MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University head football coach Chris Ostrowsky went against the grain last season when he decided to use the Wildcats' best-of-the-best on special teams.
The result was Northern's punt, kickoff and field goal units went from being a liability to a game-changer - especially on kickoffs.
It's a risk he'll take again this season, specifically with wide receiver Christian Jessie, because leaving the speedy senior on the sidelines could be riskier than letting him return kicks.
Northern?Michigan?University senior wide receiver and kick returner Christian Jessie catches a pass from senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak, not pictured, during receiving drills on Friday at the NMU practice fields outside the Superior Dome in Marquette. Like last season,?Jessie will again be catching passes, taking handoffs, lining up at quarterback and returning kickoffs for the Wildcats. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"It would really be a contradiction of our special teams philosophy if we sat him down," Ostrowsky said.
"To sit your best player because you don't want him to get hurt on special teams, that's a pretty good sign to the team that special teams isn't important. We would never do that."
Jessie enters the 2013 regular season not only as the No. 1 receiving target of senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak, but the man responsible for getting the Wildcats' signal caller the best field position possible.
By the numbers:
NMU WR/KR Christian Jessie in 2012
- Rushing: 9 carries, 15 yards, 1 TD
- Receiving: 32 catches, 501 yards, 6 TDs
- Returns: 37 attempts, 1,059 yards, 1 TD
- Total all-purpose: 1,575 yards, 8 TDs
Jessie led the GLIAC in kick return yards last season with 1,059 yards - the next closest returner had 584 yards - and an average of 28.6 yards per return.
The Don Hanson NCAA Div. II All-Super Region Four second-teamer, Daktronics Inc. All Super-Region Four first-teamer, All-GLIAC first-teamer and GLIAC Special Teams Player of the Week on Nov. 12 also set a Superior Dome record by returning a kick 99 yards for a touchdown in the season finale against Ferris State.
Scepaniak said if he had one word to describe Jessie, it would be "playmaker" and that he has no concerns about his top receiver returning kicks.
"We have a lot of guys that can fill in as kick returners, but right now, (Jessie is) one of the most valuable guys on the team," Scepaniak said. "We need to keep him at every available spot we have.
"For the younger guys, he's someone they can look up to and admire and strive to be. He's here every day. He's in the weight room. He's out here catching balls, running routes. He always gives you 110 percent no matter where we are."
As a receiver, Jessie made 32 catches for team-highs of 501 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran the ball nine times for 15 yards with a TD.
Jessie finished as the second-leading scorer on the team with 48 points and his 1,575 total all-purpose yards ranked fourth in the GLIAC.
"I enjoy kick returns. I love it. Every time I get the ball in my hands, it's a good thing for me," Jessie said.
"We lost a few guys from last year, so I'm really the main guy with the most experience. They're going to be looking to me to make some big plays and teach the younger guys how to get stuff done."
Like Jessie said, he has no qualms about playing every spot possible and Ostrowsky may just grant the team's 2012 most valuable player his wish by using him similar to last year.
Ostrowsky said in addition to returning kicks, Jessie can be split out anywhere as a receiver - not just in the slot - and when it comes to the backfield, Jessie can line up as a running back or even QB.
The possibilities are "endless," Ostrowsky said.
"Christian brings a great work ethic every day, which is awesome for our young players," Ostrowsky said. "His production and worth to our program has become unmeasurable. It really has.
"(Receivers coach Marcus) Knight has been critical in really developing a foundation of fundamentals for all our receivers that Christian has really adopted and done well with."