GVSU football has promising future

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Bart Williams (6) looks to throw a pass down field.  The Lakers fall to the Rams of Shepard University with a final score of 34-32 Dec. 12 in Shepardstown, West Virginia.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Bart Williams (6) looks to throw a pass down field. The Lakers fall to the Rams of Shepard University with a final score of 34-32 Dec. 12 in Shepardstown, West Virginia.

Adam Knorr

The wound is still fresh from Grand Valley State football’s loss to Shepherd in the NCAA semifinals in Shepherdstown, West Virginia on Dec. 12. The Lakers have had little time to reflect on their playoff run, let alone look ahead to next season.

But when GVSU does move forward and set its sights on 2016, it will be staring at a towering mountain of promise.

Saturday’s game marked the last college football match for seniors Matt Judon, Jamie Potts, Brad Horling, Jim Walsh, Justice Wright, Ben Hutchins, Christian Harris, Brandon Revenberg and Derek DeLuca. Fellow senior Kirk Spencer played his last career game against Colorado State – Pueblo on Dec. 5.

That makes 10 total seniors the Lakers will be without. The losses of Judon, Potts, Horling, Walsh, Revenberg and Spencer will hurt GVSU going forward, but seniors depart after every season. It’s an expected blow, and one the Lakers knew they would have to weather.

With the emergence of a number of players – primarily from the sophomore ranks – the Lakers will be poised for another deep playoff run next season.

Before the 2015 campaign started, GVSU coaches were deciding between Bart Williams, Ollie Ajami and Ryan West for starting quarterback. The Lakers tabbed Williams the starter, and, after getting a feel for the college game, Williams excelled. The sophomore quarterback broke the GVSU single-season passing yardage record by racking up 4,206 yards, and threw for a Division II-best 45.

With how often Williams threw, the Lakers had little choice but to live and die by his arm. Next season, the lanky signal-caller will be back with a year’s experience under his belt. The GLIAC should be, and will be, on high alert.

Bart Williams gets his favorite receiver and surname counterpart Matt Williams (1,357 yards, 17 touchdowns) back next season, as the latter will be a senior. Bart Williams’ roster-year buddies at wide receiver in Brandon Bean and Urston Smith will return next year.

Before Bean was injured on Oct. 17, he was leading the GLIAC in receiving yards. If Bean can return healthy next season, the Lakers may have an even more effective passing attack than they did this year.

SportsCenter Top 10 catch notwithstanding, Smith still had an excellent season. With Potts’ return and the emergence of Bean and freshman Nick Dodson, Smith saw a fluctuation in his use this season. When he was given opportunities, however, he contributed. Smith uses his body extremely well, boxing out defensive backs for deep balls – something Bart Williams is more than friendly with.

On the offensive line, sophomores Cameron Hobbs and Josh Dentler, who both saw time this season, will help GVSU weather the loss of Walsh and Revenberg. Hobbs and Dentler are big bodies, even for offensive linemen, measuring in at 6-foot-5-inches or taller, and crushing the scales at 300 pounds or more. Fellow offensive line sophomores Scott Koenigsknecht and Evan Schriner both saw time in reserve as well.

GVSU’s sophomore class was clearly a major part of the offense this season, but the Laker defense was chock full of underclassmen who now have 15 games and significant playoff experience on their resumes.

The GVSU secondary was shaky at times and excellent at others – a textbook correlation of inexperience and inconsistency. Its two top playmakers, however, were both sophomores — cornerback Tre Walton (six interceptions, 11 pass breakups) and safety Garrett Pougnet (105 total tackles, three interceptions).

In fact, even looking outside the sophomore class, the Lakers will return every single secondary starter next season. Junior Donte Carey, redshirt freshman Devin McKissic and freshman Jacob Studdard all were major contributors and will return.

Sophomore linebacker Collin Schlosser (84 total tackles) was a star, and Jeff Madison (26 total tackles) flashed signs of serious potential.  Schlosser and Madison could both perform as defensive stalwarts next season. Defensive lineman Keane Belcher, also a sophomore, could see a bigger role going forward after being effective in spurts this season.

Billy Mays may not be on the roster, but wait, there’s still more.

Marquez Gollman will return. David Talley is coming back. De’Ondre Hogan, Alton Voss, Sonny Haskins and Mark Rosenquist will all be Lakers next season.

The list is long, and the names all recognizable. From offense to defense to special teams, the Lakers will be almost entirely the same units next season. Mitchell and Co. will have a full offseason to plan with an established quarterback, unlike last year, and there’s no lack of playmakers in Laker blue.

GVSU may have come up just short this year, but don’t go anywhere. The Lakers will be back.