Young players highlight GVSU football Spring Classic

GVL - Emily Frye
Bryce Young-Walls during the Spring Classic on Saturday April 15, 2017.

Emily Frye

GVL – Emily Frye Bryce Young-Walls during the Spring Classic on Saturday April 15, 2017.

Beau Troutman

The young guys were the focus of the Grand Valley State football 2017 Spring Classic at Lubbers Stadium Saturday, April 15.

Several freshmen, sophomores and juniors used GVSU’s spring practices to impress coaches, make plays and earn their spots on the depth chart.

Former defensive end and current Baltimore Raven Matt Judon, who attended the classic, remembers being in the same shoes as the young guys just a few years ago.

“Four or maybe three years of playing is a long time,” Judon said. “All three years, just get playing time. That’s a long time. You can impact a lot of games. There’s a lot of games won and lost by inches. Just stick with it, finish every rep and finish every play.”

The classic was a two hour scrimmage-style practice that started at noon. While some upperclassmen sat the event out, many younger players saw time on the field. Spring practice began Saturday, March 18, which also started GVSU’s quest to replace 17 seniors, 10 of which were on defense, who went 24-4 over the course of their GVSU careers.

GVSU’s question marks start with the defense. GVSU graduated defensive linemen Alton Voss, Sydney Omameh, Mark Rosenquist, DJ Hogan and Sonny Haskins. That group combined for 19.5 sacks and much of the defensive production last year.

The coaches said several players will see time on the D-line.

“For the D-line, it’s always a committee,” said defensive line coach EJ Whitlow. “We’re not going in with just four guys going out there playing 80 snaps, that can’t be sustainable when you play a lot of games. It’s all about a lot of guys and everybody has a role.”

The Lakers will rely on junior Dylan Carroll (7.5 sacks last season) and senior Collin Schlosser (team-high 108 tackles) to anchor a young defense. The Lakers will also look to senior Garrett Pougnet (60 tackles), who is switching from safety to linebacker.

GVSU coach Matt Mitchell said a couple of lesser known guys caught his eye this spring, including senior Keane Belcher and sophomore Michael Pettis.

Pettis saw little action last season, while Belcher was used as a rotational player. Belcher, who came into the program at 220 lbs., beefed up to 292 lbs. for his senior year. The Lakers are planning on utilizing him on the inside more as an interior player.

“This is my last spring,” Belcher said. “I have to take advantage of it and cherish every moment.”

Mitchell also noted sophomore linebacker Isaiah Nkansah and sophomore defensive backs Kalen Dunham and DaMario Johnson as under the radar players who stood out. Nkansah was a standout on special teams last year and Dunham saw time as a true freshman last year.

On offense, the Lakers boast the junior backfield duo of quarterback Bart Williams and running back Martayveus Carter. Williams threw for over 3,000 yards last year with 33 touchdowns while Carter was named a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist in a season that saw him break GVSU’s single season rushing record (1908 yards).

Mitchell called for the pair to be the leaders of the offense.

“Leadership, (Williams) is great at it, he’s got to continue to push the team,” Mitchell said. “Last year Terrell Dorsey was the leader of the running back room. Martayveus, heading into his junior year, he’ll be the most senior of the group. I need him to step up and lead.”

Carter plans to do that the only way he knows how.

“Stay Marty,” he said. “I just got to stay Marty, be that funny guy, stay the comedian, keep doing what I did last year. That’s being that funny guy, staying humble, staying happy around the team and make the chemistry stronger.”

Dorsey had a solid year as well in his final ride as a Laker, racking up 500 yards as the relief back to Carter. The tailback duo, dubbed “Thunder and Lightning” last year, will need to find new thunder to Carter’s lightning.

Both Mitchell and Carter said sophomore running back Bryce Young-Walls will be the replacement after having a strong spring. Asked if Young-Walls can bring the Thunder, Carter said there’s no question.

“Oh yeah, he can most definitely be the hammer. He can definitely be the thunder,” Carter said. “I still really think we can be the lightning and thunder.”

The Lakers’ season-opener is set for Thursday, August 31, on the road versus the Indianapolis Greyhounds.