J-L Football

Photo Courtesy of Gaylord Herald Times

J-L football team's high-powered offense returns wealth of talent
By: Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times

JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team returns a wealth of offensive experience that should help them realize their main goal for this season: win a Ski Valley Conference championship.

A top returner for the Cardinals is second-year quarterback Brandon Huff. As a sophomore last year, he orchestrated an offense that scored 30 or more points in seven different games, including a 50-point game against league rival St. Mary.

The Cardinals hang their hat on their dominant wing-T rushing attack, but this season they have bigger expectations for the junior thrower in the passing game.

“I look for Brandon to be one of the best quarterbacks in the Ski Valley,” said J-L coach Joe Smokevitch, who led the Red and Black to an 8-3 finish last season. “We’re looking to throw the ball more, and he’s the key to doing that. His progression has been great this offseason. When we start out camp, he’s going to be a team captain, so I expect him to be a leader on and off the field.”

That leadership will show when he’s under center. The Cardinals have given Huff more play-calling responsibilities this year, and that should help the offense operate more efficiently.

For example, he’ll be asked to check out of bad plays and into plays that will yield better results.

“Brandon’s going to make calls and adjustments at the line, and he’s going to lead our kids,” Smokevitch said. “We let our quarterbacks call plays at the line. He’ll have an option of two plays, and he does a good job calling the right play at the line.”

Should Huff miss any time, J-L has tabbed juniors Orin Kierczynski and Logan Huff as its reserve quarterbacks. Kierczynski has experience playing the position at the junior varsity level, while Logan Huff is an all-around athlete who could play nearly anywhere on the field.

Also at the skills position, J-L proves to be deepest in the backfield and will use as many as six rushers in each game.

Junior Ethan May returns as the team’s top speed back. He led the Cardinals in the spring as Gary Hoffman’s top sprinter, and Smokevitch can’t wait to see the tailback in open space again this fall. He’s always a threat to break a long run.

Juniors Logan Huff and Dale Wells will add power to J-L’s attack but can also use their speed to net first downs. Nick May will use his strength at fullback to run between the tackles, while Jac Bandt and Dominic Cassisi are underrated prospects who could make a splash.

According to Smokevitch, utilizing a committee of backs will help J-L maintain its offensive philosophy and keep opposing defenses honest.

“We have some bruiser-type backs and four speed backs,” the coach said. “We have a nice mix of running backs, so I just want to continue to do what we do. I want to control the ball on offense. We’re looking to distribute the ball as evenly as we can. That way teams have to key in on everyone who is in there.”

Up front, the Cardinals bring back just three offensive linemen this season, as they lost center Brad Kussrow and tackle Kalin Leonard to graduation.

Kussrow was a two-year starting center and will be the toughest player for them to replace. Game in and game out, he controlled the point of attack and ensured pulling guards had plenty of room to get downfield. McGwire Mathewson is the frontrunner to replace Kussrow this fall, but Smokevitch will not finalize that decision until fall camp.

Finding Leonard’s replacement will also be difficult. Although Leonard made his name known as a linebacker on defense, the offense will miss his leadership as a team captain on the line.

Dominic Vogt will anchor one of the tackle positions this year. The team is still unsure who will play opposite of him.

However, they do bring back junior Nathan Fox and senior Trevor Pickelmann as starting guards, arguably the most important positions on the line in the wing-T offense.

“Brad and Kalin are big holes to fill, but we’ll find someone to fill their spots,” Smokevitch said. “Pickelmann and Fox are both returning starters who have both played guard. They will be our leaders on the line this year.

“Because we pull so much in our offense, as long as our guards our doing well, we’re going to be doing well as a team. If our center can be stout at the point of attack, it allows those guards to do things we want to do.

"In our offense, we look to pound the ball. We’ll be able to pound the ball with the line we have and the experience we return.”

Senior Dan Nieman and junior Joel Kussrow will play tight end this season. They'll be asked to both block and help Huff in the passing game.

The Cardinals begin fall camp Monday, Aug. 11 before visiting McBain for a scrimmage Thursday, Aug. 21. They kick off the 2014 regular season against Mancelona at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28.

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Photo Courtesy of Gaylord Herald Times

J-L finds success passing against Hillman in 7-on-7 scrimmage
By: Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times

JOHANNESBURG – The Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity football team’s offseason training is paying dividends.

Defensive coordinator Cody Proctor has supervised the Cardinals’ efforts in the weight room all summer, while some of the players have worked on route running and catching when they’re not lifting weights and conditioning.

Not only has that hard work improved the physical performance of each player, it’s helped them play better on the football field, as the Cardinals learned against Hillman in a 7-on-7 scrimmage Wednesday in Johannesburg.

