Cole’s World

How Kotopka looks to fill in Williams’ shoes, lead Laker football to success

Cole Kotopka during the Spring Classic on Saturday April 15, 2017. GVL | EMILY FRYE

Emily Frye

Cole Kotopka during the Spring Classic on Saturday April 15, 2017. GVL | EMILY FRYE

Kellen Voss, Sports Editor

This season will be the first time in four years that Laker legend Bart Williams is not lining up behind center and leading the offense for Grand Valley State, but GVSU fans have no reason to fret with the man who has been waiting to replace him.

A redshirt junior from Plainfield, Illinois, Cole Kotopka is the projected starter for the 2019 GVSU football team. Despite being primarily a backup these past two seasons, Kotopka has a decent amount of experience. In the 18 games he’s appeared in, Kotopka has completed 53 percent of his throws for 658 yards and four touchdowns.

One major skill that separates Kotopka from GVSU’s all-time passing leader is running the football, as Kotopka has proven to be more of a dual-threat option, rushing for 151 yards and three touchdowns last season. That ability to make plays both on the ground and in the air proved helpful in a key win against Davenport last season, as Kotopka replaced an injured Williams in the second half to run for 32 yards and pass for 81 yards, including a 53-yard game-winning touchdown to Nick Dodson.

That awareness in the pocket and a vast knowledge of what’s going on around him has helped Kotopka excel in practice this season, as head coach Matt Mitchell has sang his praise.

“(Kotopka) is really comfortable with what’s going on and he’s very composed back there,” Mitchell said. “He’s got a really good feel for the game of football. He’s doing a good job throwing it around. We have a lot of different guys playing running back and receiver and tight end and at some point we got to whittle that down to the guys he’s going to be working with. He’s done a really good job handling a bunch of dudes, running routes, catching balls, so I’ve been impressed with his ability to do that.”

It’s impossible not to hear Kotopka calling out defenders and leading the offense when stepping on to the GVSU practice field, as Kotopka has shown to excel at being a vocal leader.

“I got to make sure I keep talking, because I know a lot of what guys are supposed to be doing at every single position, and make sure everyone can hear my voice,” Kotopka said. “I want them to hear me and everything, but I also want to lead by example as well — going out there and making sure I know what I’m doing.”

Mitchell has also been impressed with Kotopka’s leadership, as he sees the junior as a leader among this young offense.

“He’s done a great job, and we don’t have much senior leadership on offense,” Mitchell said. “Basically, we count on him and some of the other underclassmen to do what we need to do.”

Kotopka has learned a lot from working under Williams for his whole Laker tenure, with the most important trait being the poise that Williams had everywhere he went.

“I think it’s just the way (Williams) carried himself on and off the field,” Kotopka said. “Off the field, he was a great teammate to everybody and on the field, he’s a great quarterback and he made sure everyone felt comfortable around him.”

Kotopka knows that he only has a handful of games left to play in his college career, but based on his football I.Q., in-game experience and tutelage rubbed off from Williams, he should be able to do just fine, especially if all he wants to do is win.

“I just want to do everything that I possibly can to help the guys win,” Kotopka said. “I’ve been here for four years, and with these last two years of eligibility I have, I just want to win as much as I possibly can.”

Kotopka and the GVSU football team have two more full weeks of practice before their opening game against Edinboro at Lubbers Stadium Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.