MARQUETTE - Traveling in the GLIAC can be a lengthy process these days with the league extending from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to Central and Eastern Ohio.
The result is 10-plus hour bus rides for teams on the fringe of the league such as Northern Michigan University.
Some athletes are able to shut down and get some much needed sleep. Others use the time to catch up on their studies.
Northern Michigan University junior wide receiver Christian Marble-King looks for extra yardage after making a catch against Wisconsin-La Crosse on Sept. 6 in the Wildcats’ home opener at the Superior Dome in Marquette. NMU follows the home win last week with its longest road trip of the season to Ohio Dominican University in Columbus. The Wildcats will break up the trip over two days, leaving tonight, instead of making the 11-hour drive in one day, like it had in years past. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
NMU junior wide receiver and offensive captain Christian Marble-King is not one of those people, however.
He's the kind of person who just can't wait to get off the bus.
"Everybody is a different person," Marble-King said. "You have those people who can shut down and get their school work done, but you have movies going on, you have music, people singing, phone calls to the girlfriends. It's a little club scene on the bus."
The Wildcats' "club scene" hits the road for the second time this season to the state of Ohio, but this time Marble-King and the 'Cats will break up the 11-hour trip to Ohio Dominican University in Columbus over two days, leaving this evening after practice instead of before the sun rises on Friday for the 1 p.m. game on Saturday.
For Marble-King, it's a welcome change
compared to the travel strategy of years' past, which involved making the long trips all in one day.
"It's nice because it doesn't feel like we're getting on a bus, driving 12 hours, sitting in a hotel for a couple hours and then playing a football game," Marble-King said.
"You see your family for 20 minutes and then getting back on and driving that 12 hours, it makes for a long weekend. You're exhausted. School is a daunting task you have to think about, too."
The team is scheduled to practice today from 3:45 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said he will give the 55-member travel squad an hour to pack its bags.
Following dinner in Marquette, the team will make the approximate 4.5-hour trip to Gaylord, where the team will spend the night with lights out by midnight.
Breakfast is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday before the Wildcats get back on the bus for the final 6.5-hour journey.
Once in Columbus, Ostrowsky has planned a walk- through on the Panthers' field, dinner and meetings at the hotel, and a team movie to wrap up the night.
Then it's onto the game-day routine on Saturday leading up to the 1 p.m. start . Afterwards, the Wildcats will make the 11-hour journey all in one shot back to Marquette so players can be ready for classes on Monday
The team won't practice again until Tuesday in preparation for the Sept. 22 Homecoming game against Ashland.
"We won't be doing that big jolt we normally would do.," Ostrowsky said. "We should be well rested.
"It's tough when you're on a bus from six in the morning until six o'clock at night and play the next day in the morning, or at noon, or whenever it is.
"We're going to do everything we can to stop making travel a negative and get used to traveling and being successful on the road," he added.
Ohio Dominican is the southern-most school in the GLIAC and the longest trip the NMU football team makes this season.
NMU made the approximately nine-hour trip to Findlay, Ohio in Week 1, but Ostrowsky said he didn't mind traveling all day on Wednesday because the game was played Thursday night at 7 p.m., giving the team plenty of time to shake off bus legs and get rest.
Marble-King said it takes time to mentally and physically recover from that amount of time in such a confined space, with 55-plus abnormally-sized men.
"You feel a little tighter than normal," Marble-King said about the lengthy trips. "Normally, you get to stay up here and practice all week. You're all sprawled out on your bed. You get on a bus and you have a two-by-two box to play with."
Northern will make an eight-and-a-half hour trip to Hillsdale in Week 5, a six-hour trip to Northwood in Midland in Week 8 and an eight-hour drive to Wayne State in Week 9.
All three of those trips will be made the day before the game, with Ostrowsky saying the team will reserve the two-day trips for anything over nine or 9.5 hours such as Ashland, Lake Erie, Malone, Walsh and Tiffin, all located in Ohio.
The team had to shuffle its budget in order to accommodate an extra day of travel.
As for missed class time, Ostrowsky said it's minimal since very few of his players have Thursday night and Friday classes on their schedules during the fall semester in anticipation of the travel schedule.
"It's got to make us fresher," Ostrowsky said about the new travel scheme. "You get to sleep in a hotel room as opposed to a seat on a bus. I think it's a no-brainer for us."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.