“The biggest takeaway for me so far is how hard our kids have worked in the weight room this summer,” J-L coach Joe Smokevitch said. “It’s really shown in guys like Nick May, our fullback, who has bulked up to 200 pounds. Dale Wells is a halfback who is almost up to 200 pounds, and Logan Huff is up to 175 or 185 pounds now. They’ve all been working hard all off season, and that’s big for us.”

The player who showed the biggest improvement during the scrimmage was junior quarterback Brandon Huff. He made some tough throws against the Tigers and hit several of his teammates with touchdown passes in the end zone.

Smokevitch attributed Huff’s performance to his off season training, both with and without his teammates.

“You can tell Brandon has been working hard at throwing,” Smokevitch said. “He comes in on weight lifting days and takes charge. He’s throwing twice a week with the running backs and receivers. He’s been throwing quite well.”

Huff worked with quarterbacks coach and mentor Richard Popp earlier this summer to perfect his passing game.

Popp is the head coach of the Birmingham Brother Rice junior varsity football team and has experience coaching at Maple City Glen Lake and Southfield Lathrup. He was a three-year starting quarterback for Wayne State University when he played college football in the 1980s. His star pupils include former quarterbacks Dave Yarema (Michigan State), Jimmy Miller (Chicago Bears) and Matt Baker (Dallas Cowboys).

It’s clear whatever Popp taught Huff this offseason is translating onto the field.

Some of the throws Huff completed against Hillman made Smokevitch reconsider how much more the Cardinals – a team that utilizes a run-heavy, wing-T offense – should pass this fall.

“He threw a few fade routes against Hillman where he dropped it right in the bucket,” Smokevitch said. “He hit some really deep balls. In the past, I don’t know if we could complete passes like that. That comes from his hard work this offseason.”

A few beneficiaries of Huff’s passes included senior Dan Nieman and juniors Ethan May and Logan Huff.

“Dan Nieman caught a really nice pass on a fade route, Logan Huff made some nice plays and all of our kids caught the ball really well,” Smokevitch said. “Ethan May caught the ball well and looks explosive when he catches it out of the backfield. We threw the ball really well and came out with some different stuff we didn’t do the previous time we scrimmaged Hillman.”

Wednesday marked the first time the defense saw a top-notch arm this offseason, as Hillman senior quarterback Ty Jones led the Tigers on offense. When the teams scrimmaged each other earlier in the summer, Jones did not make the trip to Johannesburg.

In 10 games as a junior last season, Jones was 97-of-175 passing for 1,594 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed for a pair of scores on 21 rush attempts.

Jones found holes in the J-L defense at times and was able to test the defensive backfield. However, Smokevitch believes because the Cardinals played without a pass rush, it allowed the quarterback to cause more damage than he probably would have against J-L in an actual game.

J-L’s defense was also missing players who were getting their sports physicals in Lewiston for the upcoming school year.

“Defensively, we watched them complete some balls, but a lot of that has do with us not having a pass rush,” Smokevitch said. “That Jones kid is a good quarterback and a great pitcher in baseball. But we had defensive ends like Dan Nieman and Dale Wells watching from the sidelines, because there’s not much they can do in a 7-on-7 scrimmage. They completed some passes on us, and he (Jones) looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the North Star League this year.”

J-L is finished with team activities until it begins fall camp Aug. 11. It concludes camp with a scrimmage against host McBain on Thursday, Aug. 21 before it faces visiting Mancelona at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28.

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#
Name
Grade
Position
1
Brandon
Huff
11
QB/LB
6
Ethan
May
11
HB/DB
9
Dan
Nieman
12
E/E
12
Nick
May
11
FB/LB
17
Jac 
Bandt
12
HB/LB
20
Jeremiah
Chappell
12
OL/DL
22
Cody
Teceno
12
HB/DB
27
Dominic
Cassisi
10
HB/DB
32
Logan
Huff
11
HB/LB
40
Dale
Wells
11
HB/E
44
Orin
Kierczynski
11
QB/DB
52
Wesley
Olds
12
OL/LB
58
Joel
Kussrow
11
OL/DB
64
Gary
Murphy
12
OL/DL
66
Nathan
Fox
11
OL/DL
69
McGwire
Mathewson
10
C/DL
72
Luke
VanDeKerchove
12
OL/DL
76
Trevor
Pickelmann
12
OL/DL
77
Dominic
Vogt
12
OL/DL
78
Billy
Priest
11
OL/DL
81
Brendan
Prentice
11
E/DB
85
Alden
Nickert
11
OL/LB

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J-L Sporting Event Ticket Prices

Adults ~ $4.00
Students ~ $3.00
Family ~$10.00

 Updated 7/24/15

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