By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
For the seventh-straight season, the Oxford Wildcats will play their league games as a member of the Oakland Activities Association’s (OAA) Red division. Joining the OAA in 2010, the Wildcats spent their first four years in the conference as a member of the White division before jumping up to the Red in 2014.
With the league using a 6-6-9 format for their 21 football programs, Oxford will be joined in the Red by the Clarkston Wolves, Lake Orion Dragons, Oak Park Knights, Southfield A&T Warriors and West Bloomfield Lakers.
Entering a season without living legend Bud Rowley roaming the sidelines for the first time since 1981, Oxford turned to one of the school’s all-time greats, Zach Line, to carry on the tradition. Immediately entering one of the lower peninsula’s most competitive divisions, Line inherits a team that won just one game, a road triumph over Bloomfield Hills, a year ago.
Swiss-army knife Drew Carpenter, who made plays all over the field for Rowley, has graduated and will continue his playing career in Midland for the Northwood Timberwolves. Wideout/defensive back Nate Call, linebacker Logan Nicks, offensive tackle Austin Penzien, tailback/defensive back Matt Pullman and defensive end/guard Dylan Rebtoy are gone, too.
These Wildcats will be tough to replace, but Line does have a nice mix of returning talent on both sides of the football, led by center Drake Biggie, tight end Trent Brown, quarterback Brady Carpenter, tailback/linebacker Melvin Eckles and safety John Valvo. Except Carpenter, who is a junior, each of the listed returnees is a senior.
Oxford is scheduled to begin their 2020 campaign on Friday, August 28 at Wildcat Stadium against the Romeo Bulldogs. The team’s first road contest will come the following Thursday, September 3, against the Stoney Creek Cougars.
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West Bloomfield captured the Red title a year ago at a flawless 6-0 in league play. While the Lakers return senior running back Donovan Edwards, a Michigan Wolverines target and the 247Sports Composite No. 2 player in the state, the team must replace quarterback C.J. Harris, safety Makari Paige and linebacker Cornell Wheeler, among others.
Harris is taking his talents to the Mid-American Conference to play for Frank Solich’s Ohio Bobcats, while Paige and Wheeler are headed to Ann Arbor to play for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines.
Lake Orion, who finished second in the division at 5-1 in 2019, must replace a flurry of talent at the skill positions, too.
Signal-caller Blaze Lauer (Ohio Northern), tailback Kobe Manzo (Northern Michigan) and wideouts Mitch Howell (Siena Heights), Marlon Robinson, Sam Staruch (Michigan) and Drew Van Heck have all exhausted their high school eligibility for head coach John Blackstock.
Van Heck, a three-sport standout for the Dragons, will be joining the Western Michigan Broncos baseball program as a preferred walk-on. A right-handed power-hitting outfielder, who, interestingly, throws left-handed, Van Heck had his senior campaign on the diamond wiped out by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
On the bright side for Blackstock and defensive coordinator Rick Powell, the team returns senior safety Kade Manzo, one of the OAA’s best defensive backs. Also a member of Lake Orion’s hockey program, the younger Manzo recently received an offer from Northern Michigan, as well.
Clarkston finished just 3-3 in the Red in 2019 but returns as much production as anyone, led by four-star offensive linemen Garrett Dellinger and Rocco Spindler.
A mammoth tackle prospect at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, Dellinger is the No. 5 player in the state and has reported offers from many of college football’s powers, including the Alabama Crimson Tide, reigning College Football Playoff national champion LSU Tigers, Michigan Wolverines, Toledo Rockets, Wisconsin Badgers and 11 others.
Primarily recruited by offensive line coach/run game coordinator James Cregg, LSU holds all nine of Dellinger’s 247Sports “Crystal Ball” predictions.
The son of former Pittsburgh Panther and Detroit Lion Marc Spindler, Rocco plays both guard and defensive tackle for head coach Kurt Richardson’s Wolves.
The second-best guard in the 2021 cycle, the 247Sports Composite also ranks the younger Spindler as one of the top-45 players in the country. With offensive line coach Ed Warinner and tight ends coach Sherrone Moore putting in the legwork, Michigan currently holds six of his 10 “Crystal Ball” projections.
Notre Dame, who completed a two-game series with the Wolverines in 2019, possesses Spindler’s other four Crystal Balls.
Richardson also returns junior quarterback Mike DePillo, a conventional drop-back type of passer who also starts for the school’s basketball team.
Southfield A&T, who posted a 2-4 divisional mark last season, is tasked with replacing five all-league players, including Purdue Boilermakers quarterback signee Anthony Romphf. Previously committed to the Florida Atlantic Owls, Romphf re-opened his recruitment after head coach Lane Kiffin departed for the Ole Miss Rebels, ironically located in Oxford, Mississippi.
Oak Park joins the OAA Red after sweeping the White in 2019. One of the top talent-producing programs in the state, the Knights graduated quarterback Frank Black, tight end Maliq Carr (Purdue), linebacker Deon Harper, safety Enzo Jennings (Penn State), offensive lineman Justin Rogers (Kentucky) and tailback DeVonta Twymon.
Rogers was Michigan’s No. 1 player in 2020, quite the coop for Mark Stoops and company. Twymon stepped up to become one of the team’s best threats out of the backfield a year ago, but Oak Park returns two more than capable tailbacks in seniors Travis Boston and Davion Primm, a Michigan State Spartans verbal commit.
Senior offensive tackle Rayshaun Benny, who is reportedly choosing between Michigan and the Iowa Hawkeyes, also returns for head coach Greg Carter’s Knights.
Bloomfield Hills, who failed to win a divisional game in 2019, is dropping down to the Blue division.
Complete 2020 OAA football divisions
– Clarkston Wolves
– Lake Orion Dragons
– Oak Park Knights
– Oxford Wildcats
– Southfield A&T Warriors
– West Bloomfield Lakers
– Birmingham Groves Falcons
– Birmingham Seaholm Maples
– Farmington Falcons
– North Farmington Raiders
– Rochester Adams Highlanders
– Stoney Creek Cougars
– Avondale Yellowjackets
– Berkley Bears
– Bloomfield Hills Black Hawks
– Ferndale Eagles
– Pontiac Phoenix
– Rochester Falcons
– Royal Oak Ravens
– Troy Colts
– Troy Athens Red Hawks
By Teddy Rydquist