KALAMAZOO, MI – The Southwestern Athletic Conference sent two teams to the state semifinals in 2020, as Schoolcraft and Constantine represented their respective divisions in the final four.

Both teams ran away with division titles, with Schoolcraft going undefeated in the Valley and Constantine unblemished in the Lakeshore, so it was apparent the Eagles and Falcons had the talent to make an extended playoff run.

This year, the conference picture isn’t quite as clear, but there are several teams with SAC championship and state title aspirations.

Lawton looks ready to overcome its struggles against Schoolcraft to emerge in the SAC Valley, while Kalamazoo United appears to be a serious SAC Lakeshore threat to Constantine, which also returns a lot of talent from last year.

But those aren’t the only squads looking to make some noise in 2021, so follow along for the scoop on each of the Kalamazoo-area teams competing in the SAC this season.

SAC Lakeshore predicted finish

1. Constantine

2. Kalamazoo United

3. Watervliet

4. Parchment

5. Coloma

Constantine players (from left) Heston Wiggs, Owen Griffith, Brayden Clark, Carson Platz and Caden Hetmansperger pose for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Constantine Falcons

Coach: Shawn Griffith (17th season, 136-49 record)

Key players: Caden Hetmansperger (Sr. QB/RB/DB), Carson Platz (Sr. S), Brayden Clark (Sr. RB/DB), Heston Wiggs (Sr. C/DT), Owen Griffith (Sr. TE/LB), Lukas Hagenbuch (Jr. WR/DB), Bennett Vandenberg (Soph. DL), Trevor Black (Jr. G), Dean Topolski (Sr. QB)

2020 record: 9-2

2020 review: After opening the season with a 49-14 loss to Schoolcraft, Constantine rolled off nine consecutive wins before falling in the Division 6 state semifinals against Clinton. The early Schoolcraft loss and 28-21 win over Parchment in Week 2 showed that it took Constantine a few weeks to get going coming out of the unprecedented offseason, but once the Falcons’ ground game gained steam, it was nearly impossible for teams to stop. Constantine averaged 41.4 points per game, led by first team all-state running back Brayden Clark, who ran for more than 1,300 yards at 9.9 yards per carry.

Also achieving all-state status was senior linebacker Isaac Hall and senior defensive lineman Boe Eckman.

2021 outlook: Constantine is the early favorite to repeat as SAC Lakeshore champs based on the amount of talent and experience coming back, headlined by Clark, senior quarterback Caden Hetmansperger and senior tight end Owen Griffith. It’s hard to see Constantine’s ground game taking a step back, though the Falcons do have to replace their starting offensive tackles. What should be exciting for Constantine fans is the idea of a big-play passing game that catches defenses off-guard or at least has the ability to convert third-and-long situations thanks to the experience of Hetmansperger and the playmaking ability of 6-foot-3 junior wideout Lukas Hagenbuch.

During the offseason, head coach Shawn Griffith entertained the idea of using multiple quarterbacks, as he did last year with Hetmansperger and Ty Dumm, and if he does decide to run with two options under center, senior Dean Topolski will get the call.

Defensively, the Falcons might take a bit of a step back without Hall and Eckman, but Clark, Hetmansperger, Hagenbuch and Carson Platz form a secondary that should be among the area’s best, and Owen Griffith is a solid linebacker.

The Falcons’ Week 8 matchup with Kalamazoo United will likely decide the SAC Lakeshore title, while the Week 4 matchup against Schoolcraft is another big one because Constantine is on a seven-game losing streak to the Eagles.

