The performance of one individual player probably won’t decide the Lake Michigan Conference title this season.
Nor will the strategy or tactics of a coach.
It’s likely to be the injury bug.
Whichever team can avoid a rash of injuries could be the team claiming the league championship as virtually every school is facing a numbers crunch in 2013, which makes staying healthy as important as it’s ever been for the seven teams in the conference.
“Staying healthy is going to be at a premium,” said Elk Rapids head coach Ed Schindler, speaking about his team, but echoing the thoughts of each coach in the league.
Most teams in the league will be playing with rosters in the upper teens or around 20 players. Ironically, the team with the largest roster? East Jordan, which has 23 who will suit up for the Red Devils despite only winning one game over the last four years.
No one is sure the reason why so few kids are playing football, though Kalkaska coach Jeremy Wilkinson has a theory.
“The only thing I can think about would really be the economy. The lack of jobs,” said Wilkinson. “I know people are moving to Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Wyoming. It’s gotta be the job market. People are having to move. The numbers are there at the younger ages, but just not here (on varsity). Our junior and senior class the numbers are thin.”
If no team is decimated by injuries, the top of the league should look similar to how it did last season when Grayling went 6-0 in the conference on the way to an undefeated regular season, with Boyne City (5-1) and Kalkaska (4-2) also in the mix. All three teams reached the postseason but were eliminated in the opening round of district play.
The Vikings bring back eight starters on offense and five on offense, highlighted by the return of the all-state quarterback-receiver duo Jake Swander and Tyler McClanahan.