Football team hosts annual spring game

Ray Bressette

The NMU football team will host their annual spring game at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 18 in the Superior Dome.

The game, which will be free to the public, will be a matchup of the Wildcat offense against the Wildcat defense.

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NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said spring ball plays a major role in the football team’s yearly calendar.

“Spring football is a critical component to the structure of a football program on a college level,” Ostrowsky said. “It’s a great opportunity to create a fundamental foundation so our players don’t have to worry about the pressures of ‘It’s game week and we all have to get ready to play,’ but rather everybody should be getting a ton of reps and understanding the basic fundamentals of how to play the game at a high level.”

A free youth clinic for kids between the ages of 3-13 will be held in the pregame festivities.

The ’Cats have been training in a 14-practice spring schedule, which will wrap up at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 17, which is also open to the public.

Ostrowsky said Saturday’s game is a chance to see the steps toward success the ’Cats are making.

“It’s a great day to come out and celebrate being a Wildcat, being in college and remembering why you came to NMU,” Ostrowsky said. “When your football program is successful, it has a way of binding a community, and for us here we’ve had some real phenomenal crowds and people who are genuinely interested in seeing us be successful. There’s an energy and aura around us right now, and we’re excited about that.”

NMU will have 38 new athletes on their 2015 squad this weekend, with 37 freshmen and one junior college transfer. Six of the added freshmen are U.P. natives and 16 are Michigan natives.

Junior linebacker Levi Perry said spring practices pay off when they conclude at the end of the season.

“We always like having the practices in the morning to get them out of the way, and it always leads up to a great spring game,” Perry said. “It’s always great to get to that game at the end of the schedule, show everyone what we’ve been working on all offseason and get the fans back in the Dome. The community here is something you can’t beat.”

The Wildcats are coming off a 3-8 season in which they finished seventh out of the eight-team GLIAC North Division, and finishing 13th out of the 15 conference teams.

The Wildcats lost fourth quarter leads in six of their eight defeats and lost by one score or less in five of their losses.

Sophomore quarterback Shaye Brown started 10 of the ’Cats’ 11 games, completing 55.6 percent of his passes, throwing 2,610 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Brown was benched for freshman Jaranta Lewis six games into the season against Malone University, which the ’Cats lost 42-35 in overtime. Brown returned the following week and started for NMU’s final five games and set an NMU record throwing for 490 yards against the University of Findlay in a 66-38 win during the ’Cats season finale Nov. 15.

Junior running back Wyatt Jurasin was the Wildcats’ leading rusher in yards with 655. Junior running back Terrance Dye followed with 410 yards, while leading NMU’s ‘backs in scoring with six touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Kelvin Smarwt averaged the most yards per game with 62.7 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver Marcus Tucker led NMU in scoring with seven touchdowns.

The NMU offense averaged 25.5 points per game, while the defense allowed 28.5 points and 398.1 yards per game on average.

Ostrowsky is entering his fourth season as the NMU head coach, searching for his first winning season and NMU’s first since 2009.

Sophomore defensive back Keshawn Walker said the Wildcats are getting closer to performing on a successful level.

“We’ve been working hard each and every day,” Walker said. “When I first got here three years ago the program was a little shaky. Not everyone was coming together as a team. But the coaches in the program have gotten better, us as players have gotten better and everyone’s more focused. We’re taking it day-by-day, game-by-game and are going to put a winner on the field.”