Football FAB 50 countdown

We continue the football FAB 50 count down to No. 1 with teams ranked 41-45. This group includes teams from Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi and Virginia.

45. Wayne County (Waynesboro, Miss.)

2002: 14-1, Class 5A champion

Key players:

LB Steve Gandy (6-2, 190)
RB Michael McLaughlin (6-1, 215)
*NG Jerrell Powe (6-2, 305)
DE Ced Jones (6-4, 220)
RB Jerrod Sims (5-9, 170)
OT Keyon Harris (6-2, 295)
SS Marzell McGill (5-10, 180)

Analysis: If the defending state Class 5A champion can find a quarterback, it could repeat as the best in Mississippi. A strong defensive unit, including nine starters, is headed by all-stater Steve Gandy, who had 122 tackles, two interceptions and 10 sacks last season. Junior noseguard Jerrell Powe is the anchor in the middle with senior veterans Ced Jones, a defensive end, and strong safety Marzell McGill other key returnees. Four returning offensive regulars are headed by leading rusher Michael McLaughlin, who rushed for 1,280 yards and 14 TDs last season.

44. Providence Catholic (New Lenox, Ill.)

2002: 14-0, Class 5A state champion

Key players:

LB Brian Kulczak (6-0, 225)
NG Kyle Pavlick (6-1, 235)
CB Brian Piszczor (5-11, 175)
WR Mark Bennett (5-11, 175)
OT Dan McEntee (6-1, 275)
C Mike Pavlick (5-11, 205)
OG Jeremy Gaughan (6-0, 245)

Analysis: Providence takes the step into Class 6A last year, after putting together what might have been the greatest team in school history and winning the 5A state title. Providence Catholic allowed only 56 points in 14 games.

However, many of the key players have since graduated.

The team returns only four starters on each side of the ball.

They returners are Bennett, who was the top receiver; Piszczor, who had five interceptions as a cornerback; and Kulczak, who was the second-leading tackler.

43. St. Louis (Honolulu, Hawaii)

2002 Record: 12-2, state champion

Key players:
RB B.J. Batts (5-7, 170)
DB Keao Monteith (5-10, 165)
RB Marcus Higa (5-8, 165)
LB Dylan Moss (6-0, 225)
OL Makana Mardonada (6-1, 280)
DB Pono Vierra (5-9, 175)
DL Tevita Thompson (6-6, 250)

Analysis: Order has been restored in the islands as the Crusaders won the state championship last season after a two-year break for Kahuku being on top. In the previous 14 seasons before that, it was St. Louis that reigned as Hawaii's best. As it turned out, the Crusaders also wound up giving 2002 national No. 1 De La Salle its toughest game in a 31-21 defeat. Batts is the prime-time returnee for this year's squad. He was the Honolulu Advertiser's offensive player of the year as a junior after scoring three times in the 34-15 win over Castle in the state final. One of those scores came on a 99-yard kickoff return. Batts lines up in the backfield and in the slot and is one of those players coaches like to handle the ball at least 15 times per game. The graduation loss of three-year starter Bobby George at quarterback will be difficult to overcome, but junior Stanley Nihipali (5-11, 165) was the back-up and played a lot. Thompson and Moss combined to make six tackles behind the line of scrimmage in the state final and will be hard to handle for opposing offensive linemen. A new coach had not been named as of mid-May for Delbert Tengan, who resigned in April after being the head coach for just one season. Since the athletic director doing the hiring, though, is Cal Lee, the same man to built the St. Louis program to such a dominant position, the same offensive and defensive systems should remain in place.

42. East Grand Rapids (Mich.)

2002: 14-0, Division 3 state champion

Key players:
*RB Kevin Grady (5-9, 230)
QB Kyle Cunningham (6-2, 180)
OL Trent Hartwig (6-5, 225)
LB Nick Cisler (6-2, 210)
DB Courtney Partee-Grady (5-9, 170)

Analysis: With Grady leading the way, East Grand Rapids again is the favorite to win the Division 2 state title. Grady, only a junior, rushed for 2,400 yards and 43 touchdowns last season. He became only the second sophomore in 42 years to make the Detroit Free-Press Dream Team. East Grand Rapids returns six players on each side of the ball. Stuursma took over the program in 2000 and suffered through a 3-6 inaugural season. Since then, it's been all good — the team has won 25 of 26 contests.

Early in the season, East Grand Rapids will take on defending Division 2 state champion Lowell in a marquee matchup.

41. Phoebus (Hampton, Va.)

2002: 14-0, Division 5 state champion

Key Players:
*RB Elan Lewis (5-10, 205)
C/NG Anthony Robinson (5-11, 245)
OL/DL Xavier Little (6-1, 245)
WR/DB Lester James (5-11, 170)
WR/DB Dustin Johnson (5-11, 170)

Analysis: Phoebus graduated a pair of All-State performers from its back-to-back Division 5 state title teams, but one key returnee — Elan Lewis — keeps the Phantoms in the national picture until they lose.

Lewis was the Student Sports National Sophomore of the Year after rushing for more than 1,800 yards in Phoebus' 14-0 season. He earned All-State honors as a sophomore and already the recruiting interest is on high.

Xavier Adibi and Philip Brown were the key graduates from last year's team, but they certainly didn't leave behind an empty cupboard. Phoebus has six offensive and five defensive starters back.

Last year's team posted seven shutouts, and number that will be hard to match this season. "It always starts with defensive Dee said. "This will be a different team. This year, we'll play a little more zone, but we have very good speed on defense."

Phoebus will not have an easy run through the schedule. The team's regular-season showdown of note is against rival Hampton.

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