2021 schedule:

Friday, Aug. 27: vs. Union City

Friday, Sept. 3: vs. Harbor Springs, 1 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 10: at Delton Kellogg

Friday, Sept. 17: vs. Schoolcraft

Friday, Sept. 24: at Parchment

Friday, Oct. 1: vs. Watervliet

Friday, Oct. 8: at Allegan

Friday, Oct. 15: vs. Kalamazoo United

Friday, Oct. 22: at Coloma

Kalamazoo HS FB Media Day 2

Kalamazoo United seniors ((from left) Brandon DeVries, Andrew Findley, Will Zuiderveen and Reid Stilson pose for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Kalamazoo United Titans

Coach: Troy Ayotte (2nd season, 6-2)

Key players: Will Zuiderveen (Sr. QB/S), Drew Finley (Sr. RB/CB), Reid Stilson (Sr. OL/DL), Brandon DeVries (Sr. OL/DL), Michael Keckler (Sr. RB), Eric Root (Sr. C), Willem de Jong (Jr. WR), Liam Mann (Jr. WR)

2020 record: 6-2

2020 review: United didn’t have the toughest schedule in 2020, with its opponents combining to go 29-34, but the Titans took care of business against everyone except Constantine in the regular season and Olivet in the district semifinals. First-year starting quarterback Will Zuiderveen did a nice job picking up the run-pass-option offense of first-year head coach Troy Ayotte, allowing the Titans to average 39.8 points per game.

Individually, Zuiderveen was one of seven United players to earn first team all-conference honors, joining running back Drew Finley, kicker Charlie Prom, linemen Reid Stilson and Brandon DeVries and receivers Kyle Hoogenboom and Wyatt Steensma.

2021 outlook: Getting a player of Zuiderveen’s level back is a huge boost for the offense, though he’ll need to find some new go-to targets following the graduation of Hoogenboom and Steensma. With the return of Finley and breakout candidate Michael Keckler at running back, United should be able to balance an effective ground game with its passing attack while the receivers get their feet under them. Along the interior, Brandon DeVries and Reid Stilson are both massive linemen that can dominate the line of scrimmage on offense or defense, so there shouldn’t be too many weaknesses on the field, which is what you want when you return eight starters on offense and nine on defense from a team that went 6-2.

United will be challenged right away, as the Titans travel for their first four games, beginning with Whitehall, then moving on to Stevensville Lakeshore, Schoolcraft and Benton Harbor.

2021 schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 26: at Whitehall

Thursday, Sept. 2: at Stevensville Lakeshore

Friday, Sept. 10: at Schoolcraft

Friday, Sept. 17: at Benton Harbor

Friday, Sept. 24: vs. Coloma

Friday, Oct. 1: vs. Parchment

Friday, Oct. 8: vs. Watervliet

Friday, Oct. 15: at Constantine

Friday, Oct. 22: at Allegan

Kalamazoo HS FB Media Day 2

Parchment seniors (from left) Levi Cobb, Cole Dean, Aaron Hathcock and Kofi Barima pose for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Parchment Panthers

Coach: Mark Blaesser (3rd season, 5-12 record)

Key players: Cole Dean (Sr. QB), Kofi Barima (Sr. WR), Aaron Hathcock (Sr. TE/DL), Levi Cobb (Sr. RB/LB), Alex Cole (Sr. OL/DL), Keegan Stratton (Sr. OL/DL)

2020 record: 3-5

2020 review: It was a rough start for Parchment in its first season since leaving the B-C-S Conference to join the SAC Lakeshore, but the Panthers overcame their 0-4 start to win three of their last four games, including a 42-40 Round 1 playoff win over Coloma, which avenged their 36-25 Week 4 defeat. Parchment wasn’t playing awful football at the beginning of the year, however, with three of those first four losses coming by 11 points or fewer.

Individually, receiver Ethan Spink and linemen Killian Czerniak and Keegan Stratton led the way by receiving first team all-conference honors.

2021 outlook: Cole Dean returns at quarterback after earning honorable mention all-conference recognition in 2020, and he has a couple talented playmakers around him, including speedy running back Levi Cobb and 6-foot-4 wide receiver Kofi Barima, but finding another passing target will be key. On the interior, Keegan Stratton and Alex Cole anchor the offensive and defensive lines, which return almost everyone and should prevent the Panthers from getting blown off the ball.

Parchment did graduate the majority of its defensive backs, so the Panthers might have some trouble against the pass, but their schedule features mostly teams that hang their hat on running the football.

