With the announcement of the Michigan High School Football Player of the Year honor MLive Media Group is also unveiling our pre-season Watch List for the upcoming season. We’re setting out not to find the highest-ranked recruit or the kid with the best “measureables” and potential, but simply the best football player in the state. Offense, defense, quarterback or lineman, this distinction is meant to honor a player who just flat out gets it done on the field.
Below is our initial top 25 Watch List, which will be updated each week throughout the regular season as other players emerge or the current candidates take charge and put their Player of the Year campaign into full gear.
(Players listed in alphabetical order)
Byron Bullough (Sr.) Traverse City St. Francis, LB/RB — Byron is the latest in a long-line of Bulloughs and like the rest of his family, he’s headed to play football at Michigan State. Known for his toughness, tackling ability and football instincts, Bullough is a three-year varsity player and will play both sides of the ball at St. Francis this season.
Asantay Brown (Sr.) Mona Shores, WR/S — Brown was an All-State receiver as a junior for the Sailors and a big play threat. Last season he snagged 45 receptions for 839 yards and 11 touchdowns and set school records for both number of receptions in a game and the longest TD reception, with a 98-yarder against Muskegon. Brown — committed to Western Michigan — averaged 15 yards every time he touched the ball on special teams and was also a standout punter.
Jayru Campbell (Jr.) Detroit Cass Tech, QB/DB — Jayru Campbell wasted little time becoming a well-known name on the football recruiting landscape and already has two Division 1 state championships and a loaded stat sheet on his resume. He has a legitimate chance, along with his Cass Tech teammates, to win four straight state titles. Campbell recently committed to Michigan State.
Brian Cole (Jr.) Saginaw Heritage, RB/WR/DB — Cole is ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the state by both Scout.com and recruiting website 24/7, which also ranks him No. 65 nationally overall and No. 8 nationally at the cornerback position. The Heritage stalwart has the recruiting offers to back those projections up. Cole has been offered by Ohio State, Tennessee, Michigan and Michigan State.
Amari Coleman (Sr.) New Lothrop, WR/DB — Coleman is one the youngest Division I college commitments in the Class of 2014 the future Central Michigan Chippewa has been the definition of a playmaker during his time at New Lothrop. He scored 19 touchdowns last season despite getting just 38 offensive touchdowns. He won’t turn 17 until Oct. 4.
Askaree Crawford (Jr.) Ann Arbor Skyline, QB — Crawford had a breakout year as a sophomore starting QB and likely will take on more responsibility with the Skyline offense this season. He’s developing into a dual threat QB and last year threw for 1,513 yards with 12 touchdowns while rushing for 285 yards and six scores.
Drew Dowding (Sr.) Michigan Center, LB — At 6-foot-2, 205 lbs. Dowding doesn’t have overwhelming size for a linebacker, but he’s as aggressive as the come and covers the whole field. He racked up 108 tackles with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in 2012.
Ian Eriksen (Sr.) Clarkston, RB — Eriksen moved into the starting running back role for Clarkston last season and had a breakout junior campaign. He rushed 2,167 yards and 34 touchdowns en route to earing a place on the AP First-Team Division 1-2 All-State team. Eriksen is ranked by Scout.com as the top Michigan running back in the Class of 2014. He is committed to Eastern Michigan.
Trent Grimes (Sr.) Flint Powers Catholic, RB — Grimes impressed coaches at the University of Michigan high school camp last summer and shortly after received an offer from Central Michigan, where he has verbally committed to play after finishing his senior season this year. He transferred to Powers Catholic this season after a breakout junior campaign at Fenton. Grimes will likely be the primary offensive weapon for the Chargers.
Devon Harris (Sr.) Menominee, DB/QB/RB — Harris was one of only three juniors selected to the 2012 All-UP Dream Team last season and he enters his senior year highly regarded and potentially as the best player in the U.P. Although college offers haven’t started pouring in yet, Harris is a playmaker at multiple positions. His best position is probably defensive back, but overall he’s just a football player.
Drake Harris (Sr.) Grand Rapids Christian, WR/DB — There’s not a player in the state who has received more ink regarding his recruiting process than Harris. The Eagles star flirted with Michigan State and Ohio State, among others, before switching his commitment to Michigan. He dominated last season’s Division 3 state championship game against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s with eight receptions for 243 yards and a touchdown.
