GVSU defense back on track

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter
A Laker defenseman takes down an Indianappolis offenseman

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter A Laker defenseman takes down an Indianappolis offenseman

Cody Eding

Opposing offenses beware: The Grand Valley State University football team is starting to straighten out its defense.

With an influx of young talent, the No. 1 Lakers (6-0, 5-0 GLIAC) struggled on defense for the first three games of the season. But with experience comes results. Led by a small core of veterans and developing talent, GVSU has allowed only 24 points in the team’s last three games after surrendering 103 points in the first three contests of the season.

“I think, especially the young guys like me and (redshirt freshman cornerback Reggie Williams), we both came along because of the fact at the beginning of the year we were kind of nervous,” said redshirt freshman cornerback Michael Hatcher. “We’re getting more comfortable. We’re getting settled in.”

The Lakers have “settled in” nicely over the past three games, dominating the University of Findlay and Tiffin University on the road before quieting a dangerous Northern Michigan University offense last weekend. The defense allowed 283 yards of total offense to opponents in those games after giving up an average of 424 yards of total offense during the first three weeks of the season.

GVSU’s improvement has been helped along by inspired play from defensive veterans like senior linebacker Justin Victor, senior cornerback Rob Carlisle, senior safety Matt Bakker, senior defensive end Nick Lawrence and junior safety Zach Breen. Together, the group has led the unit by example.

“I definitely felt coming out of the Hillsdale game (in week two) that not only were we not sound in our assignments, but I was not happy, I guess, with the passion that we were playing the game with – the intensity that we were playing the game with,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “I think all of our veterans knew that. And, they really made the pitch to the youngers guys, ‘We got to pick up the tempo of play.’”

In Saturday’s victory over Northern Michigan, Mitchell said he was most impressed by the play of the defensive line and sophomores Rickey Thomas and Ryan Pettis. The line has been especially reliant on underclassmen since losing senior and All-American defensive end Danny Richard to a knee injury before the season.

“There’s some guys that are freshmen and sophomores, especially on our defensive line, that now they’re getting this idea they’re edge guys, they’re runners,” Mitchell said. “They’ve got to have high-motor intensity guys. I felt like we did a better job of that, and I think that’s a credit a little bit to not only our coaches, but some of our seniors about how hard we play and how fast we have to pursue the football.”

The change in attitude from the younger players has been noticed by the upperclassmen as well.

“They’re starting to get an understanding of how we work around here,” Victor said. “We’re a hard-nosed defense that doesn’t matter who we play, we’re going to go out there and give them our best.”

Growing pains are inevitable as the unit matures, but the Lakers have made steady progress since the season opener. Turning potential into results will be key as GVSU tries for a fifth National Championship this fall, Hatcher said.

“We try to get better from week-to-week,” he said. “Coach always says, ‘five to six, six to seven.’ We try to focus on getting better every week, no matter what.”

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