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Detroit News top team: No. 1 Belleville has all the weapons for run at first state title


David Goricki   | The Detroit News

Belleville — Jermain Crowell said he has the best team in his six years as head coach at Belleville. That should give his opponents reason for concern since the Tigers are coming off of consecutive 12-1 seasons and Division 1 state semifinal appearances, and they are The Detroit News' No. 1 team in the state.

Crowell, the former defensive coordinator at Detroit Cass Tech, inherited a 3-6 team heading into the 2015 season and immediately turned around the program. Belleville finished 8-2 his first season and 7-3 in 2016. Then in 2017, the team went 10-1 and recorded the program's first playoff win in 15 years. That was followed by back-to-back regional titles the last two years, the deepest postseason runs in school history.

But Belleville fell short of its goal of playing for a state championship last year. After getting past Saline and Woodhaven, Belleville defeated West Bloomfield to win the regional title before suffering a 22-19 upset loss to Brighton in the semifinals.

Crowell wants his Belleville team to get the opportunity to compete for the state championship, something he accomplished as an assistant to Thomas Wilcher at Cass Tech in 2011 and 2012.

And Crowell feels he has the team to reach his goal, led by five-star defensive tackle Damon Payne (Alabama), four-star linebacker Jamari Buddin (Penn State), four-star junior safety Myles Rowser — who returned from IMG Academy in Florida — and three-star junior cornerback Deshaun Lee on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, four-year starting quarterback Christian Dhue-Reid directs a powerful attack.

More: Detroit News top teams: Powerful Belleville, West Bloomfield lead top 20

Belleville has an elite passing game and Crowell will let Dhue-Reid take his shot at attacking the state’s all-time record book for career passing yards and touchdowns.

Dhue-Reid has an impressive cast of receivers to work with, including Purdue-bound Deion Burks, four-star junior Christian Rapley, 6-foot-3 junior Jeremiah Caldwell and Darrell Johnson. Buddin is expected to play some tight end as well.

“If Christian doesn’t become the best player in the state then I want to see who is better than him,” Crowell said. “We’re going to play him for four quarters and see what his numbers look like. We have great receivers that some people don’t know about. Deion is hard to deal with, so they know about Deion and Mook (Johnson), but they don’t know about Cortez Gibbs and some of the other guys.”

Said Burks: “We’re definitely going to throw the ball a lot this year; we’re going to be good. We have some speed, guys who can go and high-point the ball. Everybody knows about Christian’s arm, but he wants to run more, which will really make him a threat.

“We want to get past the semifinals, that’s the hump we’re trying to get past. We have to be locked in the practices because you practice like you play. It would be big to get to (the state championship game) because no other team in Belleville history has ever done it before.”

Burks is coming off a big junior season where he caught 35 passes for 871 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn first-team all-state honors for Division 1-2 by The News.

Dhue-Reid enters the season with 7,195 career passing yards and 95 TDs. He will try to close in on the state records of 10,615 career passing yards held by Jason Fracassa (Sterling Heights Stevenson, 2006-09) and 124 career passing TDs set by Mason Gee-Montgomery (Stockbridge, 2014-16).

Dhue-Reid has thrown for a combined 5,200 yards and 71 TDs the past two years.

While high school football fans know all about two-way lineman Payne and three-star tackle Ramier Lewis (6-7, 330 pounds), who has an offer from Michigan, Crowell said junior Jakobe Watkins (6-3, 290) is his best offensive lineman. Watkins was injured last season. Cameron Wallace will start at center for the fourth straight year.

“Typically, the teams who win have good offensive and defensive lines,” Crowell said. “Last year we had a makeshift defensive line. We had three kids on the freshmen and JV teams that were pretty big and pretty good, but too young to play on varsity. Those kids have moved up, so our offensive line will be better, it will be deeper. That’s where you win at.”

Jeremiah Warren (6-3, 260) and Camden Weaver (6-2, 250) will be defensive ends.

“It’s all about how kids come together, and I know these kids are working hard and they are motivated to playing for four quarters,” Crowell said. “I’ve sent the word out to anybody that we play, give us your best for four and we’ll give you our best for four. Leave it all on the table.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com