GVSU football looks to bounce back in 2015

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
RB Kirk Spencer

GVL/Kevin Sielaff RB Kirk Spencer

Adam Knorr

New names litter the roster for the 2015 Grand Valley State football team.

Some will start. Some will be used for depth. Some will warm the sidelines.

And to the hope of head coach Matt Mitchell and the Laker fans, some names will become household by the end of the season.

The 2014 edition of GVSU football saw the extensive career of Heath Parling come to an end as the Lakers spiraled to a 6-5 finish and missed the playoffs. An 0-3 start and a grueling schedule in the first three weeks doomed GVSU, but the road to the playoffs won’t be any easier this season.


The changes for GVSU will be most notable with the man under center. Mitchell recently named redshirt sophomore Bart Williams GVSU’s starting quarterback. Williams was in a summer-long competition with sophomore Ollie Ajami and junior transfer Ryan West.

The backfield will be an area of strength for the Laker offense. Senior Kirk Spencer highlights a group of five tailbacks that Mitchell could see making an impact.

“Kirk is an all-around good football player,” Mitchell said. “He’s got good ball skills and can play receiver and tailback.”

Spencer will be complemented by senior Ben Hutchins, junior Terrell Dorsey, redshirt freshman Jalen Bryant and true freshman Martayveous Carter,

Due to the logjam at tailback, Spencer and Bryant have taken some reps at slot and wide receiver in practice. The embarrassment of riches behind the line will do well to ease the pain of the loss of 2014’s leading rusher Chris Robinson.

The loss of Jamie Potts, however, is not a pain that will be remedied as easily.

Potts, a former All-American wide receiver, was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 2015 MLB Draft and is currently playing for the Short Season Single A Spokane Indians in the Rangers’ organization.

Potts has one more season of football eligibility, but he won’t be using it in 2015.

“When he got drafted he just basically verbalized to me that he was going to put everything that he has into baseball and see how football fit into that,” Mitchell said. “No matter what happened in baseball, whether this was short term or long term, he expressed interest in coming back and receiving his degree.”

Four names will look to cement themselves as playmakers for GVSU’s wide receiving corps.

Sophomore Brandon Bean could be the breakout star of the 2015 squad. Bean, a dual-sport athlete and track and field star, caught just six passes last season, but also saw time as a kick returner.

“I don’t know how well fans know Brandon Bean,” Mitchell said. “He’s got great ball skills, he’s ultra-competitive and has a nice blend of speed and size.”

Junior Matt Williams returns looking to take on a bigger role in 2015. Williams pulled in 12 catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns last season. Reserve wideouts Justice Wright and Troy Sassack will be counted on to take a bigger role this year as well.

While skills players get most of the recognition, an offense cannot properly function without a strong, cohesive offensive line. The Laker staff is still working to fit the final pieces to the O-line puzzle, but a few familiar names return for the 2015 campaign.

Senior Jim Walsh, an All-American candidate, will slot in at either guard or tackle. Three-year starter Brandon Revenberg returns as well, but also remains in limbo between a guard or tackle position.

Junior Aaron Cox started seven games along the line last season, and has opened some eyes at camp this year. Cox will slot in at a guard spot, while redshirt sophomore Dan DeLuca will fill a tackle position.

The fifth spot on the line is still being battled for, but tackles Josh Dentler, Ben Walling and Collin Beebe and guards Cameron Hobbs and Evan Schriner may all see time in 2015.

“Our biggest strength as a unit is how close we are and how well we can work together,” Walsh said. “Very rarely do we miscommunicate stuff and when you’re working with (a bunch of) guys, communication is very paramount.”


“11 as one” is the slogan for a defense that ranked fifth in total yards per game in the GLIAC last season. The unit welcomes a number of newcomers, but for desired success, the new players and old will need to function as one.

The biggest problem for the Laker defense last year was its propensity to surrender big plays. GVSU gave up 10 touchdowns of 30 yards or more, and 53 percent of its allowed yardage came on 10 percent of snaps played.

A new-look secondary will be the key to making sure this trend halts in 2015.

“You have to be better on the back end of our defense,” Mitchell said. “Last year we were good in the front seven but when something popped like in the run game and they got in the back end we couldn’t get ‘em down or we gave up too many plays in the air.”

Senior safety Brad Horling transferred from linebacker to safety and will be the vocal leader of the secondary. Sophomore cornerback Tre Walton returns following a strong freshman campaign, and the Lakers will welcome back cornerback Devin McKissic, who missed the 2014 season with a broken arm.

“Last year we didn’t have a ton of discipline (in the secondary),” Horling said. “We had a ton of young guys but hopefully now we’ve grown a little bit.”

Yet again, GVSU’s defensive line is a wrecking ball crew. The foreman is sixth-year senior Matt Judon, a 2014 First Team All-GLIAC honoree largely thanks to 8.5 QB sacks last season.

Judon will be joined by junior Alton Voss who has adjusted admirably to his new position at defensive end since making the switch late last season.

“I love playing defensive line,” Voss said. “I feel like it’s where I need to be. Deep down inside I’ve always known I was a defensive player, so since I’ve made this switch I enjoy coming to football even more than I did before.”

Another key fixture on the line is junior De’Ondre Hogan. Hogan was sidelined with an injury last season and received a medical redshirt. His presence was missed, and the team captain will provide a spark on the line in 2015.

Dylan Carroll, Sonny Haskins, Mark Rosenquist and Keane Belcher will also see time along a deep defensive line this season.

Junior David Talley will spearhead the linebacking corps. Talley recorded 55 tackles last season – good for fourth on the team. Redshirt sophomores Collin Schlosser and Jeff Madison and redshirt juniors Joe Moran and Marquez Gollman will fill out the middle row of the Laker defense.


The Laker kicking game will be either a strength or a worry, depending on which type of kicking is going on.

GVSU returns junior Joel Schipper for placekicking, and he will take on kickoff duties. Schipper was 43-for-43 on PATs last season, and knocked home 7-of-9 field goals, including 2-of-3 from over 40 yards.

The graduation of punter Chris Picano, however, has left a hole that the Lakers have yet to fully fix. Picano was one of the best punters in school history and ranks second all-time with a career punting average of 39.0 net yards per punt.

True freshman Dan Madden and redshirt freshman Collin Cribley have been competing in practice for the starting job, but the uncertainty has led Mitchell to consider position players in the mix as well. Matt Williams, who punted in high school, could see punting duties along his as a wide receiver.

“Our punters are too inconsistent right now,” Mitchell said. “We got to get that ironed out.”


The Lakers host Southwest Baptist on Thursday, Sept. 3 in an unusually early game that limits their week of practice. After Southwest Baptist, GVSU enters a gauntlet for the second year in a row.

On Sept. 12, the Lakers travel to Ohio Dominican, and on Sept. 19, GVSU hosts rival Ferris State. Both teams are GLIAC heavyweights and beat GVSU in weeks two and three last season.

For a successful season, GVSU will have to come out swinging and be well prepared in the early weeks. Mitchell and the Lakers can ill afford a start like last season, but the first half of the schedule is as daunting as can be.

“Even though we have a smaller senior class, we have great leadership and unity,” Mitchell said. “We got a lot of hungry young players and we still got to build and go through the process.”