LSJ preview: Muskegon Heights charters into new football waters

Last month, the Local Sports Journal published a 24-page high school football preview section. Here is the preview story on the Muskegon Heights Public Academy Tigers. If you would like to purchase a copy of the football section, send an email to sports@localsportsjournal.com
By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
Expectations were sky high after Muskegon Heights finished 4-4 last football season.
Most of the team was returning and Coach Tony Blankenship had a full year of implementing his new system to the Tigers.

Senior Thomas Chandler and Donnell Covington return to Muskegon Heights and hope to lead the Tigers to a playoff berth. Photo by Rachel Resterhouse.

But then financial problems hit the public school district. And it was recently turned into a charter school operation called Muskegon Heights Public Academy System.
The good news: football will continue this season at Heights.
The bad news:  many talented players off the 2011 team transferred to other neighboring school districts.
Seniors Thomas Chandler and Donnell Covington are back as the experienced returning starters at Heights. They aren’t sure what to expect on the field, but they plan to lead the way.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Chandler, a left guard and defensive tackle. “I didn’t plan on transferring. We had a big season lined up. It’s a new refocusing. This is the first year as a charter school, and we have to start it right.”
Covington doesn’t dwell on what could have been, either. He’s looking ahead to the opportunity to help the team as a running back and linebacker.
“It hurts a little, but at the same time, we look at it as we have to get better than we were last year,” Covington said. “We’re trying to keep our focus and keep the young guys on task.”
Blankenship will work with a young, inexperienced team. His numbers are good with 30 players out for the varsity.
Blankenship is thankful for Chandler and Covington in his huddle on both sides of the ball.
“I’m looking for these guys to be coaches on the field and give these young guys perspective,” Blankenship said. “Their experience is imperative for them to lead us. What we are looking for will have to go through them.”
Taking over at quarterback will be senior Quincy Parker (5-foot-9, 175), who is athletic and can run and pass. Blankenship likes Parker’s maturity and ability to handle the offense.
Junior Maleek Briggs (5-foot-9, 205) and Covington (5-foot-10, 195) will be counted on for most of the carries in the backfield.
“They will give us power and will take the pressure off the young kids,” Blankenship said.
Wide receiver will be an inexperienced position for the Tigers.
Junior Jamarius Rule (6-foot-1, 180) should be a good possession receiver and senior Rashaun Moffett (5-foot-10, 165) will use his athleticism to get free on the perimeter.
Blankenship likes his big target at tight end, sophomore Marquis Grissom (6-foot-4, 215). He has good hands and should be an effective blocker with his size.
Chandler (5-foot-7, 228) may make the switch to center to help solidify the offensive line.
Junior DeMonty Johnson (5-foot-9, 225) is a projected starter at guard. The offensive tackles will be big – senior Lavert Green (6-foot-5, 270) and sophomore John Maynor (6-foot-4, 250).
Defensively, the line will feature Chandler, Johnson at the tackles and Grishom and Green at the ends.
Covington, who was the leading tackler last season, will be the ringleader at inside linebacker. Briggs is pegged as the other inside linebacker.
Senior Michael Stewart (5-foot-11, 170) will step into the strong safety position and Parker likely will play free safety.
Other defensive positions were still being solidified in preseason.
Heights is scheduled to start the season in Week 2 with a trip to Henry Ford Academy on the east side.
Blankenship expects his defense to be ahead of the offense early in the season.
“If we can be a good tackling group, and be in position to make plays, we can get people stopped,”
Blankenship said. “We will be aggressive on defense. We will fly around and hit people on defense. You will know you played us.”
Chandler said there will be no excuses this season.
“We have young athletes,” Chandler said. “It will be up to the veterans and Coach B to get them ready.”
Covington said it won’t be easy coming together as a team after a summer of not knowing if football would be offered. But that’s the goal, and he said he hopes it happens quickly.
“The biggest challenge will be building team chemistry,” Covington said.
“I think the community will still be behind us 100 percent,” he added. “We still have to build team chemistry. We have to stay focused. We are out here working hard and giving it all we’ve got.”
The expectations won’t be as high as coming out of last season. Still, Chandler hopes the Tigers can make some memories for the community.
 “We can have a winning season,” Chandler said. “I want the team to bond. I want us to build something. I think we’re ready.”

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