Helmholdt Roadshow: Opening weekend in Detroit
DETROIT – The Michigan High School Athletic Association reversed course earlier this month on a previous suspension of the fall high school football season in the state. Games opened this past weekend, with all teams starting according to their previously scheduled Week 4 games.
Several top match-ups that pitted the state’s top college football prospects against one another led off the first weekend. I was on-hand for a pair of those contests featuring numerous four-star prospects and players committed to Power Five and Group of Five schools. Here are the highlights of the weekend.
KING-CASS RIVALRY ADDS A NEW CHAPTER
When I think about the top high school rivalries in the Midwest, particularly those that usually feature plenty of top college prospects, certainly Massillon-McKinley, which famously had a betting line in Las Vegas, ranks up there. So does the “Holy War” between Cleveland-area schools St. Edward and St. Ignatius. Down in Cincinnati, Moeller vs. St. Xavier is always hotly contested, and in Louisville St. Xavier vs. Trinity draws more than 30,000 spectators and has to be played at the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium.
In the last 15 year, however, there may not be a more heated rivalry producing the best games year-in and year-out as Cass Tech vs. Martin Luther King. The two Detroit-area schools always field top prospects, and often meet twice in the same season when they rematch in the Public School League Championship. It would take some research to figure out which of these rivalries I have covered in-person the most, but I have probably seen King-Cass a dozen times over the years, and I’m calling Saturday’s edition the best I have witnessed.
Cass Tech’s Hall-of-Fame head coach Thomas Wilcher acknowledged to me before the game that his team was going to have its hands full. They were blown out in this rivalry last year by a final of 47-7, and had a sophomore first-year starter at quarterback. Meanwhile, King went to the state championship game in 2019 and was returning its starting quarterback from that season.
Not only was Saturday’s game close throughout, but it featured big-time performances from several of the top-rated college prospects in the game. Despite their underdog status, Cass Tech was able to pull out the 34-26 victory. It was a tremendous contest to welcome football back to the state of Michigan.
RIVALS100 RB DONOVAN EDWARDS OPENS HIS SENIOR SEASON
One of the most anticipated performances in the Michigan this season is that of West Bloomfield running back Donovan Edwards, the state’s highest-ranked uncommitted prospect in the class of 2021. It was a pretty even start to the season for Edwards. He did score three touchdowns, but each came close to the goal line when he was lined up at wildcat quarterback. He didn’t break any big plays, and did not find much running room on the majority of his carries. He finished with nine attempts for 41 yards, which was third-best on his team.
After the game ended, Edwards entertained a scrum of local and national reporters who were interested in his reaction to the opening game, as well as his latest recruiting thoughts. Edwards was insistent that his primary focus is on his team and senior season.
“I’ve got the season going on; I’m not even thinking about my recruitment as of right now,” Edwards remarked.
The extension of the dead period through the end of 2020 likely benefits a home-state school like Michigan in this recruitment, and nothing Edwards said following Friday’s game contradicted that assumption. He talked about placing a call to Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh prior to Friday night’s game to get some last-minute coaching and encouragement. Edwards also listed a relationship with the players and an atmosphere that feels like home as two of his top priorities in selecting a school, both of which are difficult to ascertain without full, on-campus visit experiences.
Edwards has entertained the idea of making campus visits on his own, and explained that he had considered attending Oklahoma’s season opener against Missouri State the previous weekend. Ultimately, his own schedule prevented that trip from taking place, but Georgia and Oklahoma are two of his priority destinations if Edwards can work out trip details in the coming months. Of course, once he gets there, there can be no contact with team representatives and all tours would be self-guided. Edwards was clear, he would not commit to a school he has never visited and Oklahoma is one of those schools he has yet to visit.
Michigan has hosted Edwards several times on campus, and he has visited Georgia twice, most recently last winter just before the dead period hit. Edwards said a commitment will not come until after his senior season is complete, which leaves a small window for him to decide with an expected mid-year high school graduation and college enrollment.
PENN STATE TRIO ALL IMPRESS IN SEASON OPENER
The King-Cass game featured three four-star prospects currently committed to Penn State in the 2021 class: King safety Jaylen Reed and Cass Tech brothers Kalen King and Kobe King. All three had strong performances to start their senior seasons, but the King brothers came away with the victory over Reed and his Crusader teammates.
