GLIAC coaches feeling positive about Wildcats

NMU football picked to finish seventh in conference

NMU’s Ryan Johnson passes the ball to Jake Mayon during a game against NU Saturday afternoon November 11, 2017 at the Superior Dome, (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University football team may have only finished 1-9 last season, but the coaches in the GLIAC are thinking the Wildcats will improve this year.

In the conference preseason coaches poll, NMU was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team conference, one spot ahead of rival Michigan Tech, and the Wildcats are returning a solid roster to possibly justify that ranking.

GLIAC Offensive Back of the Year Jake Mayon is at the top of that list after leading the conference with 1,377 rushing yards and was fifth in touchdowns with eight. A senior, Mayon is also 1,127 yards short from setting the Wildcats career rushing record.

Also returning for the Northern offensive attack are sophomore quarterback Ryan Johnson and wide receiver Ryan Knight. Johnson started eight out the 10 games under center last year and threw for nine touchdowns, while Knight led the squad with 31 receptions and five touchdowns. Escanaba native Dan Van Effen is also back after catching two touchdowns last year.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats are looking to build on an improved performance. After a disastrous 2016 where Northern was last in the conference in rushing yards given up, the Wildcats gave up 10 fewer points in 2017 along with 70 fewer rushing yards per game and 50 fewer totals yards per game. NMU also managed to register more sacks than the previous year despite playing one fewer game.

Junior defensive back Troy Mayon will anchor the defense after finishing third on the team with 79 tackles along with three fumble recoveries. Sophomore defensive lineman John McMullen will also be returning after leading the team with 4.5 sacks.

Grand Valley State was picked to win the GLIAC in the poll with 61 votes and six first-place votes. Ferris State took second and Ashland was third. Northwood, Saginaw Valley State and Wayne State were all tied for fourth.

The Wildcats open the year Sept. 1 at McKendree (Ill.) with their home opener set for Sept. 8 against Texas Permian Basin. NMU’s GLIAC opener is Sept. 15 at home against GVSU.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Writer Ryan Stieg. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.