BY DAN STICKRADT
ORTONVILLE — It’s not that Tim Pizzala doesn’t know the names of his football players in the program at Ortonville Brandon. He’s now in his sixth season with the Blackhawks.
But there will be some unfamiliarity this season, unfortunately, for Brandon.
The Blackhawks were one of six schools from the nine-school Flint Metro League to reach the postseason in 2011. If that happens this season, than Brandon will have to fill some shoes in a hurry — many shoes.
“We lost a ton of players,” admitted Pizzala, whose team was 5-5 after losing in the first round of the Division 2 postseason to eventual district champion Port Huron. “We only bring back three guys (that started) on both side of the ball. We have mostly new guys.”
A total of 23 players graduated, plus the Blackhawks suffered a blow when sophomore Anthony Gunn transferred over to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep last spring. Gunn played varsity football last season at Class A Brandon.
Among the departures were also virtually the entire offensive and defensive lines — and the Blackhawks countered with plenty of size last season.
The holdovers from last year’s squad include senior offensive lineman Larry Bland and senior wide receivers Nick Wummel and Derek Klanke.
Defensively, Blake Nivelt is back at linebacker after earning All-FML honors last season. Junior linebacker Blake Rehan and junior defensive back Andrew Derry also return in uniform.
All of the returning starters will likely play both ways this autumn.
Pizzala said he was looking at dozens or prospects throughout grades 9-12 for filling in positions in need of new starters. Besides the lines, the Blackhawks must replace its starting quarterback, running backs and most of its secondary.
“Last year we had all of those seniors, so we pretty much knew what we had and who was going to play where,” recalled Pizzala. “Not this year. We have to replace almost everybody. We do have some talented younger guys and we do have a lot of team speed. But when you lose a lot of size and experienced, it leaves (a lot of question marks).”
HEAD COACH: Tim Pizzala, sixth season (21-24)
ASSISTANT COACHES: Joel Dohm, Scott Sawyer, David Wyatt, Brian Blausey
2011 RECORD: 5-5, 4-4 Flint Metro League (sixth); Postseason: Lost to Port Huron (32-14) in Division 2 pre-districts.
POSTSEASON APPEARANCES: 4, 2011, 2000, 1997, 1996
RETURNING STARTERS: Larry Bland, sr. OL; Nick Wummel, sr. WR; Derek Klanke, sr. WR; Blake Nivelt, sr. LB-WR; Blake Rehan, jr. LB; Andrew Derry, jr. DB.
KEY PROSPECTS: Most of the roster is first-year varsity players
NOTABLES: Having a large senior class can often be a blessing in terms of kids playing with a sense of urgency and leadership. The downfall is that there are plenty of shoes to fill the following year. Brandon graduated 23 players and lost another key athlete via transfer, leaving numerous shoes to fill. The Blackhawks snuck into the postseason last year as a 5-4, at-large team, ending an 11-year postseason drought.
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