GLIAC preview: Vander Laan leads loaded Ferris State
A capsule look at Michigan teams in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Last season: 11-1 overall, 10-0 GLIAC
Coach: Tony Annese (4th season; 26-8 overall, 24-6 GLIAC)
Notable: Ferris State steadily improved in Annese’s first two years before taking a giant leap last season, posting its first 11-0 regular season in school history en route to winning its first outright league title and reaching the Division II playoffs for first time since 1996. Headlining the more than 50 letterwinners and over 20 players with starting experience returning is four-year starting quarterback and Harlon Hill Trophy winner Jason Vander Laan, who threw for 2,381 yards and 30 TDs on 183-of-275 passing and rushed for 1,466 yards and 20 TD. Vander Laan will be surrounded by plenty of firepower from the league’s top-ranked offense (46.6 points per game, 524.8 yards per game) as sophomore running back Jahaan Brown (786 yards, eight TDs, league-best 9.8 yards per carry) returns as well as the team’s top four receivers, led by junior Shakur Sanders (49 catches, 736 yards, eight TDs). Several key pieces also return on defense including the top three tacklers in sophomore linebacker KC Zenner (team-high 97 tackles), junior linebacker Anthony Darkangelo (82 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss) and senior defensive end Justin Zimmer, a two-time all-conference selection who led the team in sacks (61/2) and tackles-for-loss (13) to go along with 76 tackles, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles. On special teams, sophomore kicker Mitch Bredberg is back after breaking the school’s single-season record for extra points (67) and ranking second on the team in scoring (87).
Grand Valley State
Last season: 6-5 overall, 6-4 GLIAC
Coach: Matt Mitchell (6th season; 45-16 overall, 36-13 GLIAC)
Notable: Grand Valley suffered a rare setback season by its standards, snapping a 14-year streak of seven or more wins after scuffling to an 0-3 start. There will be a lot of new faces and lost production on offense with the departure of quarterback Heath Parling, leading rusher Chris Robinson and top receiver Jamie Potts. With the starting quarterback spot up for grabs among sophomores Bart Williams and Ollie Ajami and transfer Ryan West, the offense returns four linemen, highlighted by All-GLIAC first team selection Jim Walsh, and experienced running backs Kirk Spencer (346 yards, 6.1 YPC) and Terrell Dorsey (359 yards, 5.9 YPC). On the defensive side, leading tackler Deonte Hurst graduated but second-leading tackler Matt Judon (72 tackles, 19 TFL, 81/2 sacks) returns to anchor the line up front. David Talley (55 tackles, 21/2 sacks) and Brad Horling (54 tackles, five TFL) are back to solidify the linebacker corps and defensive lineman De’Ondre Hogan should provide a boost after both missing much of last season due to injury. Grand Valley’s young secondary, which was prone to giving up the big play a year ago, will get to showcase its improvement when it faces reigning divisional champs Ohio Dominican and Ferris State in Weeks 2 and 3.
Last season: 4-7 overall, 4-6 GLIAC
Coach: Keith Otterbein (14th season; 81-65 overall, 75-54 GLIAC)
Notable: Hillsdale has seen a steady decline in the win column since 2009, which has culminated in back-to-back losing seasons for first time since 2003-04. The team boasted an abundance of youth and took its lumps, but is banking on learning from last season to begin trending in the right direction. The offense returns its top three rushers in Bennett Lewis (598 yards, six TDs), Jack Wiseman (430 yards, six TDs) and Wade Wood (343 yards, three TDs) as well as several receivers, including top receiver John Haley, who led the team in receiving yards (643) and TDs (five). The starting quarterback spot is up for grabs and looks to be a three-way race among front-runners Mark LaPrairie, C.J. Mifsud and Chance Stewart. LaPrairie took most of the snaps last season and threw for 1,990 yards and eight TDs, while Mifsud appeared in three games and Stewart transferred from Western Michigan. Despite losing its top three tacklers, the entire defensive line returns — headed by senior David Galginaitis (91/2 TFL, 31/2 sacks) — along with key contributors in junior defensive backs Austin Koneval (67 tackles) and Joe Duff (35 tackles, two INTs) and sophomore linebacker Jay Rose (45 tackles, five TFL).
Last season: 9-2 overall, 9-1 GLIAC
Coach: Tom Kearly (10th season; 59-35 overall, 57-33 GLIAC)
Notable: Tech tied the program record for wins and reached the Division II playoffs for first time in 10 years. Duplicating that success will be a tall task with the graduation of Tech’s all-time leading passer Tyler Scarlett, who holds numerous school records, and leading rusher Charlie Leffingwell. Leading receiver Brandon Cowie (58 receptions, 786 yards, seven TDs) will make transition to quarterback in his junior year, a position he was originally recruited to play. Familiar faces will be lining up to catch Cowie’s passes in senior receivers Andrew Clark (48 catches, 548 yards, three TDs) and Aaron Root (28 catches, 308 yards, two TDs) and senior tight end Ian Weinke (20 receptions, 201 yards, two TDs). Junior running back Kevin Miller (66 carries, 233 yards) appears to be leading candidate to take over in the backfield and should find room to run with three returning starters on the O-line, including All-GLIAC first team selection Frank Vruwink. Tech’s defense, which ranked third in points per game (19.6) and second in interceptions (16), will likely be formidable once again as it returns all six starters up the middle and five of its top six tacklers: defensive backs Brett Gervais (67 tackles, seven pass breakups, three INTs), Nick Brajak (56 tackles, three INT, two FF) and Ben Tauchen (49 tackles), linebacker Paul Kuoppala (66 tackles) and defensive lineman Tanner Agen (49 tackles, 10 TFL, 3.5 sacks). The season will be tale of two halves as Tech opens with four of its first five games at home before closing out with four road games in five weeks.
