The Pioneers open the season on Friday at Muskegon and then five days later host U-D Jesuit for game two on the schedule. Things are about to get very real for the Pioneers and real in a hurry.
Pioneer went 3-6 last year and return this season with a new coach in Bill Bellers but without All-World Antjuan Simmons (Michigan State). The Pioneers will kick off the season with around 45 players on the roster and Bellers knows most of them from his four previous years as the head JV coach at Pioneer.
Pioneer seems to have a nice mix of experience, youth and even some depth on paper. Now it’s time to see what they have on the field.
Senior quarterback Nate Yuhas, who started most of the games as a junior, returns to run the offense. While he’s taken a strong leadership role in camp, he’s been pushed by talented junior Michael McMullen.
Competition is always a good thing.
“They both have been looking good and dualing it out a little bit,” Bellers said. “Nate has the edge because of the experience. He has showed us a lot so far.
“Michael is a really good athlete who can help us in other areas and in many different roles. And that’s what he is going to do. He can play receiver, tailback, anywhere we need him. He’s a luxury to have. We want him on the field as much as possible.”
Yuhas is an outstanding lacrosse player who brings his own strong athleticism to the position. Bellers said his focus is now on football and he’s expecting big things from his senior leader.
The Pioneers also appear set at running back, led by returning starter Dexter Ferrell. Even with Simmons carrying the ball for the Pioneers, Ferrell led the team in rushing as a junior.
“It was great having Dexter last year because that way Antjuan didn’t have to play every down on offense and defense,” Bellers said. “Dexter led us last year with over 600 yards rushing along with seven touchdowns.”
A three-year starter this season, Ferrell was All-League Honorable Mention last year for Pioneer.
Senior fullback Langston Laramore-Josey returns to the backfield. Nate Chadwick, a junior, and JJ Lamberti also should see time with the ball in their hands. And, of course, McMullen could get his name called at running back.
Senior Lael Onifade, a three-year varsity player, will start at defensive back and also play wide receiver. Eric Steinhauer and juniors Neko Harris and Logan Jacobs also should see action at receiver.
The Pioneers will have a number of players going both ways this year so rest and finding some depth at times will become an issue at some point.
Laramore-Josey (linebacker), Lamberti (defensive back), Pat Partin (linebacker), senior Jordan Hall (defensive lineman), and junior Komarus Hatch (defensive lineman) will anchor what should be a solid defense.
“And a lot of the guys on offense will see action on defense but we might also have some other guys filling in spots down the road,” Bellers said.
Pioneer opens the season on Friday at Muskegon. The Big Reds, who defeated Pioneer 51-14 in last year’s season opener at Michigan Stadium, reached the state championship game before losing 29-28 to Orchard Lake Saint Mary’s in the Division 3 finals at Ford Field.
“It will be a tough one,” Bellers said.
It also will be a tough turnaround for the Pioneers, who just five days later will host U-D Jesuit at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 30.
Pioneer will know exactly where they stand in that five-day span.