Back to the gridiron for GVSU football

GVL / Archive
Junior Michael Ratay (22)

Robert Mathews

GVL / Archive Junior Michael Ratay (22)

Bryce Derouin

Attention and praise usually go to the offense when it comes to the Grand Valley State University football program, but after last year’s disappointing season, all eyes will be on the Laker defense in Saturday’s season opener.

A new season means turning the page on the past, and for the GVSU defense, that’s probably a good thing. The Laker defense surrendered 31.5 points per game last season, but they’ll look to change their identity against Azusa Pacific University.

So what can fans expect Saturday from a defense that was exposed last year?

“Excitement and big plays,” said last year’s lead tackler senior Charles Hill. “You’re going to see
some negative plays being made with tackles for loss, our defensive line getting in there and
creating some havoc. There’s going to be some fireworks, I would say.”

This Saturday will mark the first meeting between GVSU and Azusa Pacific University. For head
coach Matt Mitchell and his coaching staff, the scariest thing about their opponent this weekend is
what they don’t know.

“The biggest factor is the unknown,” said Mitchell. “They’ve got a new quarterback listed as the
starter on their depth chart that we’ve never seen before. They’ve got some new offensive lineman.
From the offensive standpoint, it’s kind of the unknown. From the defensive side of the ball, you’ve
got new guys and we’re not sure what we’re going to get. This game is going to be about our
ability to potentially make some adjustments in-game because you never know what you’re going
to get.”

Azusa Pacific works out of a spread offense, similar to GVSU. However, as far as spread offenses
go, the two teams operate their offenses in different fashions.

“They run a lot of zone read and some quarterback runs and do some things that we don’t do,”
Mitchell said. “Even though it’s a spread mentality with four wides and three wides on the field—
kind of like we are—it’s different. The run game is different and the pass game is different.”

Leading the GVSU offense will be junior quarterback Heath Parling. Parling, who had his season cut
short last year when he suffered a torn ACL, was named the starter last weekend after beating out
classmate and friend Isiah Grimes for the starting job.

“I’m excited, no doubt,” Parling said. “That’s why I worked so hard in the offseason so I hopefully
would be able to play again. I feel like the whole deal was a bigger thing outside our building than
it was inside. Everyone inside would have been confident with either one of us. I’m excited but this
really doesn’t change my mindset at all.”

A strong start is what any team hopes for out of the gate, and GVSU has an impressive history of
starting the season off on the right foot. The Lakers have won their past 12 home season openers.

“If you’re going to be at Grand Valley and strive for championships, you can’t stub your toe week
one,” Mitchell said. “It’s big for us to obviously get out there and perform. We’re not going to be up
to our potential week one, but we’ve gotta be the best week one team and continue to build on it from there.”

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