GVSU seniors prepare to go down with ship

GVL / Hannah Mico
Heath Parling (12) congratulates runningback Kirk Spencer (27) on his second touchdown of Saturdays game.


GVL / Hannah Mico Heath Parling (12) congratulates runningback Kirk Spencer (27) on his second touchdown of Saturday’s game.

Jay Bushen

For the third time in four years, the Grand Valley State University football team will miss the playoffs. So what’s left to play for?

For the GVSU seniors who have gone 31-13 since 2011, the goal is simple: maintain the program’s culture by winning football games.

“We’re going to be motivated still,” said senior safety Deonté Hurst. “We still want to finish the season out as strong as we can. Knowing that the playoffs are out of the question right now, it’s just building the younger guys up and giving them confidence to try to continue the tradition here and just still learning and getting better every day.”

After losing their fourth game to a ranked opponent in a 35-14 loss at Michigan Tech on Saturday, the Lakers (3-4, 3-3 GLIAC) still have four teams left on their schedule – and it doesn’t get much easier. GVSU’s next three opponents are a combined 14-7.

The first of which is Findlay (4-3, 3-3 GLIAC) Saturday afternoon in Ohio. Findlay, like GVSU, was ranked in the top 25 at one point this season and has more than enough offensive firepower to protect its home turf.

The Oilers lead the GLIAC in passing yards per game (289.3) behind senior quarterback Verlon Reed, an Ohio State transfer, and senior Lloyd Henry, the only wideout in the conference averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game (100.3).

GVSU’s defense will need to be better than it was at Michigan Tech, where it surrendered touchdowns on each of its first five drives. If the Laker defense can’t make plays at Findlay, then it could be up to senior quarterback Heath Parling.

Parling, one of five offensive players who have been a part of the program since 2009, said he and his teammates still have much to play for this fall.

“We’re not going to give up, we’re not going to roll over,” he said. “It’s disappointing. I wish we were somewhere else in our season, but the fact of the matter is we’re not. But you don’t give up in football just as in life. You just keep playing, keep fighting and something good will come of it hopefully.”

Parling and his senior teammates may not be in the playoff picture this year, but their ability to lead the Lakers to victory is still significant from a historical context.

GVSU, which began the season both as the NCAA’s all-time winningest football program, is in danger of losing five games for the first time since 1999. The last time GVSU lost more than five games was in 1984, when coach Bob Giesey’s Lakers went 0-10.

So, for current GVSU coach Matt Mitchell, the weekly focus of winning the next game doesn’t change.

“When it comes to an overall attitude and approach it’s important that our head coach, our assistant coaches and the seniors in our program – the guys that have been there before like a lot of these guys who played in a national semifinal and understand the culture of Grand Valley football – maintain those standards and maintain that culture within our building,” Mitchell said. “Playing for Grand Valley, there’s still a lot of history and tradition that has to mean something to these guys.

“And it’s upon them these last four games to make sure that foundation and those pillars are established, and that younger players in our program understand those core values, that culture and sense of urgency that is necessary.”

Saturday’s contest at Findlay starts at noon. For live scoring updates, follow @GVLSports on Twitter.