Football prepares for 2007 season

kyle.whitney and kyle.whitney

As college classes resume, temperatures begin to slowly tumble and leaves start to change their colors, the smell of fall lingers in the air. The scent in the NMU Wildcat football locker room, however, is something completely different. It is the smell of anticipation for the long-awaited 2007 football season.

The ‘Cats, who finished last season with a 3-7 record, are hoping to improve on last season, their first under head coach Bernie Anderson. After a year in the Anderson system, the team expects to see noticeable improvements.

“We’re making progress,” Anderson said of the team. “Everyone is a year advanced, they’re bigger and they’re stronger. As a program, we’re definitely not where we want to be, but we’ve made some great strides.”

The biggest stride of all will need to be made by the NMU defense, which ranked last in the GLIAC in scoring (33.3 ppg), rushing (219.1 ypg) and total defense(387 ypg) in 2006. The largest obstacle to overcome is mental attitude, said defensive coordinator Chadd Braine,.

“Experience is obviously number one and also their trust with us (is important),” Braine said. “We’re finally instilling our values in them as to what we want in football players. They’re buying into the things that we tell them. They trust us and they appreciate what we’re doing for them and we appreciate the work that they’re doing.”

Braine lists that the long-term goal for the offense is a top three GLIAC finish in all defensive aspects.

The offensive side of the ball, however, should be less of a problem for the ‘Cats, who finished last season with a GLIAC-best 246.4 yards per game through the air. The Wildcats are returning all of the key players from their passing attack, including quarterback Buddy Rivera and wide receiver Fred Wells, both seniors.

Returning to join Wells, who collected 870 yards and nine touchdowns in 2006, will be junior Dan Elmore and sophomores Zach Nichols and Greg Raspberry. The trio combined for 1,040 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

Despite the glowing numbers from the previous campaign, Rivera, the 2006 team MVP, is looking forward to an even more impressive 2007.

“After being in this system a year, everyone knows what to expect now,” Rivera said. “I don’t have to wonder where my receivers will be. I know where they’ll be and now I can worry about the defense.”

One aspect of the offense that sputtered last season, though, was the running game.

Despite Anderson’s affinity for rushing the ball, the ‘Cats collected only 94.8 yards per game last year and they were never able to get into a groove. An inexperienced offensive line was often the culprit, Andreson said

“Our philosophy hasn’t changed much. We couldn’t run the ball last year and we got behind and we had to throw the ball to stop the clock,” he said. “I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to control the line of scrimmage the way we want to down the road, so we will have to rely on the pass and the big play again.

“I think we’ll be able to rush the ball better than we did a year ago, so we’re closer to the style of football that we want to get to.”

The style that the coaches feel they are inching closer to is a hard-nosed, physical style of football in which the ‘Cats won’t have to rely on the big play, but the running game and the defense.

“It’s a mindset, it’s a work ethic, it’s a whole overall football attitude,” Braine said of the ideal.

The first steps on the long and winding road that is the 2007 season will be taken this Saturday, when the Wildcats travel to Indianapolis to compete against the University of Indianapolis Greyhounds.

This is the second year in a row that the two teams have faced each other in the season opener, with NMU coming out on top in overtime, 27-20. The coaches and players on both sides of the field know what to expect from each other at this point.

“I think we’ve improved so much,” Rivera said. “We’re going to be the most improved team in the GLIAC, in my opinion, and we’ll see how it goes on Saturday.”