Last season: 3-8 overall, 2-8 GLIAC
Coach: Chris Ostrowsky (4th season; 10-22 overall, 8-22 GLIAC)
Notable: Last year’s record isn’t flattering, but it doesn’t reflect the fact that five of those losses were by seven points or less. Northern Michigan brings back numerous key pieces on offense with junior quarterback Shaye Brown (2,610 yards, 15 TDs) and senior running backs Wyatt Jurasin (655 yards, five TDs) and Terrance Dye (410 yards, six TDs). Brown will be throwing to familiar targets with five returning receivers, highlighted by senior Marcus Tucker, who led the team with 843 yards receiving and seven TDs and posted a league-best 21.1 yards per catch. Tucker also led the league in return yards (841) and ranked third in all-purpose yards per game (154.9). Six starters return on defense with junior Jared Vuksan (27 tackles) on the defensive line, senior Levi Perry (45 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and junior Julian Hornback (63 tackles, 2.5 sacks) commanding the linebacker corps, and senior Brandon Auguste (29 tackles, two INTs) and junior Pat Ryan (49 tackles, two INTs) shoring up the back end. Northern Michigan will open with four of its first six games at home and vie for its first winning season since 2009.
Last season: 5-6 overall, 4-6 GLIAC
Coach: Leonard Haynes (1st season)
Notable: The Northwood football team and community was shaken when longtime coach Pat Riepma unexpectedly passed away over the summer after returning for his second tenure as head coach last season. Haynes, who played at Northwood in the 1090s and has been a fixture on the coaching staff for 20 years, will be the team’s third head coach in three seasons. Without a doubt, this season will be emotional yet motivating for the entire team, especially the seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense. Northwood returns three quarterbacks who all saw action in senior Mark Morris, junior Mitch Robinson and sophomore Jimmy Strom. Morris played the majority of the time, throwing for 1,155 yards and 11 TDs in eight games. Also back are leading rushers Jared Briguglio (908 yards, seven TDs) and Damian Nicholson (329 receiving yards, 184 rushing yards, seven total TDs). The defense should be solid behind the core trio of junior linebacker Michael Fisher (league-best 126 total tackles), senior linebacker Mike Keith (103 tackles) and senior defensive back Aryn Curtis (13 pass breakups, six INTs).
Saginaw Valley State
Last season: 2-9 overall, 2-8 GLIAC
Coach: Jim Collins (8th season; 46-32 overall, 44-26 GLIAC)
Notable: Saginaw Valley snapped its streak of three winning seasons and posted its lowest win total since 2005, when the team finished 2-11 after forfeiting its nine league victories due to NCAA rules violations. Things are looking up, though, as it returns seven starters on both sides. On offense, quarterback Tyler Palka (998 total yards), leading rusher Allante Gardner (448 yards) and top receiver Bryan Fobbs (52 receptions, 612 yards, six TDs) are all back, but will need to improve after scoring a league-worst 13.8 points per game. The 152 total points scored last season were the lowest since 1982. Palka, who started the last five games as a redshirt freshman, will have to battle San Diego State University transfer Brad Odeman Jr. for the starting role. On defense, sophomore linebacker Bryan Jones (team-high 106 tackles) is back to wreck havoc along with junior defensive back Matt McKoy (70 tackles, two sacks, two INTs). Junior defensive tackle Jordan Sanders returns after being sidelined with an injury last season to anchor a strong D-line. Saginaw Valley faces an early rough stretch as it plays four of its first five games on the road with three of those contests coming against teams with winning records last year.
Last season: 7-4 overall, 6-4 GLIAC
Coach: Paul Winters (12th season; 63-60 overall, 53-57 GLIAC)
Notable: Wayne State bounced back to record its sixth winning season in the past seven years by improving greatly on both sides of the ball. The offense averaged 396 yards a game and 32.7 points led by seniors Carl Roscoe (1,615 passing yards, 10 TDs), Desmond Martin (1,578 rushing yards, 16 TDs) and Michael Johnson (59 receptions, 879 yards, 10 TDs). Roscoe returns as a fifth-year senior, while Romello Brown and Demetrius Stinson are slated to fill Martin’s role in the backfield. Also back on offense are two All-GLIAC first team selections: lineman Nate Theaker and tight end Trent Brodbeck (15 catches, 171 yards). Wayne State’s defense led the league in sacks (32) and ranked fourth in points allowed per game (21.4) last year behind All-America linebacker Nores Fradi. While it will be tough to replace Fredi, the defense returns top tackler Zak Bielecki (101 tackles, three INTs) in the secondary, Anthony DeDamos (70 tackles, 12 TFL, four sacks) at linebacker and Jake Carrizales (35 tackles, 14 TFL, 71/2 sacks) up front. Three seniors are slated to start in the secondary with four juniors slotted at the linebacker positions.
James Hawkins is a freelance writer.