Churchill, Franklin, Stevenson battle in one of state’s best divisions
There’s no doubting the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East Division is a beast, boasting a roster of eight teams, five of which made the MHSAA playoffs in 2021.
Believe it or not, that percentage of post-season qualifiers could increase this fall as a senior-loaded Livonia Stevenson contingent — and potential up-and-comers Wayne and Westland John Glenn — may join the mix.
The target on the back of perennial front-runner Belleville has expanded after the Tigers captured the school’s first Division 1 state championship in 2021. The Tigers (13-1 in 2021) return six offensive starters and seven on the defensive side of the ball.
All three Livonia teams bring impressive talent into the 2022 campaign. Churchill (8-3) returns nine starters from 2021, five on defense and four on offense, while Franklin will hit the field with five returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Stevenson (4-5) is poised for a big year thanks to its 130-player roster at all three levels.
Here are capsules on each Livonia team following Friday’s KLAA Football Media Day event hosted by Northville High School:
While the numbers are there for Head Coach Randy Micallef, the level of experience on the varsity squad is modest at best as only two starters return on offense (six return on defense for the Spartans).
Key performers for Stevenson, Micallef emphasized, are seniors Charlie Davidek and Brian Watkins.
“Charlie will start at center and defensive line,” Micallef said. “He is the strongest player in our program, by far, and is being recruited by a number of schools. He is a great human being and works hard on and off the field. He makes us laugh each and every day at practice and I’m going to miss him next year when he’s not here.
“Brian — a starter on the offensive and defensive lines — is a strong vocal leader. The kids feed of his energy and his tremendous work ethic. We have a great senior class led by these two men. We have a number of seniors who saw spot action as juniors so the key will be getting them up to varsity speed as quickly as possible.”
Micallef noted 70% of the players in the Spartans’ football program are multi-sport athletes. Additional key returners for Stevenson are ArJon Thompson, Johnny Morris, Owen Reed, Alex Bowser and Aiden Nolan.
Entering his 23rd year as the Patriots’ head coach, Chris Kelbert is upbeat about his team’s potential this fall. After qualifying for the playoffs with a 4-5 regular season in 2021, the Patriots reeled off three post-season wins before finally succumbing.
“I’m very excited about this team’s group of seniors, who are very passionate about football; their excitement and enthusiasm levels are fantastic. Every day they come to practice ready to work hard.”
Kelbert noted the Patriots earned Academic All-State Honorable Mention status in 2021, “and most of those kids were in our junior class last season.”
The Patriots will be led by senior returners Owen Hawley and Cordel Mabins Jr., both three-year starters. Other key contributors will be Dominic Simpson, Drew Kelbert, Tyler Garrett and Jon Jasionowski.
“It seems like every year I come up here and talk about the same challenges: inexperience and lack of depth,” Kelbert said. “But every year our players figure it out and play really good football.”
Chargers Head Coach Bill DeFillippo said gradual improvement will be vital for his team in 2022.
“One of the keys for us this year will be taking things day-by-day,” said DeFillippo, whose teams always seem to challenge for division titles. “Obviously, our schedule is always one of our biggest challenges. It’s a great league, a very competitive league, and every week you have to be ready. The great thing about the schedule, though, is it prepares us for the playoffs.”
DeFillippo spoke highly of Dylan Wilczynski and Caleb LeBar, the two Churchill players who accompanied their coach to Friday’s media event.
“Both of these young men are good students and great representatives of our program,” DeFillippo said. Dylan is a three-year varsity player and two-year starter at wideout and defensive back, and Caleb is a second-year starter at center.”
Other players expected to play key roles for Churchill include Jayden Allen, Damani Robinson and Messiah Amerson.
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