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FOOTBALL: Talent-laden Harrison looking for repeat state championship

Farmington Hills Harrison football coach John Herrington, shown here moments after his team won the Division 2 state championship last season, is looking for a repeat title in 2011 with a roster filled with talent. (The Oakland Press file photo/JOSE JUAREZ)

FARMINGTON HILLLS — The temperature was a bit lower than usual for this time of the year out at the first day of practice for the Farmington Hills Harrison varsity football team early Monday morning.

It served to even things out, since expectations for the defending Division 2 state champion Hawks, returning three quarters of their starters from last year, couldn’t be any higher. A recent national poll ranked Harrison the No. 19 team in America.

“We all have pretty high hopes for this season,” said legendary Harrison head coach John Herrington, starting his 42nd year on the sidelines, during a break from practice. “This is a very experienced and talented group and we expect a lot from them and I think they expect a lot from themselves.”

Last November, Herrington guided the Hawks to a perfect 14-0 record and their 13th overall state crown, most in the history of high school football in Michigan. Between 1997 and 2001, they won five straight state titles, the final two squads being quarterbacked by current Detroit Lions’ backup signal caller, Drew Stanton.

“These are definitely the highest expectations we’ve had since the Stanton era,” Herrington said. “Everybody is gearing up for the same thing, which is a second state title in a row. I believe anything else would probably be a little disappointing.”

The Hawks’ 2011 roster is stockpiled with playmakers. Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (Michigan State), tight end Devin Funchess (Michigan) and defensive lineman Mario Ojemudia (Michigan) were three of the most-heavily recruited college prospects from the state’s Class of 2012 before they each verbally committed over the last few months.

Senior quarterback Jake Vento, the team’s leading pass-catcher last year, is being recruited at the Division 1 level as a receiver and safety. Offensive lineman Jake Slobin, linebacker Eddie Huckleby and wide receiver Garius Coleman are three of the state’s top recruits in the Class of 2013. Sophomores Lorenzo Collins (running back) and Gary Hosey (running back-linebacker) are already being tracked by college recruiters as well.

Even Herrington himself is slightly in awe of his own weaponry.

“I’ve never had this many Division 1 recruits on one team,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re extremely multi-faceted. Sometimes you do kind of a double-take when you realize how many options we have and how deep we go.”

Vento, who takes over as the Hawks’ field general from his older brother Tommy, now a preferred walk-on at Michigan State, sees veteran leadership as a primary key to success for his squad.

“We have a real strong senior class and we’re all ready to step up and lead the way,” he said. “The fact that we all know what it takes to be a champion from our experience last year lets us set a tone for the younger guys, where anything less than excellence is unacceptable.”

No stranger to tossing the pigskin, the younger Vento quarterbacked Harrison’s junior varsity to an undefeated season as a sophomore in 2009. To switch things up and give the team a little additional versatility, Herrington plans on still using Vento at wide out sometimes, putting in backup quarterback and starting strong safety Lamar Marshall under center on a portion of plays. Marshall’s athleticism will allow the Hawks’ coaching staff to experiment with some wildcat formations.

Last Updated: 8/8/2011 8:00:16 PM EST

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