GVSU football looks to rebound after missing playoffs in 2011

	gvl/ Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews

gvl/ Robert Mathews

Brady Fredericksen

The two-a-days may have wrapped up on Wednesday, but the Grand Valley State University football team’s preparation for the 2012 season hasn’t slowed.

Head coach Matt Mitchell and his staff are still preparing for the team’s season opener on Saturday against Western Oregon University, a team it defeated 44-20 to open last season.

Players are still battling for playing time along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary, but it’s one game at a time for a team coming off an 8-3 season, its worst season since 2000.

“I think anytime you take the field, there are high expectations for performance. We’ve got to get off to a good start, we’ve got to be focused coming out of the gates,” Mitchell said. “Having been around these 120 guys, when we play loose, we’re not very good. I don’t want the guys all nerved up, but they have to also understand that mistakes will cost you football games.”

Those mistakes, specifically turnovers and miscommunications on defense, led to GVSU’s 1-3 start last season.

While the roster returns eight starters on offense and eight on defense, there are still holes to fill on both sides of the ball – specifically the defense, which must replace starters at linebacker, defensive end and cornerback.

“We’re a work in progress right now, and in the month of September we’ll still be a work in progress,” Mitchell said. “All these new starters, we’re going to have to learn from our mistakes throughout the course of the game and from week to week. I think we’ve got the potential to get better, but we’re not going to be a finished product Week One.”

Senior Jarrod Cox, moving down from safety, will team with juniors Sam Power, Charles Hill and Luther Ware as linebacker. With the inexperience at defensive line – senior Ryan Pettis is the lone returner at defensive end – Mitchell said there’s a possibility of more 3-4 formations, an attempt to get more of the linebackers on the field together.

“We may have to try to play a few more guys, get them out here live and see how they handle the situations,” Mitchell said. “I am concerned that a guy like (redshirt freshman) Brad Horling, who potentially is a good player; you still have to remember that he’s a redshirt freshman and this is his first college game.”

Some of that same in-game inexperience will carry over to the secondary where, outside of junior safety Erik Thompson and corner back Reggie Williams, the rest of the puzzle still needs to sort itself out, according to Mitchell.

“We’re not going to be afraid to rotate some different guys,” he said. “At that level, in the secondary and at linebacker, you’re not going to see the same guys back there all the time, we’re going to rotate through some bodies and with some specific defensive line positions, too.”

Expect Michigan State transfer Dana Dixon and Indiana University transfer Shaquille Jefferson to see time in the secondary at cornerback and safety.

Offense is less of a worry because the team returns starters at quarterback, wide receiver and running back. Preseason All-Americans Heath Parling and Charles Johnson return as one of the GLIAC’s top passing combos, while junior Hersey Jackson will lead a stable of running backs.

With Jackson still nursing an injured shoulder that has kept him out of contact drills in camp, more responsibility falls on sophomores Chris Robinson and Mike Ratay. Robinson ran for a freshman single-game record 173 yards against Saginaw Valley State University last season, while Ratay, who accumulated 548 all-purpose yards in 2011, will enter the year looking to help Jackson alleviate the loss of senior Norman Shuford.

The team’s second-leading rusher last season, Shuford will redshirt this season after tearing his ACL late last season.

“We help each other out on anything, we know what to do (on the field). We all can see different things and come together,” said Jackson, who cut his signature dreadlocks in the offseason. “We’re not trying to be individuals, we’re trying to be family and get things done the right way.”

On the offensive line, GVSU returns three starters from last season in junior Tyler Moran and seniors Andrew Biedenbender and Tim Lelito. Moran and Biedenbender will start at tackle, but assisting Lelito on the interior will be junior and 2010 All-GLIAC lineman Matt Armstrong, who redshirted last season after injuring his knee in 2010.

Mitchell said the fifth starter is still up in the air, but sophomore Eric LaBuhn and freshman Connor Gould and Brandon Revenberg have used strong camps to enter in the discussion.

Freshman Jamie Potts, who is also battling kicker Marco Iderosa for kick-off duty, and Joe Wirth are the two vying to fill the void at tight end. Sophomores Keontre Miskel, Darryl Pitts and Brandan Green will look to help bolster the receiving group, led by Johnson and senior Isreal Woolfork.

“Those guys, if you look at them from last spring to where they are now, you wouldn’t even know they’re the same players,” Parling said of his young receivers. “We’re confident in our receiving group, and I think we’ve got a good core there and they should take us a long way hopefully.”

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