffs for the first time in years.
Whitmore Lake, a Class C school on the northern edge of Washtenaw County, moved to the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference this season after 46 years in the Tri-County Conference. It was a big move for the school, which hoped to inject some enthusiasm into its student-athletes, including a football program that was lagging in numbers and had made the playoffs just once during the last decade.
“I feel pretty good about the buzz and excitement that is going on,” said fourth-year Whitmore Lake head coach Brian Boron. “There’s definitely a resurgence with a lot of new things.”
Four-year starting offensive tackle Alex Williams noticed the change soon after Whitmore Lake announced the move from the TCC to the MIAC after last football season.
“I feel like interest in football picked up a lot more,” said Williams. “Being a captain, you see it in school. The eighth graders will come up to you and talk about football. We had more people in our weight room all winter. The culture has definitely changed.”
The first year in a new conference has brought all sorts of new experiences to the football team, both for players, coaches and fans.
“Do we miss the TCC? Absolutely. We were one of the founding teams,” Boron said. “We miss being part of that history and tradition.
“From a win-loss standpoint, things are going well. But this year I also have 12 seniors on the team, by far the most of any team I’ve had in my four years here. Are we competitive more because of that, or because of the new league? I don’t know.”
Whitmore Lake beat Auburn Hills Oakland Christian 62-33 last Friday to improve to 4-2 on the season. Its only losses were nonleague games to undefeated and state-ranked Royal Oak Shrine Catholic and Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard. Against Shrine, the Trojans fumbled three times; and against Richard, Whitmore Lake thought it had tied the game late in the contest, but a 2-point conversion was called back and the Trojans didn’t convert on the next attempt.
Several teams on Whitmore Lake’s schedule are first-time opponents, including Sterling Heights Parkway Christian, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian and Friday’s opponent, Southfield Christian.
Senior running back Evan Romeo, a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore, is enjoying a big senior season as well.
“Evan is having a great year,” Boron said. “Last year he missed five games with a hamstring pull.”
Logan Kurth, Cole Henning and Evan Vaughn are other backfield mates, and the quarterback is Zach Brady.
“He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he’s the architect of the whole thing,” Boron said of Brady. “He makes it go. Every game we have a referee or member of the chain gang come tell us that they can’t find the ball because Zach is doing such a great job with his fakes.”
Whitmore Lake’s biggest win this season came against Oakland Christian, which came into the game 4-1. The Trojans appear to be on a league title-deciding collision course with Week 9 opponent Livonia Clarenceville, also undefeated in the MIAC. Whitmore Lake’s last league championship in football came in 2002.
“In this league, we are playing against teams with 18 or 19 kids on the varsity, just like us,” Boron said. “When I took the program over, we had maybe 17 kids in the entire program. They aren’t great numbers, but now we are closer to 30. I’m hoping to add more.”
In making the move last fall, Whitmore Lake Superintendent Tom DeKeyser said it had become apparent that, at least in some sports, the Trojans were not competing at the same level as other TCC schools.
“We have built a lot of great relationships in the TCC,” DeKeyser said. “But our coaches and athletes are excited to try something different.”
Everyone in Trojans camp hopes that “different” translates into more student-athletes.
“We had 10 or 12 freshmen come out this year, some who had never played football before,” Boron said. “That’s been a good thing. We’re not sure about next year, how many kids we’ll get up from our youth program. We’ll have to see. The team having success, I believe, will help that.”
One thing Boron has found is that the move is demanding on the coaching staff, which has a whole new set of opponents for which to prepare. It used to be one or two new teams would join the schedule. This year, nearly all of the Trojans’ opponents are new.
“No other team in our league runs the ‘T’ which means we don’t see how anyone is going to defend it on film,” Boron said. “We kind of rep everything because we don’t know how they are going to line up against us. We’re still getting a feel for these other teams. It’s fun. As coaches, we watch a lot of film. We have to be able to adjust and be ready for just about anything.”
The Trojans already have scored more points than any team it has fielded since 2008, which is the last time Whitmore Lake finished with a winning record. The 2013 team made the playoffs but finished 5-5 after a first-round loss. That 2008 season capped the greatest football era in school history, when Whitmore Lake made the playoffs seven times during an eight-year span.
Boron isn’t making predictions for Whitmore Lake’s future just yet. There are still a lot of unknowns.
“Everybody is still trying to figure things out,” he said. “We will sometimes get to a school a half-hour or 45 minutes early because we are unsure of the traffic patterns still. Teams get to our school way early some weeks for the same reason.
“I think it’s a good thing for the future of football at Whitmore Lake. The unknown is exciting.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTO: Whitmore Lake now-senior running back Evan Romeo breaks into the open. (Photo courtesy of the Whitmore Lake football program.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)