MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University football team began its annual spring season Monday inside the Superior Dome coming off a four-win season in 2012.
Three of those wins came in the Wildcats' final five games, which is why second-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky was happy to see his players back in helmets on the Dome's artificial turf.
"It was awesome to be back on the field, just to see everybody back in their helmets again," said Ostrowsky, who joined NMU as the offensive coordinator in the spring of 2010. "If you were here you saw the enthusiasm. Kids were excited and flying around on both sides of the ball. That was fun. It's really great to be back on the field."
Northern Michigan University offensive line coach Rob Boss, back left, watches over offensive linemen Chad Anderson of Sault Ste.?Marie (71) and Ken Kalish (79) during a bag drill on Monday inside the Superior Dome. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Second-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky, right, speaks with quarterbacks, from left, Ryan Morley and Dustin Thomas, second from left. Monday was the first day of the spring football season. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The Wildcats, who finished last in the GLIAC North Division last fall, must replace three senior All-GLIAC first-team selections from 2012 in defensive tackle Zach Anderson, offensive lineman Jace Daniels and kicker/punter Rockne Belmonte.
Northern also has a hole at linebacker following the graduation of senior inside linebacker Eddie Knoblock - an All-GLIAC linebacker in 2010 before missing the 2011 season and being named an honorable mention in 2012.
At quarterback, competition for the starting job is open again this offseason after Ryan Morley as a redshirt freshman led the Wildcats to a 1-5 record as a starter before being knocked out for the season with a concussion.
Cody Scepaniak, who was able to petition the NCAA for another season of eligibility after starting 2012 as a senior, started for NMU over the final five games, scoring six touchdowns through the air and another six on the ground.
Ostrowsky said he would open the starting QB job back up in the offseason, wanting competition at every position.
Morley is out this spring, however, with an injured shoulder, so Scepaniak is left battling with redshirt freshman Jay Tollefson and junior transfer Dustin Thomas out of Villanova.
In addition to Thomas, NMU has three other transfers joining the team this spring in offensive linemen Zach Benschoter out of Saint Francis - an NCAA FCS school in Pennsylvania - and Quinn Bowling out of NCAA Div. II Morehead State in Kentucky, plus Romell Key, a cornerback from Fort Union Military Academy in Virginia.
"We're going to try to get every single one of these guys on film and a significant amount of film so we can do a good job evaluating guys and ensuring that not only do we have guys that can play at this level, but we have them at the right position," Ostrowsky said. "Some guys are clear cut and we know we have them in the right spot. Other guys, you have to look."
NMU practices again today and Thursday, with an additional nine practices and two scrimmages scheduled leading up to the spring game at 3:30 p.m. on April 20 inside the Superior Dome.
Scrimmages will take place at 3:45 p.m. on April 5 and at 10:30 a.m. on April 13.
"We have to go about our business with great energy and great passion," Ostrowsky said.
"More than that, we have to execute the plan. If you don't do that it's all noise. You have to really execute what we're trying to get done. We've got to get better at what our goals are every day."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.