With the door now closed on the 2007 Wildcat football season, NMU welcomes 25 new student athletes to the ‘Cats football program.
All players in all divisions of the NCAA signed their national letters of intent Feb. 6. Northern’s 25 commitments come from a total of six states, including six athletes from the U.P.
“I think there are some exceptional players in this group,” NMU head football coach Bernie Anderson said. “I think that the overall talent from top to bottom is an improvement over the last couple of years.”
This is Anderson’s second full season recruiting for the Wildcats. Anderson was previously the head football coach at Michigan Tech for 19 years.
“I like this class on the standpoint that I think all 25 players are going to play in this league,” Anderson said. “I just think it is a very solid group with some outstanding individuals.”
The NMU football team is coming off a season that concluded with the most wins since 2002 (5-5) and entered the off-season in need of a strong recruiting class for the future with the hope the program would continue to rise amongst the best in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
One very important factor in the recruiting game is bringing talent to campus from one’s own backyard. In Northern’s case, Michigan’s U.P. provides local talent for the program. Recruiting the area has always been important to the coaching staff.
“You always want to take care of your backyard,” Anderson said. “They are the ones familiar with your school and have a higher probability of staying and finishing. It brings local interest as well.”
Northern’s location in Michigan can play a major role for many recruits. At times, it can be a determining choice for a downstate player.
“We lose a good deal of players because it is too far to travel,” Anderson said. “Well, when we have a good [recruit] in the U.P., we shouldn’t be losing them to other conference schools.”
Offensively, the team brought in 11 players. The ‘Cats brought in a trio of running backs, as well as three wide receivers, to help build on an offense that progressed throughout the 2007 season.
Junior all-conference and junior starting running back Mark Bossuah returns next year after re-writing the record books throughout last season. Depth behind Bossuah and the future of the position needed to be addressed after losing senior Brad Anderson, and redshirt freshman Bo Fry, after he transferred in the offseason.
Within the class of running backs are Maurice Williams, 6-0 190-pounds, of Imperial Beach Cali., who was also a standout safety in high school, ranked within the country by ESPN, Julian Pierce, 5-10 202-pounds, of Grand Rapids, Mich., a Detroit Free Press second team all state selection who in 2006 won the Best Running Back award at the University of Michigan’s football camp, and Free Press, first team all state Casey Hares, 5-7 180-pounds, of Ishpeming, Mich.
“Maurice Williams, Casey Hares, and Julian Pierce are all special athletes,” Anderson said. “They’re at that position where their speed and athleticism is a little bit superior to others.”
The local of the group, Casey Hares, comes to Northern as one of the more desirable U.P. recruits in recent years.
After rushing for 2,777 yards and 31 touchdowns, his yardage ranked eighth in the nation.
Hares said he wanted to stay nearby to play his college football, and chose NMU for that reason.
“It is close to home and I really liked the coaches,” Hares said. “I liked playing in the Dome, but I definitely didn’t want to leave the U.P.
With Hares’ high school only 15 miles away, Wildcat coaches were able to see Hares play in Ishpeming.
“He was their offense and people keyed on him, yet I thought he did an exceptional job of skating along, finding a seam and hitting it; he’s got a great burst,” Anderson said. “He’s good enough to play in this league and that’s why we wanted him.”
If the program is on a rise, Casey feels that one of the main goals for him is to help NMU go higher in GLIAC during his upcoming years in a Wildcat uniform.
“I’d definitely like to be at the top of the GLIAC, that’s a goal,” Hares said. “I’d like to make it to the playoffs.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats will be looking to replace six starters on a defense, which is currently without a defensive coordinator. Selling a recruit on a defensive scheme and style when the coaching situation remains uncertain can be a hard task at hand, but Anderson said he didn’t feel it was a problem for recruits.
“I think it had a role,” Anderson said. “The question had come up a few times. I don’t think we lost anyone for that reason.”
“It didn’t help, but I’m not convinced that it did hurt,” he added.
Overall, 13 defensive players signed on to play for NMU.
“I think it is a solid group defensively,” Anderson said. “I think we really addressed our need at the defensive front.”
The ‘Cats bring in two defensive ends with excellent size for the position in local Zach Anderson from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Anderson, 6-3 255-pound, is a member of the U.P. Dream Team. The other, Jordan Mancl of Stevens Point, Wis., brings his 6-4 255-pound frame. Mancl will participate in the annual Wisconsin All-Star Game.