Bursting Through: Ferndale Football Giving Young Faces A Shot
Eagles need sophomore starters to step in and step up at varsity level.
The Ferndale High School football team has its work cut out for it.
All-state running back Anthony Garland is up at Central Michigan University, the McTear twins (Jamarius; wide receiver and Jamael; quarterback) graduated and four of the team’s five starting offensive lineman need to be replaced.
Not an easy task considering head coach Ryan Dunlap has only 28 kids on the varsity squad. That’s the lowest number he’s had in his six years with the program. The Eagles usually have around 35 to 40 students playing varsity football.
Graduating a decent sized senior class is normal. The problem for Ferndale was losing a group of juniors throughout the offseason.
“We had a group of juniors penciled in as starters and we seemed to lose about one a month,” Dunlap said. “One player moved to Troy, one moved to Ohio another just lost interest in football. It was a variety of things.”
Dunlap’s not throwing in the towel.
He has a lot of confidence in the group of seniors stepping in - including Earl Tillford at running back, Darius Alvis at quarterback and Berkley transfer Ron Hunt at middle linebacker.
The Eagles also have some sophomores looking to make an impact. At the tail end of last season the coaching staff brought up a group of freshman to practice and play with the varsity. The unexpected transfers have pushed three of those young players into the starting lineup.
“I would like to think it was my foresight, but it was just coincidence,” Dunlap said, joking. “We moved them up last year in the last two weeks of practice drills and all of them were impressive. It’s one thing for them to stand out against junior varsity opponents, we want to make sure they can stand in up here.”
It was decided in January that the then freshman would be brought up to participate in the offseason conditioning program. Their work ethic was good enough to keep them their.
“We were just waiting for our junior and senior year (to play on varsity)” sophomore Shaquan McGriff said. “When they called us up we were like we have to step it up a notch to play on the same level as everyone else.”
McGriff will remind Eagles fans of the running back he’s trying help replace.
“He’s more of a power back and I’m more of a finesse back,” Tillford said of McGriff. “But I think we got another Anthony Garland right there.”
The 6’0”, 215-pound back can bench-press 320 pounds and he’s quite athletic. His talent has already made an impression on his older teammates.
“I think we got a pair of pretty good backs,” senior guard Brandon Davis said. “Earl is more shifty, the sophomore is more of a power back who can hit the hole and run people over.”
McGriff will also start at linebacker with fellow sophomore Tyree Bell. Bell will play linebacker and fullback for Ferndale.
“He’s going to be outstanding,” Dunlap said. “He’s got great instincts and he’s definitely not afraid of the older guys.”
The other sophomore starter is hard to miss. Delante Dorris will start on the defensive line where coaches hope he can help anchor the defense.
“He’s big body,” Dunlap said, laughing. “We’ll be generous and say he’s only 330 pounds. In our defense we need someone to take up a double team and he fits the bill.”
Dorris has been working hard to get his weight down to under 300. The coaches want him to have a little more mobility and be a little healthier. He’s down 50 pounds from last year just with the extra conditioning.
For Ferndale to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 the young guns will have to contribute.
The coaching staff and players believe that the team will take a step forward this year.
“I understand people aren’t going to give us much of a thought.” Dunlap said. “We lost Anthony (Garland), we lost the McTear brothers, we lost a giant offensive line, but we always graduate a good group of seniors. We’re not Clarkston or Lake Orion, where we have 2,500 kids in school and 100 kids on varsity. But we can reload.”