September 2, 2014 at 6:42 pm

GLIAC preview: Team-by-team capsules

FERRIS STATE

Last season: 8-3 overall, 8-2 GLIAC

Coach: Tony Annese (3rd season; 15-7 overall, 14-6 GLIAC)

Notable: Ferris State took another step forward in Annese's second year, increasing its win total from seven to eight. And this year's loaded squad is poised to top that. Junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan, perhaps the most exciting and versatile player in Division II, returns under center for an offense that led the league in total offense and ranked first in every rushing category. Vander Laan, who was named to the all-league second team, threw for 1,741 yards, ran for 1,607 yards (a new DII single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback) and scored 36 total TD. Rejoining him are offensive linemen Adam Bennett and Justin Glover, running backs Jamaal Jackson (396 yards, five TD) and Kitwana Clark (307 yards, four TD), and his top two receivers -- Jake Lampman (38 catches, 542 yards, five TD) and Antonio Agurs (36 catches, 400 yards). All-league performers Terell Porter (86 tackles), Justin Zimmer (57 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) and Corey Stone (50 tackles) return from a defense that topped the league in rushing and total defense. A.J. McEwen, one of the league's top defensive backs who tallied a team-high 12 pass breakups and five INT, and Andrew Sowards solidify the secondary.

GRAND VALLEY

Last season: 12-3 overall, 7-2 GLIAC

Coach: Matt Mitchell (5th season; 39-11 overall, 30-9 GLIAC)

Notable: Grand Valley returns a bounty of starters from last year's team that lost to eventual champ Northwest Missouri State in an NCAA Division II semifinal and finished the season ranked No. 3 in nation. After leading the country in passing efficiency in 2011 before battling injuries the past two seasons, senior quarterback Heath Parling is back to orchestrate the offense. Junior tight end Jamie Potts led the team in receptions (54) and receiving TD (11) last season and will be the main target again. Grand Valley also returns the majority of the offensive line as well as its three-headed monster at running back: senior Michael Ratay (1,017 yards, 16 TD), senior Chris Robinson (880 yards, six TD) and junior Kirk Spencer (450 yards, three TD). Senior defensive back Deonte' Hurst (109 tackles), senior defensive end Matt Mosley (86 tackles, 12.5 TFL) and junior defensive tackle De'Ondre Hogan (60 tackles, 11 TFL) highlight the defense. Grand Valley will be tested right off the bat as it opens the season at reigning Great Northwest Athletic Conference champ Azusa Pacific.

HILLSDALE

Last season: 5-6 overall, 5-4 GLIAC

Coach: Keith Otterbein (13th season; 77-58 overall, 71-48 GLIAC)

Notable: After Hillsdale's streak of six straight winning seasons was snapped, Otterbein and his team are looking to start a new one. That may be a challenge considering the amount of youth and inexperience on offense. Most of last year's offensive starters have departed and there is competition for starting jobs along the offensive line, as well as at the quarterback and running back positions. Senior tight end Mike Carter (19 catches, 188 yards), and receivers John Haley (26 catches, 319 yards) and Evan Bach (28 catches, 345 yards) return to provide some leadership and experience. Defensively, all-league honorable mentions Tim Moinet (64 tackles) and Dan Pittman (63 tackles) return in the secondary, and sophomore defensive lineman Zach Swaffer, one of the league's top pass-rushers who ranked second with eight sacks, is back up front. Then on special teams, Hillsdale returns a pair of all-league specialists in senior punter Matt Eltringham and sophomore kicker Steve Mette.

MICHIGAN TECH

Last season: 6-4 overall, 6-4 GLIAC

Coach: Tom Kearly (9th season; 50-33 overall, 48-32 GLIAC)

Notable: Tech returns plenty of talent and experience on both sides of the ball, which it will need considering it opens with four of its first five games on the road. All-league defensive lineman Nelson Wienke led the team in sacks (3.5) and TFL (6.5) last year and should continue to cause problems for opposing offenses. Explosive weapons Tyler Scarlett, Charlie Leffingwell and Brandon Cowie all return on offense for their senior season. Scarlett, a four-year starter at quarterback, already holds several of Tech's passing records and looks to cement himself as one of the school's best. He ranked third in the league with 255.2 passing yards a game and sixth with 16 passing TD. Leffingwell led the team with seven TD and ranked fifth in the league with 1,238 rushing yards, and Cowie racked up a team-high 933 receiving yards, which was second most in the league. Additionally, Tech returns three other all-league performers: junior offensive lineman Frank Vruwink, senior defensive lineman Cameron Allen and junior defensive back Brett Gervais.

