Detroit Public School League football generates early-season interest

The high school football season is just underway, but the Detroit Public School League is already making a big splash with several newsworthy storylines.

There’s no bigger season-opener in the state than Saturday’s Big Day Prep Showdown finale at Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium, where defending PSL champion Cass Tech will take on Farmington Hills Harrison at 8 p.m. in a matchup of teams boasting a slew of Division 1 college-caliber players.

“It’s going to be tough,’’ said Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher. “This game has been highly-anticipated since it was announced. It’s going to be physical and the fans will see a lot of highly-skilled players out there. It will be a good test for the PSL. Hopefully, we can take advantage and put the PSL on the map and in the right direction.”

Senior wide-receiver-defensive back Terry Richardson and senior linebacker-fullback Royce Jenkins-Stone headline the Technicians’ star-studded cast. Their fans are hoping for a rousing encore to the school’s first 9-0 unbeaten regular season of last year when the Technicians also advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals before bowing out with a 12-1 overall record.

In the Big Day Prep Showdown’s other premier opener Saturday at 5 p.m., highly-touted senior running back Dennis Norfleet will lead King High against Birmingham Brother Rice in a game that has also generated media and fan interest. Last year, Norfleet scored five touchdowns as Coach Dale Harvel’s Crusaders came from behind to upset Brother Rice on its home field, 32-19.

Because of the PSL’s reputation for talent and crowd-pleasing play, several of the league’s teams were in demand to open the season outside of the local area.  Friday night’s games included Crockett, with a strong nucleus back from last year’s 11-2 Division 4 state semifinalist team, visiting Toledo Catholic Central at 7 p.m., while Cody, another of the PSL’s top contenders, is traveling to Cleveland to face St. Ignacius Saturday at 7 p.m.

No PSL team is traveling farther this weekend than Mumford, which will open the season Saturday at 1 p.m. against Marquette, an Upper Peninsula school.

Despite the 10-hour bus trip each way, Mustangs’ coach Eric Smith views the journey as a rare experience his players will never forget.

“The opportunity to take them out of town is paramount,” Smith told The Detroit News. “You must understand. These kids haven’t been out of the city. When we went to (a three-day) camp (in Belleville) they saw frogs. These guys hadn’t seen frogs before. You should have seen them. We saw wild turkeys. The turkeys had their young with them. They were all over. They’re just excited to go. For awhile it looked like we would have to cancel. We had trouble getting funds. I reached in (his pockets) and hopefully I won’t have to take out any more. The players who are seniors said they would make it happen. We’re going. This is something they’ll remember for a long time.”

The media buzz is just starting for Monique Howard. She’s the 6-0, 190-pound right tackle who started and played the whole game in Pershing’s 18-12 overtime victory Thursday against host Renaissance in the inaugural PSL Kickoff Showcase.

While there have been a few other girls who’ve played PSL football, Howard, a power forward-center for Pershing’s state-ranked girls’ basketball team, might be the first girl who played such a prominent role on the gridiron.

“She played well,’’ said Doughboys’ Coach Charles Spann “For the first time out, I’d grade her at 85 (per cent). She had no fear of any one and was treacherous the whole game.”

Spann admits he didn’t take Howard’s pursuit of football seriously when she first approached him about playing.

“I thought she was joking,” he said. “But she was able to do all the workouts and she never had any complaints. It’s obvious she has a strong desire to play the game. In all my years, I’ve never had one to convince me that this was the thing to do. But we’re going to try to help her get better each game because her heart is in it.”

Spann insists that Howard won’t get any special treatment because of her gender.
“We coach athletes and she’s one of our athletes,” he said. “The only thing different for her is the dressing room.”

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