Don’t overlook successes, growth of football team

Senior running back Justin Sherrod hangs his head after a fumble during the second quarter

Cody Eding

Senior running back Justin Sherrod hangs his head after a fumble during the second quarter

Cody Eding

Let’s set the record straight. Grand Valley State University’s loss to Augustana College in the second round of the playoffs was disappointing. The season, however, was not.

Mistakes were made by everyone involved Saturday afternoon. The players know, the coaches know and the fans know. Fingers could be pointed, and blame could be placed, but doing so would ruin the opportunity to reflect on the season’s successes.

Despite undergoing a transitional year with a new head coach and new players at several positions, the fact remains GVSU is still a Division II powerhouse by which others are measured.

Just ask Augustana.

Saturday’s victory over the Lakers was, without a doubt, the biggest highlight in the team’s history. The win signified the emergence of a once-struggling program, and the local newspaper is still drinking the Kool-Aid days later – all because GVSU is perceived as one of the nation’s best.

The Lakers failed to capture the National Championship, and, as head coach Matt Mitchell said during the season, losing isn’t tolerated at GVSU. But the Lakers earned a sixth consecutive GLIAC title and made the playoffs for the 10th-straight season, feats no other school in the country can claim.

Make no mistake — those accolades came with a fair share of growing pains. The offense sputtered at times with a new quarterback, and the defense struggled early on with fresh faces and the loss of All-American defensive end Danny Richard to a knee injury before the season even started.

But the Lakers persevered. Defensive underclassmen, like red-shirt freshmen cornerbacks Reggie Williams and Michael Hatcher, grew into their new roles throughout the season and will play huge roles moving forward. After a shaky start in which GVSU allowed 103 points in its first three games, the defense tightened the screws. Highlighted by a shutout of Ferris State University on Oct. 23, the Lakers allowed just 143 points during the final 10 games of the season.

The offense found new weapons in junior wide receiver Jovonne Augustus and sophomore running back Norman Shuford. Returning senior running back Justin Sherrod had a big season, and junior wide receiver Greg Gay proved to be a threat in all areas of the field. In just one season as a member of the Lakers, senior quarterback Kyle McMahon established himself as one of the nation’s best by passing for 24 touchdowns and running for 13 more.

Previous successes made Saturday’s results all the more painful. The Lakers stumbled in every area and looked nothing like the team that dominated so many games throughout the second half of the season. It was no more evident than on the faces of McMahon and senior linebacker Justin Victor as they recounted their experiences playing football at GVSU during the post-game press conference.

“It’s been a privilege to play with some of the guys,” Victor said. “It’s hard right now to think about it, but I’ve had a fantastic experience here at Grand Valley.”

This season was labeled a new era for GVSU football. A disappointing loss in year one aside, the pieces are in place for an 11th consecutive playoff appearance next season and another chapter in what is quickly becoming a dynasty.

“I don’t question our coaching staff’s intelligence, work ethic, intent – I don’t ever question with our kids,” Mitchell said. “So I can go to bed every night feeling pretty good about the people we have in this program.

“We did not perform as well as we needed to on that given day,” he added. “You can go back and look at some other things too, and you’ll find some highlights that we did some really good things.”

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