Opening the season with Lawton and Delton Kellogg will be tough tests for the Panthers, but if they can win one of those two, their odds of posting a winning record for the first time since 2017 increase dramatically.

2021 schedule:

Friday, Aug. 27: at Lawton

Thursday, Sept. 2: vs. Delton Kellogg

Friday, Sept. 10: vs. Galesburg-Augusta

Friday, Sept. 17: vs. Saugatuck

Friday, Sept. 24: vs. Constantine

Friday, Oct. 1: at Kalamazoo United

Friday, Oct. 8: at Coloma

Friday, Oct. 15: vs. Decatur

Friday, Oct. 22: at Watervliet

Schoolcraft vs Lawton

Lawton junior Cooper Geib (23) tries to make a move on Schoolcraft senior Jimmy Downs (3) in the open field during the second quarter at Schoolcraft High School in Schoolcraft, Michigan on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.Joel Bissell | MLive.com

SAC Valley predicted finish

1. Lawton

2. Delton Kellogg

3. Schoolcraft

4. Galesburg-Augusta

5. Saugatuck

Kalamazoo HS FB Media Day 2

Delton Kellogg players (top left to right) Alden Whitmore, Alex Whitmore and Mason Nabozny (bottom row) Ricky Ramsey, Vinnie Quick and Philip Halcomb pose for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Delton Kellogg Panthers

Coach: Ryan Bates (10th year, 34-50 record)

Key players: Alex Whitmore (Sr. OL/DL), Alden Whitmore (Sr. TE/RB/LB/DE), Vinnie Quick (Jr. FB/CB), Philip Holcomb (Jr. QB/RB/CB), Rickey Ramsey (Jr. RB/LB), Mason Nabozny (Jr. RB, QB, LB), Corey Moore (Sr. RB/DB), Garrett Warren (Sr. OL/S)

2020 record: 4-4

2020 review: The Panthers opened the season with a tough two-point loss to Coloma, but beat the teams they were supposed to beat the rest of the way, including an impressive 40-18 playoff win over Bronson, marking the third time in four years Delton Kellogg advanced past Round 1 of the tournament. Schoolcraft eventually ended the Panthers’ season in a 43-14 contest in Round 2 of the playoffs.

Individually, kicker Gavin Houtkooper, running backs Brad Bunch and Hunter Belew and linemen Cole Pape and Caden Ferris led the Panthers in receiving first team all-conference honors.

2021 outlook: After starting for four seasons on the line, Pape is now at Davenport University, while Ferris decided to focus on wrestling during the fall, since he’ll be competing in that sport at Central Michigan after this year. That leaves two big voids in the trenches, though senior twins Alex and Alden Whitmore help fill those shoes.

Delton Kellogg will lean heavily on a strong junior core that cut their teeth as sophomores, but should be ready to take a step forward this year, especially on defense, where Vinnie Quick, Philip Holcomb, Mason Nabozny and Rickey Ramsey emerged as leaders of the unit.

The Panthers open with an interesting matchup against Class A Loy Norrix in the first contest between the two teams, before facing more familiar foes the rest of the way.

2021 schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 26: at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix

Thursday, Sept. 2: at Parchment

Friday, Sept. 10: vs. Constantine

Friday, Sept. 17: at Coloma

Friday, Sept. 24: vs. Galesburg-Augusta

Friday, Oct. 1: vs. Lawton

Friday, Oct. 8: vs. Saugatuck

Friday, Oct. 15: vs. Allegan

Friday, Oct. 22: at Schoolcraft

Kalamazoo HS FB Media Day 2

Galesburg-Augusta players (top row from left) Carter Boniface, Jalen Dolph and Max Aguillon (bottom row) Casey Murray and Avery Labrie pose for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Galesburg-Augusta Rams

Coach: Chuck Hadley (1st season)

Key players: Jalen Dolph (Jr. WR/S), Carter Boniface (Jr. QB), Avery LaBrie (Sr. RB/DB), Max Aguillon (Jr. FB/LB), Casey Murray (Sr. OL/LB)

2020 record: 0-6

2020 review: Galesburg-Augusta was an extremely young team last season, with only one senior, Drew Reist, who suffered a leg injury against Mendon that effectively ended the Division-I prospect’s promising athletic career. The Rams struggled in just about every facet of the game and were outscored 290-19, including a 54-6 season-ending playoff loss to Schoolcraft that marked Tony Smith’s final game as Galesburg-Augusta head coach.