NORTHERN MICHIGAN

Last season: 3-7 overall, 3-7 GLIAC

Coach: Chris Ostrowsky (3rd season; 7-14 overall, 6-14 GLIAC)

Notable: Ostrowsky fielded a young squad last year but several players gained valuable experience at key positions. Quarterback Shaye Brown got his feet wet as a freshman and started the final few weeks of the season after senior Cody Scepaniak went down with an injury, and leading rusher Wyatt Jurasin (545 yards) worked his way into the starting role at running back as a sophomore. Receiver Marcus Tucker led the team in receptions (49) and brings plenty of experience to the receiving corps. Defensively, Northern brings back several talented pieces. Leading tackler Nick Krause (83 tackles) will bolster the linebacker group, free safety and third-leading tackler Levi Perry (62 tackles) will head the secondary, and defensive end Trevor Kruzel, who led the team with 7.5 TFL, will be a force up front once again. Northern also has a favorable schedule and only plays four teams who had winning records last year, which bodes well for its chances to record its first winning season since 2009.

NORTHWOOD

Last season: 2-9 overall, 1-8 GLIAC

Coach: Pat Riepma (16th season; 90-69-2 overall, 84-62-2 MIFC/GLIAC)

Notable: Former longtime coach Riepma makes his return after a six-year hiatus and marks the lone coaching change in the league. Known for his Woodbone option offense, Riepma will look to rebuild and guide Northwood to its first winning season since 2009. Quarterback Mitch Robinson took a majority of the snaps last year as a freshman and the majority of the receivers are back, led by junior Devonta Elzy (43 catches, 701 yards). Northwood will lack experience at the running back position after losing its top two rushers. Leading tackler and linebacker Mike Keith (93 tackles) returns to anchor the defense, which hopes to drastically improve after giving up 486 yards per game. Also coming back are return specialist Bryan Thomas, who was named All-GLIAC second team after leading the league and ranking fifth nationally in punt returns (17.4 yards), and a pair of all-league honorable mentions in linemen Brad Oxnevad and Colt Harrington.

SAGINAW VALLEY

Last season: 9-3 overall, 9-1 GLIAC

Coach: Jim Collins (7th season; 44-23 overall, 42-18 GLIAC)

Notable: Saginaw Valley posted its third straight winning season, claiming the GLIAC North Division title and reaching the Division II playoffs, where it lost to Grand Valley in the first round. It ranked first in scoring (422), points per game (42.2), passing yards (3,007), passing TD (29), INT (13) and tackles (792) in league play. However, Saginaw Valley will have plenty of holes to fill on offense with the departure of GLIAC Player of the Year Jonathon Jennings, Offensive Back of the Year Jeff Janis, the top four rushers and four of the top five receivers. Senior tight end and all-league selection Andrew Dillon (29 catches, 597 yards, five TD) and offensive lineman Logan Hauserman will be the bright spots of the offense. The defense will have to replace the loss of its top two tacklers but return several key pieces, including safeties Caleb Higbie (46 tackles) and Major Metcalf (56 tackles), and defensive ends Will Schwarz (40 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) and Murtada Jabbie (44 tackles).

WAYNE STATE

Last season: 3-8 overall, 3-7 GLIAC

Coach: Paul Winters (11th season; 56-56 overall, 47-53 GLIAC)

Notable: After five straight seasons of .500 or better, Wayne State finished on a six-game losing streak en route to its first losing season since 2007. It will look to get back on track with 14 starters returning from last year's team. On offense, the quarterback spot is up for grabs among junior Carl Roscoe and seniors Sean Guinane and Doug Griffin; all made at least three starts last year. Desmond Martin will be the featured ball-carrier and has big shoes to fill with the departure of Toney Davis, the school's third all-time leading rusher. On defense, leading tacklers Ed Viverette and Moe Davenport have graduated but senior linebacker Nores Fradi (61 tackles, 8.5 TFL) and the entire secondary, which was ranked second-best in the league against the pass, are back. The team also returns leading receiver Michael Johnson (33 catches, 491 yards) and a pair of all-league honorable mentions in senior offensive tackle Ben Walker and junior defensive tackle Ryan Hankins. Wayne State will open with four of its first five games at home.