Wildcat football gearing up for season opener

Coach+Nystrom+and+the+Wildcats+huddle+up+at+midfield+after+a+late+August+practice.

Coach Nystrom and the Wildcats huddle up at midfield after a late August practice.

Travis Nelson

With the season opener in just nine days, the Northern Michigan University football team has its eyes on its game with the McKendree University Bearcats. Head coach Kyle Nystrom watched his team grind their way through a tough training camp, and a few players came out with bumps and bruises.

“Camp was hard, camp was physical,” Nystrom said. “We’ve got a couple nicks and there’s no way around it, if you’re going to practice the way you have to practice to be a good college football team, you’re going to get banged up. So we’re game-planning, going through our normal process this week and at the same time trying to get a little bit of mileage off some people. We’re trying to get people back at the same time so you have to balance that act a little bit.”

After enduring two straight weeks of camp, Nystrom is feeling good about his squad, however, there are still questions to be answered until NMU has played a down of football.

“It was all about us through camp, we had a good camp, and I like where we’re headed,” Nystrom said. “I think coaches get asked how good they are, I don’t know, we haven’t played anybody, and you know what? I haven’t seen anyone else play yet. I don’t know how we stack up going into the season, but you prepare like you’re going to war for every game.”

Training camp is about competing for starting spots for the most part, Nystrom and his staff did some heavy lifting this past summer to get from just two quarterbacks on the roster in the spring, to seven for fall camp. The coaches are trying to build depth, along with building a solid football team top to bottom.

“The staff really worked hard all summer long on getting some quarterbacks to transfer in here, that’s just one example of getting that position back to a healthy number and skillset,” Nystrom said. “[It’s also about] just getting some competition in the thing, so that goes on all over, we’ve got a lot of guys back compared to the previous couple of years. In the end, we strive to be better in everything we do.”

Nystrom understands the world of college coaching, he knows it takes hard work to gel a team of young adults together. Even when there’s major emphasis in the on-the-field aspect of football, developing his team into good people is a huge part of camp.

“With 105 male college athletes, there’s always a trick in there. Nothing’s ever perfect with that many guys at that age and atmosphere, doing the things you need to do to be a good football team,” Nystrom said. “A lot more of our camp is just about practice, human development, presentations and of meetings at night. It’s about building a well-rounded person, because the bottom line is that once you get all of your players to grow up mentally and mature, they’re usually a pretty good football player.”

The `Cats are practicing this week like they’re playing Saturday, according to Nystrom, however, it is tough in week one of the season to truly gameplan for your opponent.

“It’s a crapshoot because they could change, we went into the game last year and they weren’t anything like the year before,” Nystrom said. “Their offensive coordinator was changed, and I think their head coach is running, or has heavy influence in the offense, so it could be that way again. All you can do for your game one is prepare for what you know so far, and then you have to adjust during the game. Sometimes you have be able to re-do your gameplan sometimes up in the box, that’s week one.”

With their clash against McKendree looming, NMU has, for the most part, figured out their top guys, and must have great attention to detail against this Bearcats group. Nystrom knows first hand how good this program is, as McKendree knocked off the Wildcats 34-28 just a season ago.

“We’ve got people identified, and moving forward we still find more places for competition so that it makes everybody better, and we prepare for McKendree,” Nystrom said. “They had a very nice team last year, they do a nice job with their scheme, they’re very well-coached . They know what they’re doing with playing their package on offense, they have a new guy running their defense, but they got nine starters back so they have a lot of veterans. They’re going to be a good football team, Mike (Babcock) does a nice job and their assistants do a nice job, I give them a lot of credit.”

The NMU football team hosts the McKendree Bearcats on Sept. 7 from the Superior Dome. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.