All 3 local KLAA coaches acknowledge how talented league remains
Victories are not going to come easy in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association this fall, the head coaches of the three Plymouth-Canton Educational Park football teams agreed during Friday’s KLAA Media Day event hosted by Northville High School.
But hard work can conquer all, they shared.
Canton (7-4 in 2021), Plymouth (1-8) and Salem (1-8) all compete in the KLAA West Division, which includes 2021 playoff qualifieers Hartland (7-3) and Howell (8-3); along with Northville (3-6) and Novi (5-5).
Andy LaFata, entering his fifth season as the Chiefs’ mentor, is the dean of P-CEP coaches. Greg Souldourian is entering his second season as the Wildcats’ leader while Rocks Head Coach Brendan Murphy is entering his first year.
Murphy is no stranger to local football circles as he was a member of Tim Baechler’s first graduating class at Canton. Baechler is now Salem’s athletic director.
Here are capsules on each P-CEP team:
When LaFata revealed the Chiefs will be young and inexperienced, he wasn’t talking coach-talk. Canton returns just two players who saw significant playing time last year as starters: junior Jaden Williams, a three-year starter at defensive back, and Josiah West, a returning starter at DB.
“With only two returners back, we don’t know if we’re going to be good week one, week eight or maybe next year,” LaFata said. “We’re looking to build and improve every day with the guys who have bought into our program.
“We had a good off-season, I believe, but, again, it’s a day-by-day process.”
LaFata emphasized the strength of the KLAA means there are no gimmes on the schedule.
“With this conference, you can’t go down your schedule and say, ‘Oh, here’s a win here or there’s a win there’,” LaFata asserted. “You have to buckle up your helmets and play hard every week.
“These two guys (Williams and West) are going to lead us and we’re going to go as far as they can take us.”
Salem returns five returners on offense and five on defense for first-year Coach Murphy, who spent the two previous seasons as an assistant coach on LaFata’s Canton staff. Murphy was a key component for the Chiefs’ football renaissance, graduating in 2002.
“Everybody is working hard to learn the new systems,” Murphy said. “They’re working their butts off, they really are. They’re doing everything we’ve asked of them.
“I’m lucky to walk into a program that has a pretty big senior class; they’re pretty focused and pretty driven.”
Among the Rocks’ leaders in 2022 are seniors Robert Ahlgren (quarterback) and Robert Jones (running back). Jake Hazlewood is also expected to perform at a high level.
Murphy admitted the first time his team plays Canton will be special.
“It will be exciting, no doubt,” he said. “I was a Canton guy back in the day, but Coach Baechler sold me on this job. He told me we can make some changes and turn this program around.”
Souldourian welcomes back four returning offensive players and five on the defensive side of the ball. Senior Evan Cosgrove has earned the title of defensive leader while Tyler Harris will be a stalwart on the offensive line.
“Tyler is kind of a throw-back player, he’s kind of gritty, plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Souldourian said. “He’s a true leader of our program and nobody outworks him, on or off the field.
“Evan is a three-year starter on defense. He’s a coach on the field. He has earned the ultimate respect of his teammates, coaches and teachers.”
Plymouth’ offense will be engineered by junior Sam Plencner, who has earned his coaching staff’s trust.
“The key to our success this season will be how hard we worked in the off-season,” Souldourian said. “The players worked incredibly hard to get better. They build a great foundation of hard work.
“I think people that watch us play this year will see a fast, physical, relentless team.”
Other players the Wildcats will lean heavily on this season are Luc Damiani, Kamari Pearson, Jaidan McCloud, Ali Hashm, Tate Marco and Terrell May.