Football prepares to ‘spring’ into season

curt.kemp

The NMU football team hasn’t had a lot of success in the past two years. And it’s to be expected.

NMU head coach Bernie Anderson took the reigns of the program in 2006, and was given the task of turning around a program that was–to put it mildly– in shambles.

Aside from the end of the 2007 season–in which the Wildcats won four of their final six games — the ‘Cats have had little success, accumulating two losing seasons and a 7-13 overall record.

For the 2008 season, Northern brings in two new full-time coaches: quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Dan Mettlach and defensive coordinator Randy Awrey. Both coaches bring a championship mentality to NMU–having both been a part of at least one GLIAC championship: Mettlach as a player under Anderson at MTU and Awrey while head coach at Saginaw Valley State.

“We’ve all been around winning at other places and now we’re trying to bring that all together here, and get things back on the right track,” Mettlach said.

With the NMU football team nearing the end of its spring football practices, there are still several positions still up for grab, specifically the starting quarterback position, and an entirely new defensive scheme to learn.

THE FOUR

QUARTERBACKS

With four quarterbacks vying for the starting position, the football team still has an unknown offensive leader. Among the four are two freshmen and two sophomores: Matt Blanchard, freshman from Lake Zurich, Ill., Vincent Church, a sophomore from Grand Junction, Ben Hempel, a sophomore from Franklin, Wisc. and Carter Kopach, a freshman from Bolingbrook, Ill.

Anderson said each of the quarterbacks brings something different to the team.

“The quarterback situation is the key position on the offensive side of the ball,” Anderson said. “Everything from the leadership to the fact that he has the ball in his hands on every snap.”

As far as a time table for the decision process, NMU’s quarterback coach had this to say: “It’s going to be a process we would like to be able to come out of spring and have an idea of who it’s going to be.”

Mettlach added that the battle for the starting positions has only helped the team through spring practice.

“It’s not just at quarterback. We have competition at plenty of spots now,” he said. “That’s also something that’s going to help the whole team in practice. It’s going to bring up the intensity and the tempo (of the practices). It’s better for us, that way we don’t have anybody getting lazy.”

THE OFFENSE

NMU touts first-team all conference running back Mark Bossuah in the backfield, who is fronted by an offensive line that’s been together for three years.

“I think the offensive line has stepped up and become the dominating force,” Anderson said. “I think the offensive line is as good as anybody in the league.”

On the outside, NMU has no lack of depth.

“We are very fortunate to go about six, seven, eight guys deep at that position,” Mettlach said. “A lot of schools struggle to find two or three wide receivers.

“We are very fortunate at that position,” he added. “We have good leadership at the position, and quite a few athletes as well. We feel good about that spot.”

THE DEFENSE

Last year, NMU ranked 10th out of 13 teams in the conference for scoring defense.

“Defense is a concern,” Anderson said. “We were not a very good defense a year ago. Plus, now we have new coaches and a new system–that puts a lot of things up in the air.”

With Awrey at the helm of the defense, this year’s defense is designed to be more simplistic than in the past, in order to avoid mental errors.

“Our job as coaches is to make sure that they’re ready to play on Saturday–and they don’t have to do a lot of thinking,” Awrey said. “They just go out and play. Play the game, enjoy the game, have fun. This is a fun thing to be doing, and you don’t want them to have to be thinking and making mental mistakes on Saturday.”

Awrey added that the GLIAC is an offensive league, and that the defense becomes even more important because of the conference’s high-scoring games. He noted that the majority of GLIAC players who have gone on to play professionally were on the offensive side of the ball.

“There’s a lot of great wide receivers in this league, lot of great quarterbacks– offensive lines are phenomenal in this league,” Awrey said. “So the defensive guys really have a lot stacked against them, because they don’t know what the play is, they don’t know what the count is and usually you’re up against some pretty good talent.”