Individually, lineman Casey Murray and fullback Max Augillon received first team all-conference honors.

2021 outlook: The Rams are still a young team, but many of the sophomore contributors on last year’s squad are now juniors and should be able to hold up a little better in a full season of varsity action. There’s also some added excitement around the program due to having a fresh face in charge, as former Plainwell interim head coach Chuck Hadley takes over for Smith, who went 18-60 in 10 seasons with the Rams.

Quarterback Carter Boniface is back for his third year under center, and he’ll have a big target in fellow junior Jalen Dolph (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) and some experienced ball carriers to alleviate some pressure on the passing game in Avery LaBrie and Max Augillon.

With so much experience coming back, it’s not hard to imagine Galesburg-Augusta taking a big leap forward this year, but the Rams haven’t won more than two games in a season since 2016, and they’re learning a new system that’s much different than Smith’s spread offense. The Week 1 contest against Decatur will be a good barometer, before the Rams face White Pigeon’s fantastic defense in Week 2.

2021 schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 26: vs. Decatur

Thursday, Sept. 2: at White Pigeon

Friday, Sept. 10: at Parchment

Friday, Sept. 17: vs. Watervliet

Friday, Sept. 24: at Delton Kellogg

Friday, Oct. 1: at Schoolcraft

Friday, Oct. 8: vs. Lawton

Friday, Oct. 15: vs. Saugatuck

Friday, Oct. 22: at Potterville

Kalamazoo HS FB Media Day 2

Lawton senior poses for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Lawton Blue Devils

Coach: Wade Waldrup (3rd season, 17-3 record)

Key players: Landon Motter (Sr. QB), Jake Rueff (Sr. RB/LB), Cooper Geib (Sr. WR/LB), Carter Mayne (Sr. C), Drew Stephayn (Sr. OG/LB), Evan Stephayn (Sr. OT/DT), Chase Mitchell (Sr. TE/LB/P), Carter Cosby (Jr. RB/S)

2020 record: 7-2

2020 review: For the second year in a row, Lawton went undefeated against teams other than Schoolcraft, as the Eagles topped the Blue Devils in both their 2020 matchups, including a 42-7 district championship contest. The team’s best win was a Round 2 playoff tilt against Homer, which saw Lawton stop a two-point conversion attempt with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter to hold for a 21-19 victory.

Individually, five Lawton players earned all-state honors, including senior defensive backs Connor DeVries and Jonathan Holloway, junior lineman Evan Stephayn, junior running back Jake Rueff and junior punter Chase Mitchell.

2021 outlook: Not many teams boast three returning all-staters, but Stephayn, Rueff and Mitchell are back for what promises to be another excellent season for the Blue Devils. In total, Lawton returns seven starters on offense and nine on defense, with Rueff and Carter Cosby set to lead the rushing attack, while quarterback Landon Motter is back for his second year under center, and though he won’t have DeVries running routes on the outside, Mitchell is a big tight end target, and slot receiver Cooper Geib can also make things happen with the ball in his hands. Lawton’s skill players have a lot of potential, but the key to making it all work is the offensive line, which replaces two starters with sophomores Jace Riggs and Nolan Collins, but still averages about 260 pounds across the line. Head coach Wade Waldrup thinks the unit won’t skip a beat, and that’s good news for an offense can beat you on the ground or through the air.

Defensively, Stephayn is a handful on the interior line, and twin brother Drew is a very good linebacker, who will be joined by former cornerback Jake Rueff. Cosby, who was the Kalamazoo Legacy 7-on-7 defensive player of the year moves from strong safety to free safety to fill the shoes of two-time all-stater Connor DeVries.

