Football team ready to pounce this season

The+%E2%80%98Cats+are+looking+for+their+first+winning+season+since+2009.+Photo+courtesy+of+NMU+athletics.+

The ‘Cats are looking for their first winning season since 2009. Photo courtesy of NMU athletics.

Travis Nelson

The Northern Michigan University Football team is coming off of a 3-8 season and a ninth place finish in GLIAC Conference play.

Of his first two seasons at NMU, coach Kyle Nystrom likes where his team is after the spring.
“It was our third spring and it’s the best we’ve had,” Nystrom said. “There’s a noticeable difference in the caliber in a lot of our positions.”

To make things tougher on the Wildcats, injuries took down a couple players including offensive linemen, cornerbacks and even the starting quarterback. Ryan Johnson was about to begin his second season under center for the ’Cats, however on the second play of the season opener against McKendree University, he suffered a season ending injury. Johnson is now back for his junior year, healthy and ready to take back the reins of the offense.

“We got RJ [Johnson] back at quarterback, and he had a good spring,” Nystrom said. “The position of quarterback takes the most management and work to get solidified. We feel good about that going into the summer.”

Losing All-American running back Jake Mayon is difficult to handle. But they will use the running back at committee approach with Deandre Caldwell, Sebastian Toland and Nate Ashford.
The Wildcats will be a more experienced football team this season, as those injuries forced Nystrom’s hand to put younger players out on the field. NMU lost four games by six points of less. Even though that is a great sign that they will compete hard, sooner or later last minute losses need to turn
into wins.

“That’s critical,” Nystrom said. “Now you got to say as a coach, having a more experienced team, you should have a better opportunity in those close, cliffhanger games; you have to find a way to win and that’s the kind of team we have to be.”

Even though getting over the hump in those close games is something Nystrom wants to see improvement in this fall, his sights are on the season opener against McKendree.

“I don’t necessarily look at all the games we’re going to play next year right now, we’re focused on playing McKendree because that’s our first game,” Nystrom said. “That’s the only one I’m worried about right now.”
There has been a lot of struggling thus far in the Nystrom era, but he is in the midst of developing a winning culture here in Marquette by building a winning mindset.

“We’ve made a lot of strides in the program as far as being wired mentally, competitive mentally, working hard when no one’s watching. The team is improved, stronger, more physical and we’re moving in the right
direction,” Nystrom said.

Coach Nystrom and the Wildcats open up their season at home on September 7, when they face the McKendree Bearcats. Kickoff from the Superior Dome is set at 1:00 p.m.