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Blue Water Area football '22 season preview

Last fall was a fun one for Blue Water Area football fans.

Marine City made it to Ford Field, Croswell-Lexington won its first district title in nearly a decade, Port Huron and Port Huron Northern’s rivalry was as sharp as ever after splitting a pair of close games, St. Clair won the MAC-Gold, and North Branch finished its conference play on a 5-0 run.

And if you ask Mike LeGrow and the Pioneers, this fall is shaping up to be even better.

The Pioneers compete in their Blue-White Scrimmage on Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday, Cros-Lex was one of several area teams to host an intrasquad scrimmage, or as the Pioneers called it, “The Blue-White Scrimmage.” The excitement was contagious as players donned their jerseys for the first time this year.

“I’ve been waiting all year for this. I can’t even describe how excited I am for this season, I just love football,” junior tackle Joey Ramsey said.

The Pioneers may have graduated a talented group – including four all-state athletes – this spring, but LeGrow said he’s just as confident in this year’s roster.

“Did we graduate a lot of really good players last year? Yes. But the benefit of us being as successful as we’ve been the last couple of years is that we were able to move kids up and down based on skill level and get them experience,” he said. “There are a lot of kids on this team that got valuable game reps last year as freshmen and sophomores who are stepping into some full-time starting duties.”

LeGrow mentioned sophomores like Rece Noll, John Herman, and William Herman, and junior Braylon Day who will look to fill some of those key spots.

Plus, Cros-Lex returns junior running back Gabriel “Belly” Groppi who came alive midseason last fall to total 824 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns; junior wide receiver-turned-quarterback Gavin Espinoza; and the senior leadership of Landon Butler, Benito “Benny” Mendoza, Jaxon Gonzalez, and Drew Hosterman.

“I feel like we’re always doubted. No matter how well we do, especially last year, we’re always doubted, but we’re going to show them what we can do,” Mendoza said. “I’m confident that we can do just as good or even better than last year.”

In addition to their experience, Groppi said the Pioneers’ chemistry on the field will prove valuable this fall.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “We’re basically a family, we’ve really come together. These last few years we’ve been growing as a team and as a school and as a program.”

LeGrow said the Cros-Lex coaching staff isn’t divided into varsity or JV coaches, but rather offense and defense, which is a big reason for the team’s chemistry. Players and teams practice and train as a single team, keeping everyone on the same page from day one.

“They have the varsity expectations put on them since they walked in the door on the first day [as freshmen],” LeGrow said.

As a senior who's grown up in the program and on the sidelines of varsity games with his family, Butler has learned these expectations well and has big goals for his final season.

“It means a lot. I’ve grown up with these guys a lot throughout the years so it’s exciting to have one last ride with them,” Butler said. “I’m very motivated, I want to do well in my senior year.”

But of course, he's not the only highly-motivated senior in the area looking to make his last season his best one. Here’s a quick preview our local teams:


Head coach: Nick Matzka

Entering year: 1

Last year's record: 2-7

Key returners: Tyler Schultz, Wally Phillips, Derik Maciag

Notable losses: Trevor Balduck


Head coach: James Leusby

Entering year: 8

Last year’s record: 6-5

Key returners: Bryce Ferman, Matthew Measel, Trenton Kruse, Tyler Filinger, Antonio Nedelkovski

Notable losses: Blake Bunch, Brandon Hunsaker, Mason Smith Kaiden SaintOnge


Head coach: Kyle Rowley

Entering year: 3

Last year’s record: 7-4

Key returners: Vinny Fodale, Kyle Coenen, Lukas Sleboda, Leo Andrews, Dylan Watson

Notable losses: Cole Mahaffy, George Hebb, Easton Vyt, Sal Viviano


Head coach: Mike LeGrow

Entering year: 3

Last year’s record: 10-2; BWAC and District Champs

Key returners: Belly Groppi, Joey Ramsey, Gavin Espinoza, Landon Butler, Benny Mendoza, Jaxon Gonzalez, Drew Hosterman

Notable losses: Jake Townsend, Matt Lyons, Saige Slanec, Kirk Wilson, Jack Oliver

Imlay City

Head coach: David Brown

Entering year: 1

Last year’s record: 2-7

Key returners: Latham Perry, Dalton Sands

Notable losses: Cristian Rojas, Lance Wolford

Marine City

Head coach: Daryn Letson

Entering year: 3

Last year’s record: 13-1; MAC-Gold, District, and Regional Champs; Division 5 State Runner-Up

Key returners: Zach Tetler, Jeff Heaslip, Conner Mason, Cole O'Kroy, Griffin Schulte, Anthony Ruffino, Parker Atkinson

Notable losses: Wyatt Walker, Charles Tigert, Carter Ames, Nolan Distelrath


Head coach: Derrick Meier

Entering year: 4

Last year’s record: 3-6

Key returners: Braden Turner, Austin Meier, Noah LaValley, Tyler McKenney, Carter Saccucci, Caz Carty, Troy Caza, Owen Rann

Notable losses: Michael Pitzo, Dalton Sargent, Andrew Schweihofer, Michael Awestruck, Austin Piechotte

North Branch

Head coach: Jeremy Ferman

Entering year: 6

Last year’s record: 7-3

Key returners: Will Damaska, Dylan Schmidt, Griffin Mabery, Lucas Schapman, Aiden Swoish, Ryan Henne, Hunter Nichols, Ethan Wenta, Mason Howe, Kevin Gorman, Wyatt Bruff, Gabe Miles, Franklin Caudill

Notable losses: Gabe Baska

Port Huron

Head coach: Dan Perkins

Entering year: 2

Last year’s record: 6-4; MAC-Blue Champs

Key returners: Jaiden Ashford, Caden Rogers, Luke Allen, Amauri Haller, Gavin Troy, Noah Maiuri

Notable losses: Gabe Mose, Cameron Cole, Blake Stevens, Nash Phillips

Port Huron Northern

Head coach: Larry Roelens

Entering year: 8

Last year’s record: 8-3

Key retuners: Luke Fletcher, Dylan Bloink, Alex Armstrong, Scott Pauly, Hayden Prone, Jacob Kerrigan, Jack Bennett, Austin Haeck, Kanye Cole

Notable losses: Billy Fealko, Joel Steinhauer, Troy Daniels, George Murdick, Collin Orr, Malachi Mitchell, Evan Delong


Head coach: Sean Misko

Entering year: 2

Last year’s record: 4-6

Key returners: Blake Esselink, Anthony Bonnetti, Joey Simmons, Cole Murphy, Kyle Bartolomucci

Notable losses: Wesley Peters, Kevin McKiernan, Hudson Davenport, Joe Parinello

St. Clair

Head coach: James Bishop

Entering year: 6

Last year’s record: 8-3; MAC-Gold Champs

Key returners: Logan Ellis, Luke Gabriel, Larry Warzyniak

Notable losses: Luke Ellis


Head coach: Garrett Grundman

Entering year: 2

Last year’s record: 2-7

Key returners: Connor Jakubiak, James Bahr, Khazen Morton, Ryan Monarch, Jayden Krosnicki, Jeremy Griffith, Caden Proctor, Blake Barr, Jack Hoppe

Notable losses: Daniel Orrell, Jon Bartee, Ronnie Culhane, Nate Pilgrim, Eli Terpening, Caden Kozar

Who's your favorite to go all the way this fall?

  • Almont

  • Armada

  • Cros-Lex

  • Imlay City

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