Lawton will probably be favored to win every game in the regular season, but the Week 8 matchup against Schoolcraft is definitely one the Blue Devils will be circling, given the potential conference title implications and the fact that they’ll be hungry to get a win over the Eagles.

2021 schedule:

Friday, Aug. 27: vs. Parchment

Thursday, Sept. 2: at Decatur

Friday, Sept. 10: vs. Coloma

Friday, Sept. 17: at Allegan

Friday, Sept. 24: vs. Niles Brandywine

Friday, Oct. 1: at Delton Kellogg

Friday, Oct. 8: at Galesburg-Augusta

Friday, Oct. 15: vs. Schoolcraft

Friday, Oct. 22: at Saugatuck

Kalamazoo HS FB Media Day 2

Schoolcraft players (top row from left) Trey Schneider, Jonathon Zinsmaster, Kyle Quick and Brennan Gerow (bottom row) Ryan Ling, Kanaan Burgess and Nolan Strake pose for a portrait during Kalamazoo-area high school football at The Dome Sports Center in Schoolcraft, Michigan. (Joel Bissell | MLive.com)Joel Bissell | MLive.com

Schoolcraft Eagles

Coach: Nathan Ferency (4th year, 28-7 record)

Key players: Nolan Strake (Sr. RB/S), Ryan Ling (Soph. QB), Trey Schneider (Sr. WR/S), Kanaan Burgess (Sr. FB/LB), Johnathon Zinsmaster (Sr. OG/DE), Kyle Quick (Sr. OG/LB), Brennan Gerow (Sr. OT/DT)

2020 record: 9-2

2020 review: Schoolcraft had one of the state’s most potent offenses among small-school teams, and the Eagles used their dynamic passing attack to reach the state semifinals for the first time since winning it all in 2001. A Week 4 loss to Division 3 state semifinalist Chelsea was the Eagles’ only regular season blemish, and they cruised through the playoffs before defeating Jackson Lumen Christi in a regional championship thriller. Schoolcraft saw its season come to an end a week later with a 36-21 loss to eventual Division 7 state champ New Lothrop.

Quarterback Alex Thole was terrific in his third year as a starter, earning first team all-state honors and signing with Division I Football Championship Subdivision program Tarleton State, while lineman Connor Webb and receivers Harmon DeVries and Jimmy Downs joined Thole in earning all-state status.

2021 outlook: There might not be a team in the state that needs to replace as much as Schoolcraft, as the Eagles graduated 19 seniors, lost all of their all-staters and five more all-conference players, plus leading rusher Tagg Gott, who moved to Indiana. The only returners with many snaps under his belt are senior offensive lineman Johnathon Zinsmaster and senior defensive back Nolan Strake, who will also need to pick up a lot of the slack offensively from the running back position. Sophomore Ryan Ling likely will fill Thole’s shoes, while senior Trey Schneider will be one of his top targets.

Though there aren’t many guys with game experience, they waited their time behind one of the most talented classes in Schoolcraft history and competed against those guys in practice, so they have an idea of what it takes to be successful on Friday nights. Head coach Nathan Ferency said his players are committed to proving that this is a reloading year, not a rebuilding one, but either way, the Eagles will look much different with a more ground-oriented attack than the previous three seasons.

Cassopolis should be a good Week 1 test for the new-look Eagles, but then it’s a three-week gauntlet, with Centreville, Kalamazoo United and Constantine on the schedule, before a couple key conference games against Lawton and Delton Kellogg to wrap up the regular season.

2021 schedule:

Thursday, Aug. 26: vs. Cassopolis

Thursday, Sept. 2: at Centreville

Friday, Sept. 10: vs. Kalamazoo United

Friday, Sept. 17: at Constantine

Friday, Sept. 24: at Saugatuck

Friday, Oct. 1: vs. Galesburg-Augusta

Friday, Oct. 8: vs. Leslie

Friday, Oct. 15: at Lawton

Friday, Oct. 22: vs. Delton Kellogg

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