Prep teams ready to collide in Kickoff Classic

Teams that are in the Prep Kickoff Classic this Saturday at the Pontiac Silverdome wouldn't mind making a return visit to the former home of the Detroit Lions when it hosts the state finals in late November.

But for now, East Kentwood, Birmingham Brother Rice, Detroit Catholic Central and other schools that will be playing in four season openers Saturday at the Silverdome want to start setting the stage for what they hope will eventually be a run to the state finals.

The highlight of the four-game extravaganza is the third game at 4 p.m. between Brother Rice and East Kentwood, who were the runners-up in Division 2 and Division 1 respective last year. At 7 p.m., the team that East Kentwood lost to in the Division 1 state finals, Detroit Catholic Central, will take on Detroit Denby. Earlier games feature Harper Woods Trinity against Sarnia St. Christopher of Canada (10 a.m.) and Orchard Lake St. Mary against Harper Woods Notre Dame (1 p.m.).

East Kentwood lost to Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 title game 36-26 at the Silverdome and Brother Rice fell to Lowell 31-14 in the Division 2 championship tilt.

Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa is entering his 35th year as coach for the Warriors and 44th as a head coach. He's been coaching for 47 years overall. And he's expecting a tough opener against the Falcons.

"That's a darn tough football team," Fracassa said. "They've got a lot of players coming back. They run that Wing T very well and hide the football on the handoffs. You don't know where it is."

East Kentwood is the only team from the west side of the state making an appearance at this year's kickoff classic. Brother Rice defeated Farmington Hills Harrison 34-20 at last year's Silverdome showdown. Harrison had entered that game with a 36-game winning streak.

"We looked near and far for an opener and would have liked to have played someone from our area," East Kentwood coach John Shillito said. "This game was available. We said we'll go there."

Running back Noel Aleman leads the East Kentwood offense. A junior, he gained 2,223 yards and scored 27 touchdowns through 11 games last year.

"They've got an excellent fullback. He's a potential Division I college player," Fracassa said. "We'll have to find the right type of defense that can stop that guy."

Brother Rice is led by quarterback Doug Pickens, who is being pursued by colleges for baseball, but hopes to make some noise on the gridiron this fall.

"We'll be a young team like we were in my sophomore year," he said. "I think we'll be OK. People say we lost a lot of players. But that doesn't bother me."

Pickens expects to take on more of a leadership role this season.

"I might do more running," he said. "As a quarterback, I'll probably be a better passer. I haven't run that much.

"We're going to have new receivers. We have to get used to them. I think we'll be just fine. We're going to have some speed, definitely, this year."

Detroit Catholic Central comes into the season as odds-on favorites to win the Division I title again and two reasons for that optimism are running back Derek Brooks and quarterback Dave Thomas.

Two of the top players in the state from Catholic Central will be making their debuts with running back Derek Brooks and quarterback Dave Thomas.

"Those two guys will help us," said Catholic Central coach Tom Mach. "They're the two keys in our offense. It's always nice to have a quarterback with a year's experience coming back."

Thomas passed for 950 yards and completed 63 percent of his attempts last year. Brooks rushed for 204 yards and four touchdowns in the state title game last year. In a regular-season win against Detroit Country Day, he had 180 yards on 20 carries.

"We have the potential to be better this year," Thomas said. "We have a lot of guys coming back."

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