Alex Lewandoski (Sr.) Muskegon Catholic Central, RB/S — Lewandoski is a returning All-State selection and the leader for the Crusaders on both sides of the ball. He led the team in tackles last season and also rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Lawrence Marshall (Sr.) Southfield, DE — Marshall is a superb athlete and will play on one of the best defenses in the state this year at Southfield. He’s also been a strong leader for the Bluejays and tallied 119 tackles and seven sacks last season. He is committed to Michigan.
Nick Mattich (Sr.) Clarkston, OL/DL — Mattich projects to be one of the state’s best defensive tackles this season and is also a force on the offensive line. He helped clear the way for a strong Clarkston rushing attack in 2012 while also collecting 28 tackles and four sacks. Expect more of the same from him in 2013. He’s committed to Western Michigan.
Malik McDowell (Sr.) Southfield, DE — Virtually every college coach in the country wants McDowell. The 6-7, 300-pound defense end is one of the top defensive players in the state and his new team, Southfield, might feature the best overall defense in Michigan as well. Colleges interested in McDowell include Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Alex Neering (Sr.) Essexville Garber, DE/OT — Neering is a big, physical body in the trenches for Essexville Garber and could be one of the best offensive linemen in the state. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, he’s a force to be reckoned with. Neering is committed to CMU.
Jake Pearson (Sr.) Rapid River, QB — Pearson plays 8-man football way up at Rapid River, which is near Hiawatha National Forest and Escanaba in the U.P. It’s a different game up there, but our friend Keith Shelton of the Escanaba Daily Times insures that Pearson is the real deal. “Video game like numbers” is how Pearson’s quarterbacking ability was described.
Joe Reverman (Sr.) Grand Ledge, RB — Reverman is the top player in the Greater Lansing area and has been contributing to the varsity squad at Grand Ledge since his sophomore year. As a junior, he rushed for 1,568 yards and 22 touchdowns and was a First-Team AP All-State selection.
Brett Showers (Sr.) Rockford, LB — Showers is undersized (5-9, 240) for a Division 1 linebacker and projects as more of a baseball talent at the college level, but he’s a tackling machine for the Rams. Showers led Rockford with 115 tackles, also collecting two sacks, en route to earning a First-Team AP All-State selection. He’ll be the leader of the Rams defense again this year.
Travis Smith (Sr.) Ithaca, QB/DB — Smith is undefeated at Ithaca and part of three straight state titles for the Yellowjackets. After playing receiver as a freshman, he took over at quarterback and instantly became one of the best field generals in Michigan. In two years as a starting QB, Smith has thrown for 4,766 yards and 62 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. He has also run for 1,869 yards and 39 touchdowns. Smith is committed to Toledo.
Matt Sokol (Sr.) Rochester Adams, QB/TE — At what often becomes an overlooked position, Sokol has quietly established himself as one of the best tight end prospects in Michigan. He’s ranked as the No. 1 tight end recruit for the Class of 2014 by Scout.com and has verbally committed to play at Michigan State. At 6-5, 220 lbs. Sokol will have a dominant presence on the field this season.
Chance Stewart (Sr.) Sturgis, QB — Stewart is a three-year varsity player at Sturgis and so far has tallied 4,106 passing yards and 36 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. He’s a pro-style QB and a four-star recruit headed to nearby Western Michigan University. Stewart was originally committed to Wisconsin before former Badgers coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas.
Damon Webb (Sr.) Detroit Cass Tech, DB/WR — Webb is another standout athlete on a Cass Tech team loaded with playmakers. He’ll likely be a defensive back in college, where he’s committed to play at Ohio State, but he’s a weapon as a receiver, too. Scout.com ranks Webb as the No. 6 cornerback recruit in the country.
Tyler Wiegers (Sr.) Birmingham Detroit Country Day, QB — Wiegers is a pure pro-style QB with great accuracy and arm strength. He reads defenses well and is physically ready for the next level of football when he heads off to Rutgers and the Big Ten Conference after this season. Last season was his first as the full-time starter but the Yellowjackets are counting on him to have a breakout year as a senior.
Jared Wangler (Sr.) Warren De La Salle, LB — Wangler, one of the state’s best linebackers, was originally committed to Linebacker U at Penn State but recently switched his commitment to Michigan, where his father starred John starred at quarterback and led the Wolverines to a Rose Bowl victory in 1980. He’s got football in his blood and is a heavy hitter who will make big plays on defense for the Pilots.