Gearing up for Glory

GVL Archive
Chris Huley

GVL Archive Chris Huley

Brady Fredericksen

Back to business is name of the game for the Grand Valley State University football team this season. After suffering an uncharacteristic 38-6 loss in the second round of the Division II NCAA Playoffs to Augustana College last season, the second year of the Matt Mitchell era (GVSU’s head coach) looks to return to the school’s winning ways.

Although the Lakers finished 2010 with an 11-2 record, their early postseason exit is something that has stuck with the team all offseason – as made evident by the “38-6” billboard that hangs as a reminder in the locker room.

The way the season ended last year wasn’t the way Mitchell had envisioned, but the team has moved on from the loss and is ready to get back on the field against visiting Western Oregon University tonight.

“When you’re a part of this program, there is a tremendous amount of tradition,” said Mitchell, who also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator. “That (playoff) game last year keeps us humble, and I’m hoping it’s a learning experience, but we just have to come out and take this season one week at a time.”

The vibe around the team is not one of defeat, but a feeling of quiet confidence with a hunger to get back on the field. That attitude has trickled all the way down to the practice field, where the team had a strong training camp.

“This season is more intense, and our practices in camp have been amazing,” said junior running back Norman Shuford. “Grand Valley is not a team that loses, so when you have that nasty taste in your mouth – that nasty feeling in your heart and soul – you just know that you have to do whatever you can do to get it back.”

Shuford will serve as one of the many pieces in the retooling of the GVSU offensive puzzle. The team will still look to move up and down the field at a rapid pace – shown by last year’s 36.1 points per game average – but will have to do it with new faces at key positions.

While the team lost its senior backfield of quarterback Kyle McMahon and running back Justin Sherrod, the Lakers will still look to its backfield to ignite the offense, ignition that will come from new faces moving into prominent roles.

Gone is Sherrod, but in steps a pair of juniors in Shuford and Hersey Jackson to help carry the rushing load. The duo saw time last year, but will be relied upon to give balance to the GVSU offense – something the Lakers will look for with sophomore Heath Parling taking over at quarterback.

Despite being a red shirt sophomore, the first-year starter has a firm grasp on the offense and is looked at by teammates as the right player to take over at a position that, historically, has been a strong suit for the Lakers.

“I say Heath is more like a senior, it doesn’t feel like he’s a sophomore. He’s been in the program for three years and he has experience with the offense,” said senior receiver Jovonne Augustus, who caught a team-high nine touchdowns last season. “We’ve got a lot of depth here at the skill positions, so we just need to focus on being mentally strong and staying healthy throughout the season.”

The offense and defense had their moments of success last season, but both struggled in the playoff loss. The loss of seniors Chris Huley and Zach Breen on defense will be substantial. Breen was suspended five games by the NCAA for testing positive for a banned substance, while Huley is recovering from a gunshot wound to his elbow. The Lakers will look to their defensive front seven to alleviate those losses.

That front seven, which features the return of All-American defensive end Danny Richard, will look to pressure the opposing quarterback and improve a run defense that allowed 159.6 yards per game last season.

Improvement and consistency on defense will come with time, but it’s the tight games the Lakers learned to win last season that will help them the most going into this season.

“When you have experience in tight games – something you don’t always get here at Grand Valley – that’s going to help this team tremendously,” said senior tight end Tony Carreri, a CDS Division II Preseason First-Team All-American. “It’s going to help guys who have experience in those games, but also gives guys like Heath – who is more than capable of doing the job – some guys to lean on.”

Tonight’s game against Western Oregon will begin at 7 p.m. in Lubbers Stadium.
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