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Detroit Cass Tech sizes up a repeat as Division 1 state champ

1:00 AM, Aug. 20, 2012 EDT

Wide receiver/cornerback Jourdan Lewis had seven interceptions and caught 43 passes for more than 700 yards for Cass Tech last season. / Photos by DIANE WEISS/Detroit Free Press

The questions began in November 2010, when Detroit Cass Tech drilled Macomb Dakota, 31-19, in the Division 1 regional final and then narrowly lost to eventual champ Lake Orion, 24-21, in the semifinals.

Could a Detroit Public School League team win a title in the state's largest division?

Detroit King captured the 2007 Division 2 championship, but the PSL was 0-for-36 playoff years when it came to playing with the big boys.

Cass began last season's playoffs by soundly beating Livonia Churchill and Dearborn Fordson before knocking off Warren De La Salle and Utica Eisenhower in close games, then thrashing Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 49-13, in the title game.

The Technicians washed away years of stereotypes with their resounding victory, most notably that a PSL team couldn't hang with the big boys in the trenches.

Cass coach Thomas Wilcher said he believes the Detroit Police Athletic League's change to allow bigger kids to play on the offensive and defensive lines, regardless of their weight, means the world to PSL teams. This applies especially to this Cass team, which features 6-foot-5, 305-pound David Dawson; 6-6, 285-pound Dennis Finley, and 6-2, 290-pound Kenton Gibbs; who will have to provide blocking for inexperienced running backs.

"I think it was the fact that the suburbs had an advantage because their larger kids had an opportunity to play football at an earlier age than our larger kids did," Wilcher said. "It will get more competitive as the years go on, and it will start leveling off pretty soon."

PSL teams have always had an edge when it comes to running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs. But they had no chance to win a game that came down to a slugfest in the trenches.

"We had better skill players, but they always had better line play than we did," Wilcher said. "Our bigger kids wanted to play basketball because that was the first sport they were allowed to play. Now those bigger kids are going to have an opportunity to play football. You go down South, all the big kids want to play football."

It seems everyone wants to play at Cass. A year ago Cass sent four players to the Big Ten and several to other Division I schools. Already the Technicians have 12 players, regardless of class, with Division I offers.

But having so many college-bound players can pose problems. Cass was 6-3 last year in the regular season.

"It's more or less the kids who have the problems with what the other one gets versus what he's getting," Wilcher said. "He feels he should be treated equal, but it's not up to the high school coaches to make the decisions. It's up to the college coaches. It's up to the high school coaches to put them in positions to make them be successful."

If he does that, a PSL team like Cass might win another state title, if it can fix one little area.

"All we have to do is get that kicking game better, and we'll catch up in all areas," Wilcher said. "Once we get the special teams going, get the kickers in, it will be a snap. It will be easy. It will make it easier to be competitive because we'll have a better foundation in more areas."

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or mmccabe@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.



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