BY DAN STICKRADT
LAKE ORION — Two trips to Ford Field within a three-year period is just part of the growing expectations surrounding Lake Orion’s football program.
The Dragons expect to contend for championships — whether that be league, district, regional or state titles. Lake Orion and its legion-sized fan base expect the Dragons to compete, especially at the highest levels.
So when Lake Orion, Michigan’s ninth-largest high school, only captured a league championship last fall, many felt that the Dragons fell short of expectations. That comes after the Dragons won the Division 1 state title in 2010 and finished as the state runner-up in 2008.
Last season Lake Orion was stunned in the first round of the postseason, falling at home to Walled Lake Central, 20-17. For a program that had reached at least the Elite Eight six times in 14 years with three Final Fours, the early exit was a bit premature.
“We always have the expectations to compete for championships,” admitted Lake Orion head coach Chris Bell, who is entering his 15th seasons as head coach for the Dragons.
Lake Orion has emerged as one of the state’s more consistent programs in recent years. The Dragons have made the postseason 11 straight times and in 14 of the past 15 years. So even Bell admitted that the 2011 season was a bit of a letdown, even though the Dragons shared the OAA Red Division title with Clarkston.
“(The) 2011 (season) was a not a great year for our football program. Even though we were co-champions in our division and qualified for the state playoffs for the 11th straight season, we were disappointed with a 6-4 finish,” offered Bell. “We look to be much better this season.”
Lake Orion returns a bevy of talent, although a void is at quarterback with four-year starter Sean Charette now at Division II national powerhouse Grand Valley State University.
Senior Derek Delaura and juniors Kyle Bell and Connor Grant are the team’s quarterbacks this season, with Delaura (6-0, 200) getting the early-season nod. Regardless of who the signal-caller is at game time, there will be plenty of options on offense.
“Derek’s a senior and is the furthest along in development at this time,” noted Bell. “As a freshman and (junior-varsity) quarterback, he led those teams to undefeated seasons.”
Senior running back Jacob Miller (5-10, 185) is slated for a big year after collecting 954 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Senior Chaz Miller (6-6, 280) and senior receiver-placekicker Jeremy King (6-0, 180) will be the primary targets in the air.
Miller had 460 receiving yards and King collected 448 yards last season. King is also a weapon with his foot, going 37-for-40 on PATs and 3-for-3 on field goal attempts last season.
Juniors Corey Easter (5-9, 165) and Zak Arnold (6-0, 175) are back in the slots and are duo threats rushing and catching the football. Both were key members to Lake Orion’s run to the Division 1 state championship in track and field back in June. Another athlete from that track team that could become another key cog in the Dragons’ offensive schemes is junior speedster Chris Leigh (5-11, 180).
Junior Joey Friedman (5-10, 190) started 10 games as a sophomore at center and is back to help anchor the offensive line. That’s where junior Trenton Elkins (5-10, 240) hopes to be a force. Elkins was a state placer in powerlifting last March.
Lake Orion must replace its whole starting defensive line. Senior Travis Hill (6-2, 230) is slated for a big year and senior Durham Basso (6-0, 190) is a wrestler who will bring toughness to the defensive line.
Senior Derric Williams (6-2, 215) is a Division I college prospect as a linebacker. He led the Dragons in sacks, tackles for a loss and total tackles last season. Senior Nick White (6-0, 190) is a physical linebacker who will also haunt opposing team’s quarterbacks again this season.
There is experience in the secondary, as senior Nick Booker (5-9, 175) was among the team’s leaders in tackles last season and senior Brandon Clements (6-0, 175) started most of last season before an injury sidelined him the final three weeks. Clements can also join an already deep and fast cast of slot receivers.
While Lake Orion is not as big on the lines as in recent years, they perhaps have as much speed as any school in the 25-team OAA. There are great numbers with over 70 players on varsity and ample depth.
If the lines develop, there’s no reason to believe that the Dragons won’t contend for at least a league title and be a squad that could make a serious run in the postseason.
“We feel that we have what it takes to be a really good football team. How good can we be? We do have some areas where we don’t have a lot of (varsity) experience,” reminded Bell. “We believe that if we can come together at all positions on the field, than we can contend for championships.”
Contend for championships. That’s always the goal — and more — for Lake Orion Football.
HEAD COACH: Chris Bell, 15th season (118-39 at Lake Orion); 19th overall (138-59).
ASSISTANT COACHES: Dave Tooley, John Blackstock, Mike Heath, Eric Jennings, Brad Fischer, Jay Cohoe, Todd Gordon, Darin Tooley, Brian Schwartz, Rob Scranton, Kevin Misiak
2011 RECORD: 6-4, 6-1 OAA Red Division (tied-first); Postseason: Lost to Walled Lake Central (20-17) in Division 1 pre-districts.
POSTSEASON APPEARANCES: 16, 1988, 1989, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.
RETURNING STARTERS: Jacob Miller, sr. RB (51-0, 185; 954 rushing yards, 13 TDs); Chaz Miller, sr. WR (6-6, 180; 460 rec. yards); Jeremy King, sr. WR-K (6-0, 180); Corey Ester, jr.SL (5-9, 165); Zak Arnold, jr. SL (6-0, 175); Joey Friedman, jr. C (5-10, 190); Derric Williams, sr. LB (6-2, 215); Nick White, sr. LB (6-0, 190); Nick Booker, sr. DB-SL (5-9, 175); Brandon Clements, sr. DB-WR (6-0, 175).
KEY PROSPECTS: Chris Leigh, jr. SL (5-11, 180); Trenton Elkins, jr. OL (5-10, 240; state placer in powerlifting); Travis Hill, sr. DL (6-2, 230); Durham Basso, sr. DL (6-0,190); Derek Delaura sr. QB (6-0, 200).
NOTABLES: After winning the state championship in 2010, the Dragons were a bit of a disappointment last, finishing 6-4 with a first-round exit. Lake Orion does not have great size on the field, but ample speed with several members of its 2012 state championship track team on the gridiron and plenty of experience on both sides of the football. There’s no reason to believe that Lake Orion won’t contend for another league championship and make the postseason for the 12th straight time. Is there enough magic for a deep postseason run? With three Final Four berths under Bell, including 2009 and 2011, no one should be surprised that this team is still alive deep into November.
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