BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS — For 10 miserable years, Rochester’s football team crawled through the doldrums of a dark cave with little daylight. Finally in 2010, the Falcons maneuvered from the depths and resurfaced.
Not only did the Falcons record their first winning season since 1999, they reached the Division 1 playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons and finished the regular season with legitimate hope for the future.
In the postseason, Rochester succumbed to state powerhouse Utica Eisenhower in the first round despite out-gaining the Eagles offensively. But the point had been made — Rochester is back.
Now, third-year head coach Erik Vernon must try to add to the success and keep Rochester relevant among the better teams in the OAA again this season.
“I think we’ll surprise some people,” admitted Vernon. “We have some very good athletes. But more importantly the seniors in our program are used to winning. They were 9-0 as freshman and 6-3 on the (junior varsity) as sophomores. Last year we were 6-3 in the regular season and actually played pretty well in our losses. We have a lot of guys back from that team.”
Rochester was 6-4 overall last season and even in those four losses to four powerhouse teams — eventual state champion Lake Orion, Rochester Adams, Clarkston and Eisenhower, which were a combined 8-3 in the postseason — the Falcons held their own.
There are five offensive and seven defensive starters back from that unit and the pipeline has replenished itself with some quality prospects in all four grades.
“We have athletes, we have experience,” said Vernon. “We lost some great kids, but so did everyone else. We have a lot of guys that may not have started, but got plenty of time.”
Defensively, Rochester’s linebackers unit is strong, led by senior Kurt Apostol (6-foot-2, 230), Jack Glancy (6-1, 200) and Darren Witherspoon (6-1, 185). Apostol is being courted by Eastern Michigan University and several Division II GLIAC schools and also is a rugged center in basketball.
Senior Lawrence Walls (6-1, 180) transferred over from Warren Mott last summer and made an impact as a defensive lineman. He will anchor the line again this season. The defensive line will also have some young additions, as sophomores Swam Shadaia (6-0, 190) and Shane Shadaia (6-0, 190) were standouts on the junior varsity last season.
Senior TJ Dean (5-10, 170), a 20-foot long jumper in track, and senior Dan French (5-10, 195), who sat out part of last season with an injury, will be keys to the secondary. Junior Eric Perez (5-9, 160), a state qualifier in track, is an athletic cornerback and another quality athlete in the Falcons’ secondary.
Another player that could crack the lineup is sophomore Demetrius McGhee (5-11, 170), who will add depth to the secondary.
On offense, the Falcons will be more run oriented with the graduation of standout quarterback Nick Bradley, a three-sport athlete who is now playing baseball at Western Michigan. Bradley was a three-year starter at quarterback.
Glancy, a powerful runner, inherits the starting duties at QB this season.
“He’s worked on his passing a ton since last season. He’s improved a lot,” praised Vernon. “His ability to lead us will be crucial.”
Glancy will have a potent ground assault to look to, led by senior Cody DeVoe (5-11, 185). DeVoe is an all-state wrestler who had beefed up 20 pounds since March and should be one of the biggest threats in the OAA Red Division. Junior James Ward (5-9, 160), who was pulled up to the varsity late last season after dominating on the junior varsity level, is a shifty and speedy back.
Senior tight end James Cox (6-0, 200) and Dean, who also plays receiver, are sure-handed when Glancy looks to the air. The addition of junior transfer Manny Mandoiza (6-3, 195), a three-sport athlete who comes over from Penn (Ind.), fills a spot vacated by graduation. Mandoiza played varsity ball as a sophomore for a quality Indiana program.
On the line, senior Kyle Pomicter (6-1, 195), who can also spell at linebacker, and senior Matt Lipphardt (6-3, 230) will be part of the crew doing the dirty work in the trenches. There are several other players that hope to figure into Rochester’s plans on the offensive line and at the skilled positions.
“We might be more of a run team this year, but we have a great duo in our backfield and our quarterback can run, too,” said Vernon. “We have some kids that can catch the ball. We are very athletic at the skilled positions.”
Rochester still has a black mark on its name, due to its struggles in the past decade. Another winning season would help erase some of that past.
The Falcons have recorded 14 total wins in the past seven seasons combined. Rochester is 24-76 during the previous 11 seasons. There have only been six winning seasons in the past 20 years, and three of those came in the early 1990s (’90, ’92, ’93). The others were in ’97, ’99 and 2010.
“We have to kind of build our own tradition,” said Vernon. “We have some very good athletes that are putting in the time in the offseason, in the weight room, going through workouts, playing other sports. They are committed to being good football players and I think that showed last season. We need to build on that.”
To submit information to www.northoaklandsports.com, e-mail email@example.com. To advertise, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow us on Twitter @LocalSportsFans and more than a dozen other social media networks.