Spring game to give preview of 2011 Laker football

GVL Archive / Brian Sevald
Defense takes down the offense during last years Spring football game

GVL Archive / Brian Sevald Defense takes down the offense during last years Spring football game

Brady Fredericksen

While spring cleaning and exams have dominated the minds of students at Grand Valley State University recently, the GVSU football team is there to save the day.

With its regular season opener against Western Oregon University still months away, the team’s spring game on Saturday will give fans a chance to get out and see the Lakers in action.

After an uncharacteristic 38-6 second-round playoff loss to Augustana College ended the Lakers’ season in 2010, this year’s team will look to reload on the fly by filling holes on both sides of the ball with underclassman.

“We’ve got to solidify two starters on the offensive line and develop some depth there. That’s the number one spot,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell, who enters his second year at the helm. “After that, we’ve got a lot of different guys competing at safety, so figuring out who’s playing back there will be a good competition.”

Last season’s veteran-dominated team led the Lakers to their sixth-consecutive GLIAC title, but this season’s group, with only 14 seniors, will be relatively inexperienced on the offensive side of the ball.

Replacing quarterback Kyle McMahon and running back Justin Sherrod will be key for the GVSU offense. As Mitchell said, the importance of replenishing the offensive line, which starts with replacing potential NFL draft pick Cameron Bradfield, will also be a top priority.

The connection between the potential quarterback and the offensive line will dictate what kind of damage the Lakers’ offense can do this season.

“It’s critical, we have to be good on defense and be able to run the ball for our quarterback to be successful,” Mitchell said. “We can’t expect to win games 50-45, so it’s the job of our defense and offensive line to help our new quarterback as he progresses.”

That competition is something Mitchell has stressed throughout the early part of the year. The team’s upperclassmen have taken a step back this spring. While they have continued to practice, the coaches have cut their reps, which allows younger players to get the necessary practice they will need to be prepared for the upcoming season.

“It’s more about the reps. The spring game isn’t a real game situation, but the coaches do a good job to make it feel that way,” said senior wide receiver Greg Gay, who caught a team-high 50 passes last season. “We get a lot of reps in that, so keeping it at high-pace, high-tempo game will provide more plays for the young guys.”

Despite not always getting their usual practice time, the upperclassmen have compensated by acting as coaches on the field – using their experience to give the younger players another voice to hear.

“This is the way we’ve done it since I got here,” said senior defensive back Zack Breen, who recorded 101 tackles last season. “When I was a freshman, I had guys like (Dan) Skuta looking out for me, and that’s basically what I’m doing now: watching the younger guys like the coaches are, just us older, veteran guys are out there helping out.”

As Saturday approaches, Mitchell hopes to see more improvement from his team. Having 14 practices under its belt, the team should be able to come out during the spring game and give fans a preview of what’s to come in 2011.

“I want to see some guys that haven’t played at GVSU before catch some balls, get hit and for the defense to run around and hit,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to throw some young guys out there to get a good feel for who can make some plays. Some of them have made strides in practice, so it’s time to see what they can do with the lights on.”

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