A new year and breed of NMU football began Saturday, April 17, in the Superior Dome during the annual NMU spring game. It may be until next fall, however, until we see what that new style of football may be.
Injuries kept many of last year’s starters from the game as spring practices concluded after three weeks. Parents and fans alike turned out to the Dome to witness the strengths NMU has heading into the 2010 season.
“We didn’t look as good as we wanted to look, and we have a lot of work to do,” head coach Bernie Anderson said. “Anytime you take all your talent and put it into one game, there’s a number of players who aren’t ready to play. But by the time you take your best and put your best 11 on the field at one time, I think we have a pretty good piece of work.”
Anderson went on to evaluate the strength in numbers of the team.
“Depth will be a concern,” he said.
New faces were jotted into nearly every position and spring injuries contributed to the absence of many on both sides of the ball. The lack of depth at certain positions kept the game from a score and statistics.
Offensively, the Wildcats return two-year starting quarterback Carter Kopach, entering his junior season. Kopach completed 117 of 202 passes last season for 1,373 yards and 14 touchdowns. Saturday, Kopach was forced to take the majority of the snaps because of thin depth at the quarterback position. A leadership roll, however, is one that Anderson feels Kopach is ready to handle.
“Carter had a good spring. He’s a veteran player,” Anderson said. “We expect him to be the leader on offense and make the big plays on offense. We think he’s very capable of that.”
Kopach himself knows, because of the concerns surrounding the running game entering the fall, a stronger performance from the quarterback position is expected.
“Hopefully I can live up to that role to the best of my abilities,” Kopach said. “I feel like I’m getting more confident every day and understanding the offense, but now with two new coaches it should be a little different.”
Following the spring game, it was announced to players that offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jeff Duvendeck, along with quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Dan Mettlach, will be leaving from the program. Regardless of who the replacements will be, the offense should still find success, thanks in part to the relationship between Kopach and senior wide receiver Dustin Brancheau.
The two connected on numerous occasions Saturday and may have been showing a glimpse of what is to come next fall. Brancheau looks to be the next top wideout for the Wildcats in a decade, which includes ex-Wildcat receiving greats Vinny Mayfield, Fred Wells, Danny Elmore and Zach Nichols.
“He’s been consistent all spring, no surprise there,” Kopach said. “A very vocal leader, kind of filling that role as a returning captain. He’s doing whatever we ask and that’s all you can ask for.”
Brancheau felt the same about the Kopach relationship and sees big things coming from it next fall.
“Me and Carter got pretty good chemistry right now, and throughout the summer, were going to continue to grow on it,” Brancheau said. “Come next fall hopefully we’ll be hooking up a lot more.”
Defensively the Wildcats felt the injury bug the hardest Saturday.
“We had Demitri Stewart, John Blessing and Ricky Neaves all sitting today and probably three of our leaders, along with Matt Forward the fourth one who was missing off that starting defense,” Anderson said. “So four starters off last year’s defense didn’t suit up today and that will make a difference.”
Walking away with a grade from Saturday’s game may be a tough task for Anderson to do with so many faces missing. But at the same time knows that once he looks at the film, it will be done.
“It’s really hard to get a feel on a game like today because you have players that aren’t ready playing with players that are ready,” he said. “It’s a tough match to look good.”
Players, like Brancheau, know that they must take what they did Saturday and build on it in order to find success in the GLIAC next year.
“There’s always more work to be done,” he said. “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now. We got a long way to go. The GLIAC’s a really tough league so were not satisfied with what we did today.”