BY DAN STICKRADT
PONTIAC — Two years ago Pontiac Notre Dame was in a rut. The Fighting Irish opened the 2010 season with five straight losses.
Notre Dame Prep found a way to reverse that trend and did not lose again until the district finals in 2011. The win streak ended at 14 games against Marine City, which went on to become the Division 4 state runner-up.
“Last year was a special year,” recalled Notre Dame Prep coach Kyle Zimmerman. “We knew we had a chance to be good and it’s always exciting to go undefeated (in the regular season).”
Gone from that team was a special senior class that departed in June. Some of those players are now on college rosters. Still, the cupboard is not bare by any stretch.
Although the Irish lack the type of depth they had a year ago, the do have some returning talent and quality newcomers that will again make them a title contender in the CHSL-AA Division. Although an unbeaten season is not likely, NDP could also be a playoffs team is it can get on a roll.
“We have some nice kids coming up,” admitted Zimmerman. “I still think if we can come together we can still contend in our league and hopefully make the playoffs.”
Notre Dame Prep, 10-1 last season, has made the postseason in three of previous six years. It will be up to a mix of holdovers and newcomers to make a return trip a reality.
Junior Jermaih Johnson (5-10, 180) will be this year’s No. 1 ball carrier and will be under the protection of senior lineman Andrew Winairski (6-1, 240). The starting quarterback will be either senior Joe Kutli (6-6, 210) or junior Brendan Newvine (6-0, 175), a transfer from Clarkston who played in a couple of varsity games at that school.
Another key transfer is sophomore Andrew Gunn (6-1, 195), who was a varsity running back and receiver at Ortonville Brandon last season.
“We have two good quarterbacks and they create some nice competition,” said Zimmerman. “We also have some nice looking players at the skilled positions that didn’t play that much last season who I think will do a good job this season.”
Defensively, Winarski and senior Andrew Wodrich (6-6, 210) will anchor the line. Senior Vinny Famularo (6-0, 190) and junior Aidan Cullen (5-10, 190) will head up the linebackers unit. Senior Connor Cervone (5-9, 150) will be a key member of the secondary, along with Gunn.
“We have a couple of big guys on the lines that will do a good job. We just need for some other kids to step up this season, challenged Zimmerman. “We lost around 20 seniors to graduation so we do have some shoes to fill.”
Notre Dame Prep will start the season off against some stiff competition. The Irish will visit Almont on Aug.23 for their season opener. Almont finished 11-1 last season and reached the Division 5 Final Four.
“I expect they will be good again. That should be a great test for us to see where we are at,” admitted Zimmerman. “We’ll need the competition because the teams in our league should be better this season.”
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
HEAD COACH: Kyle Zimmerman, fourth season (26-14)
ASSISTANT COACHES: Blaise Glennie, Dean Leach, Shon Hart, David Terzano, Jeff Allor, Brandon Chapman, Jim Garris, Steve Troy, Todd Bartus
2011 RECORD: 10-1, 3-0 CHSL (first); Postseason: def. Marysville (47-13); lost to Marine City (55-31) in Division 4 district finals.
NICKNAME: Fighting Irish
POSTSEASON APPEARANCES: 6, 1984, 1995, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011.
RETURNING STARTERS: Jermaih Johnson, jr. RB (5-10, 180); Andrew Winiarski , sr. OL (6-1, 240) (third-year starter); Vinny Famularo, sr. LB (6-0, 190); Andrew Wodrich, sr. DE (6-6, 210); Aidan Cullen, jr. LB (5-10, 190).
KEY PROSPECTS: Connor Cervone, sr. DL (5-9, 150); Anthony Gunn, soph. SS-WR-RB (6-1, 195) (transfer from Ortonville Brandon); Brendan Newvine, jr. QB (6-0, 175) (transfer from Clarkston); Joe Kutil, sr. QB (6-6, 210).
NOTABLES: After starting 0-4 in 2010, the Fighting Irish ventured on a 15-game win streak through the second half of 2010 and during the regular season in 2011, which ended in a district finals loss to eventual Division 5 state runner-up Marine City. NDP lost several key players to the college ranks, but by no means will this team fall sharply off the map. There is ample holdover talent and several rising stars that will very much keep Fighting Irish in the hunt for another division title and potential playoff spot.
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