By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
The 2020 season is the beginning of a new era for Oxford Wildcats football.
After 42 seasons in charge of the program (1976-79, 1982-2019), Bud Rowley, one of the best in Michigan High School Athletic Association history, stepped down in November and has since began his role as the offensive and defensive line coach for the Armada Tigers under his son and 2004 Oxford High School graduate, Kyle Rowley.
Another OHS graduate, Zach Line, is now in charge of the Wildcats, agreeing to the job in January following a seven-year career in the National Football League.
While the opponents had been known for some time, Oxford officially released their 2020 schedule on May 15. The Wildcats will reside in the Oakland Activities Association (OAA) Red Division for the seventh consecutive season.
The OAA, however, is making some tweaks to their operating procedure, as well. In 2019, the conference used a 7-7-7 divisional format for their member schools. This fall, the league will be using a 6-6-9 layout.
The Clarkston Wolves, Lake Orion Dragons, Oak Park Knights, Southfield A&T Warriors and West Bloomfield Lakers will make up the rest of the Red Division.
All games have a 7 p.m. listed kickoff time and player rankings are courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.
August 28 vs. Romeo Bulldogs
Outlook: In addition to 2020 being the Wildcats’ seventh-straight season in the OAA Red, it will also be the program’s seventh consecutive year opening the season against Romeo.
The Bulldogs handily won last year’s meeting, 41-14, on their way to a 7-3 (3-2 Macomb Area Conference – Red) campaign. Romeo was dispatched by 2021 three-star quarterback Brendan Sullivan, a Northwestern Wildcats commit, and the Davison Cardinals in the pre-district playoffs, 35-21.
Coached by Curt Rienas, the Bulldogs own one MHSAA state title, captured in 2015.
September 3 at Stoney Creek Cougars
Outlook: The first road game of the season for Oxford will also be their only contest to take place on a Thursday.
The Cougars prevailed in last season’s meeting, 27-14, and finished 2019 at 5-4 (3-3 OAA White).
Stoney Creek graduates tailback Zach Denha, linebacker Nick Potenza and defensive back Jack Warner, three All-League selections a year ago, but returns 2021 running back Cam Burford, a player capable of filling the void left by Denha, and John Rayba, a two-way player at tight end and defensive end.
The Cougars will reside in the OAA White once again this fall.
September 11 vs. Southfield A&T Warriors
Outlook: Southfield A&T shutout Oxford, 27-0, on October 11 last year, but the Warriors must replace five All-OAA Red players including wide receiver Christian Fitzpatrick, a Louisville Cardinals signee, and quarterback Anthony Romphf, who is headed to West Lafayette, Indiana to play for the Purdue Boilermakers.
Coached by Tim Conley, Southfield A&T was embroiled in controversy in 2019 when 2021 three-star wide receiver/safety Robert Army, an Iowa State Cyclones verbal pledge, transferred in from Detroit Renaissance just weeks before the season began.
Lashawnita Roby, Army’s mother, claimed the pair had moved to a Southfield mailing address, thus granting her son immediate eligibility for the Warriors. A subsequent Detroit Free Press investigation, however, showed the two were still living in Detroit, prompting the MHSAA to launch their own inquiry into the matter.
As of May 13, Army appears to have been cleared by the governing body and should not have any lingering issues for the 2020 campaign.
September 18 at Lake Orion Dragons
Outlook: Since renewing their rivalry in 2010, Lake Orion has won seven of the 10 meetings between these two bordering schools.
Like Southfield A&T, however, the Dragons are tasked with replacing a stable of talented players, such as quarterback Blaze Lauer, who is off to Ada to play for the Ohio Northern Polar Bears, and tailback Kobe Manzo, the son of former Lake Orion basketball coach Jim Manzo and a Northern Michigan signee.
Wideouts Mitch Howell, Marlon Robinson, Sam Staruch and Drew Van Heck have all graduated, as well. Howell will continue his career for the Siena Heights Saints in Adrian, while Staruch is joining the Michigan Wolverines’ program as a preferred walk-on.
A three-sport star, Van Heck will be headed to Kalamazoo to play for the Western Michigan Broncos baseball team, also as a preferred walk-on.
2021 safety Kade Manzo, Kobe’s brother, will be one of the Dragons’ leaders this fall and has recently garnered some momentum on the recruiting trail himself, picking up offers from Northern Michigan and the Valparaiso Crusaders.
Lake Orion finished 9-2 in 2019, their best mark since a 12-2 finish in 2012 and the high point of head coach John Blackstock’s tenure, which will be entering its fourth year in 2020. For this improvement, Blackstock was named OAA Red Coach of the Year in 2019.
