Off to an early start

NMU football holds annual spring game

NMU Green’s Deandre Caldwell is pictured in action during a game against NMU gold at the Superior Dome Saturday afternoon April 20, 2019. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

By RYAN SPITZA

Journal Sports Writer

MARQUETTE — For the first time in roughly 200 days, the temperature reached 60 degrees in Marquette.

As the temperature gets warmer, it hints at signs of spring and summer, and slowly hints at football season.

The Northern Michigan University football team held its annual spring game in the Superior Dome on a sunny Saturday afternoon with the Green team defeating the Gold 17-0.

The format of the scrimmage featured 12-minute, running clock quarters with first, second, third and fourth string units all facing off against each other.

The game provided several learning experiences for both players and staff, giving third-year head coach Kyle Nystrom a first glance at his 2019 roster.

“It was a long spring practice session,” Nystrom said. “We had to push back and start later because we had some coaching changes and things might have seemed a little more drawn out.

“As for the players, they’ve been getting a little more cantankerous with one another. About the middle of the week this week, every time I looked around, brush fires were starting to pop up. They were getting really sick of each other and it was a good thing to get to this scrimmage and get our spring camp completed.

“Everyone always asks, ‘what’s the spring game about?’ and everybody has their different interpretations. For us, it’s a celebration of the end of spring football practice.”

The game was also a chance for new offensive coordinator Dan Fodrocy to get some reps in with his new unit, after spending the previous eight seasons as an assistant coach at Saginaw Valley State.

Fodrocy said his new offensive unit has quickly picked up on his offensive schemes and style.

“The kids were 100 percent bought in and at the end of the day that’s all you can ask for,” he said. “For them to embrace what we’re asking them to do, that’s what we were trying to get out of these 15 spring practices.

“It’s hard not to leave excited and positive about the direction because the kids were 100 percent into it and that’s all you really want to get out of a spring practice.”

One of the main questions directed at Fodrocy was the replacement of Jake Mayon, NMU’s All-GLIAC running back for the last three seasons who also broke the school career rushing record.

“Jake was obviously a really good player,” he said. “I remember watching him and understanding that when you have a premier player, sometimes that can be hard to replace, but at the end of the day, someone’s got to do it.

“There was a time Jake Mayon wasn’t Jake Mayon. He had to step in for the first time and ultimately that’s what Jake did. That’s what I’m expecting, especially out of the tailbacks. But Ryan (Johnson) and the rest of the quarterbacks also have to do a great job because ultimately it comes down to efficiency and they all balance off of each other.

“If you can run the football, you should be able to throw it, and if you throw the football, you should be able to run it. It’s important to realize there’s some really big shoes to fill. Jake was obviously one of the premier players in this league for a long time, but he had to step in at one point too. We’ll put our guys in position to do that and see if they can do that.”

Johnson in a way will have big shoes to fill at the quarterback position and those are his own. That’s because he suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of 2018 at McKendree, but is now healthy as a junior.

In his freshman season in 2017, Johnson threw for 1,581 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the NMU offense.

“It feels great (to be back),” he said. “We’ve had a good spring ball and it feels good to be out here running with the one’s (strings) and everybody.”

Asked about the ultimate goal for the upcoming campaign, Nystrom was swift in saying that it’s simply win the first game.

“Here’s my overall goal right now, beat McKendree,” he said. “Let’s start there. We didn’t do well down there last year when we opened up the season, and I’m not even talking about anything else with our football program besides getting better every day at what we do, developing our football team to the best of our ability, and getting ready to play McKendree. That’s where we start and it’s not even worth overlooking it.”

The full season schedule is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.