Kalen King announced himself with a devastating hit on a Detroit King running back in the second quarter, but made his biggest contributions on offense down the stretch. He caught touchdown passes of 75, 41 and 54 yards, the last of which came in the fourth quarter to seal Cass Tech’s victory. The long grass of Cass Tech’s home field could not hide King’s speed, which will serve him well as a cornerback in the Big Ten.
Kobe King was just as important to Cass Tech’s win, with consistent play on both offense and defense. He is the Technicians' top running back, carrying the ball 11 times for 40 yards and a touchdown to go along with 28 receiving yards. However, King is his best at middle linebacker, and he finished Saturday’s contest with 13 tackles, including four for loss, making plays from sideline to sideline.
Although his team did not come out with the win, Reed was also impressive with his play on both sides of the football. He had five tackles and several pass break-ups on defense, while rushing six times for 63 yards and a touchdown on offense. All three prospects lived up to their four-star billing in Saturday’s season opener.
OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES
... Although it came in a losing effort, the performance of Detroit King junior receiver Lynn Wyche-El may have been the most impressive I saw all weekend. The speedy slot receiver is a three-star prospect in the 2022 class who holds early offers from Kentucky and Syracuse. He was the bulk of King’s offense Saturday, catching nine passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
Not only was it the gaudy stats he produced, but it was also the acrobatic catches and relentless pressure Wyche-El put on Cass Tech’s defense that stood out. The Technicians have plenty of athletes in their defensive backfield, but their best hope was to try and contain Wyche-El, who kept fighting to get open and made difficult catches even when he could not find space.
... King sophomore quarterback Dante Moore holds more than a dozen scholarship offers already, but missed on a few throws and did not have his best day Saturday. Moore finished 16-of-29 passing for 272 yards and the three touchdown passes to Wyche-El.
... Pittsburgh had two 2021 commitments in Saturday’s Cass-King game. Terrence Enos lined up at left tackle for Cass Tech, while Brandon Honorable played right tackle for Martin Luther King. In college, though, those positions should be flipped. Honorable is long and athletic, though he still needs to polish the finer points of the position. Enos, on the other hand, plays with good discipline, but can struggle with the speedier edge rushers. Both have promise, they just need a little seasoning.
... After a wave of offers hit in early summer, West Bloomfield cornerback Maxwell Hairston announced a commitment to Kentucky last month. The three-star had a great start to his senior season. Not only did his team blow out Oak Park 39-0, but Hairston recorded his first interception of the season with an acrobatic catch on a ball thrown deep along the sidelines.
... Class of 2022 athlete Dillon Tatum is going to play Scottie Pippen to Donovan Edwards’ Michael Jordan this season for West Bloomfield, but that should not bother young four-star because it takes much of the pressure off and should allow him to hit the big home run-type plays while defenses focus on Edwards.
Tatum plays running back on offense and several positions on defense, including nickel and safety. Tatum only got three carries at running back for the game, but he made the most of those opportunities by averaging 20 yards per attempt. He is an explosive and versatile prospect, which is why more than 30 schools have already offered.
... The most frustrated top prospect I saw this weekend was Michigan State running back commit Davion Primm. Not only was his team blown out, but nearly every time Primm received a handoff he was immediately met by 3-4 West Bloomfield defenders. He will certainly welcome back four-star offensive lineman Rayshaun Benny, who is expected to miss the first few games while rehabilitating a knee Injury. As it was, Friday’s game did not give us much of a feel of what Primm can do at the next level, and he finished with negative rushing yards on eight carries with two catches for four yards.
... Four-star Michigan center commit Raheem Anderson was his usual, steady self on Saturday. He is the leader of a talented offensive line at Cass Tech. Anderson brings both strength and athleticism to the position, but more importantly he is a very cerebral player who his coaches trust to identify fronts and make blocking calls.
... Cass Tech three-star 2022 defensive tackle Deone Walker spent a lot of time in King’s backfield, collecting a couple tackles for loss in Saturday’s contest. He holds offers from Michigan and Pittsburgh. Walker’s teammate and classmate, three-star offensive lineman Masai Reddick, played right tackle for Cass Tech and had a really strong performance. Reddick is strong for his age and registered several pancakes Saturday afternoon. He may end up kicking inside to guard in college.
... Finally, West Bloomfield class of 2023 offensive lineman Amir Herring showed why he holds offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Michigan State early in the process. Herring lined up at left tackle for the Lakers Friday night, though based on his current size and skill set looks like an interior line prospect in college. He is strong, patient and fundamentally ahead of the curve, but needs to stay mindful of footwork and staying light on his feet as he grows and develops.