September 25 at Clarkston Wolves
Outlook: Just like a year ago, Oxford drew Lake Orion and Clarkston in back-to-back games.
The Wildcats gave the Wolves a battle on the Blue Turf in 2019, but ultimately fell, 33-28.
Coached by Kurt Richardson, Clarkston has a strong claim to the title of Oakland County’s “Team of the 2010s,” capturing three state titles in a five-year span (2013-14, 2017). The Wolves also feature two of Michigan’s best offensive linemen in four-star tackle Garrett Dellinger, an LSU Tigers lean, and guard Rocco Spindler, another four-star who recently named LSU, Michigan, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions as his top-five schools.
Spindler’s Crystal Ball predictions are currently split at four apiece between Michigan and Notre Dame. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner and tight ends coach Sherrone Moore have been recruiting him for the Wolverines.
Clarkston has a talented signal-caller behind this strong offensive line, as well, in the form of 2022 standout Mike DePillo. Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing over 200 pounds, DePillo is a traditional drop-back passer with a strong arm and starts for the school’s esteemed basketball team, too.
October 2 vs. Oak Park Knights (Homecoming)
Outlook: One of Michigan’s premier talent-producing programs, Oak Park ran past Oxford in the 2019 season finale, 35-7, before falling to the Farmington Falcons, 12-6, in the second-round of the pre-district playoffs.
Entering his tenth season at the helm, head coach Greg Carter, who coached former Wolverines Devin Gardner and Cameron Gordon during his tenure at Inkster from 2005-10, will see his program move up to the OAA Red after running roughshod through the White Division a year ago, finishing 6-0 in league play.
The Knights will have to acclimate to life without quarterback Frank Black (Ferris State), tight end Maliq Carr (Purdue), safety Enzo Jennings (Penn State), offensive lineman Justin Rogers (Kentucky) and tailback Devonta Twymon.
Rogers was the state’s No. 1 player a year ago, representing quite the snag for head coach Mark Stoops and the Lexington-based Wildcats. Twymon was a lethal weapon out of the backfield for Carter, but 2021 three-star Davion Primm, a Michigan State commit, is more than capable of shouldering an expanded workload.
October 9 at West Bloomfield Lakers
Outlook: The Lakers finished 10-2 in 2019, including a 48-0 thrashing of Oxford on October 18, before falling to the Belleville Tigers in the regional playoffs, 27-22.
While Belleville has a, reportedly, somewhat rocky relationship with the coaching staff in Ann Arbor, it does not appear the same can be said about West Bloomfield.
The Lakers produced safety Makari Paige and linebacker Cornell Wheeler in Michigan’s 2020 recruiting class and 2021 four-star tailback Donovan Edwards, the No. 3 player at his position in the country, is considered a Michigan lean, too.
Edwards alone is worth the price of admission for this tilt. For Oxford fans that have not seen him in action, this game should be one you circle on your calendar because, in the very near future, it is going to cost much more than five dollars to watch him carry the football.
West Bloomfield will also be breaking in a new quarterback this fall as C.J. Harris, an All-Red selection last season, is off to Athens to play for Frank Solich’s Ohio Bobcats in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
October 16 vs. North Farmington Raiders
Outlook: Winners of all nine of their regular season contests a year ago, North Farmington will be moving up to the OAA White in 2020 after residing in the Blue for the last three seasons.
The Wildcats last met the Raiders in the final game of the 2015 campaign, with North Farmington prevailing in a Big 12 Conference-style shootout, 49-42.
Interestingly, 2021 quarterback Jacob Bousamra, despite piloting the Raiders to a 9-1 record in 2019 and throwing for over 2,100 yards, has yet to receive any collegiate offers. His favorite target last year, wideout Eddie Lenton, has graduated and will be continuing his student-athlete career on the hardwood for the Rochester University Warriors alongside 2020 Lake Orion combo guard Cam Sutton.
October 23 at Sterling Heights Stevenson Titans
Outlook: For the second-straight year, Oxford will conclude their regular season on the road.
While Stevenson posted just a 1-4 record in MAC Red play a year ago, the team won three consecutive postseason games over the Warren Mott Marauders, Macomb Dakota Cougars and Detroit Cass Technical, coming just one victory shy of a chance to compete for a state title at Ford Field.
This will be the first meeting between these two programs since a 39-0 Titan victory on October 19, 1973, three years before Rowley began his first stint on the sidelines.
Stevenson’s marquee player, 2021 four-star offensive tackle Giovanni El-Hadi, committed to Michigan on March 19, 2019 and is currently the second-highest rated member of the Wolverines’ upcoming class, trailing only five-star pro-style quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who announced earlier in May he will be transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for his final year of high school football after starring at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park, Illinois for his first three years.