Abbreviated season for Raiders and Spartans

TRI-CITY AREA — The start of another high school football season, although a few weeks later than its usual starting date, is just a couple days away.

Here is a look at our Tri-City teams, who they have lost to graduation, their top returnees and their outlook entering Friday’s season-opening clashes, both of which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

At Almont, James Leusby is back for his sixth year as the Raiders’ head coach.

Last fall Almont produced an impressive 13-1 overall mark. That included a 7-0 BWAC showing, good enough for first place.

Almont earned a spot in the Division 5 state playoffs once again, finishing with a 4-1 mark.

The team started their lengthy postseason run with a 30-20 road win against Richmond.

The next week saw Almont return from Marine City with a 22-20 victory.

That was followed by a 25-14 regional championship win over Saginaw Swan Valley at home.

Almont then defeated Detroit Denby, 36-8, in a semifinal game at Walled Lake Central.

That landed them a spot in the state championship matchup at Detroit’s Ford Field where Lansing Catholic Central provided their opposition.

When the final scores were tallied, Lansing Catholic Central had posted a 31-17 victory.

Leusby welcomes back 17 returning lettermen on this year’s roster of 28 players.

Josh Hellebuyck (quarterback), Jack Paupert (runningback/defensive back), Jacob Castillo (runningback), Jacob Hausmann (guard/linebacker), Colby Schapman (wide receiver/defensive back), Jackson Malcolm (tight end), Derek Johnston (center), Nathan Kerby (offensive tackle), Michael Rinke (defensive tackle), Caleb Weigand (defensive back), Blake Kapron (linebacker) and Meric Okoniewski (defensive end), were Almont’s key losses due to graduation.

Mason Smith (runningback), Michael Lulgjuraj (runningback), Landon Kruse (linebacker), Nolan Panduren (defensive end), Lane Jackson (defensive tackle), Brandon Hunsaker (guard/defensive end), Pierce Matthews (wide receiver/defensive back) and Corey Webster (runningback/defensive end/linebacker) are Almont’s top returnees.

Leusby sized up the race for BWAC honors this fall.

“The league could be wide open this year,” Leusby said. “We can do some damage if we stay healthy and Richmond is always expected to be near the top of the BWAC,” he noted.

“North Branch has their entire backfield returning, while Cros-Lex has a new coach and a stacked senior class. There are no easy weeks in our conference.”

Leusby knows that Almont will not sneak up on anyone.

“After our run to the state finals last season we will definitely have teams giving their best effort to knock us off this year,” Leusby said. “Although we lost a very talented group of players, we return a decent amount of experience,
he noted.

“These kids are wanting to prove that they can play so they are grateful for the opportunity to restart our season and they have been working hard toward their goals. With the shortened season and expanded playoffs, we don’t really know what to expect so we will take it one week at a time and keep working to improve each week.”

Almont opens the 2020 campaign this Friday with a home game versus BWAC rival Algonac. That matchup lists a 7 p.m. starting time.

In Imlay City, Brian Tresnak begins his third year as the Spartans’ head coach.

His team is coming off a 5-4 overall campaign. That included a 3-4 showing pitted against BWAC teams, good for fourth place.

Tresnak will determine his starting personnel from a talent pool of 21 players, including 13 prior lettermen.

Joe Harper (defensive tackle), Rosario Milana (linebacker), Colby Neighbors (cornerback), Brendan Biggs (defensive back), Dylan Heber (center), Austin DeRocher (fullback), Riley Bertram (quarterback), Cam Shirling (tackle), Brett Hall (tackle) and Jacob Vallad (guard) were mentioned as Imlay City’s key graduation losses.

Lance Wolford (linebacker), Wyatt Luther (linebacker), Dakota Sandzik (safety/receiver), Chris Cezik (tight end), Andrew Alden (offensive line) and Cristian Rojas (halfback/defensive back) are Imlay City’s top returnees.

Tresnak listed Almont and Richmond as possible BWAC title contenders.

“We graduated a lot of talent last year,” Imlay City Coach Brian Tresnak said. “Our guys are hungry after just missing the playoffs last season,” he noted.

“We expect to be competitive in what looks like a tough BWAC.”

Imlay City kicks off the 2020 campaign this Friday with a road trip to Cros-Lex. The BWAC clash is slated to get underway at 7 p.m.

Kevin Kissane has been covering high school sports for the Tri-City Times since 1985. When not standing on a field or court with his camera and notepad, he enjoys golf, travel and family. Kevin is a 1980 graduate of Capac High School, and is also a grad of St. Clair Community College and earned a degree in journalism from Central Michigan University.