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Sign in, please: Northern Michigan University football lands 21 new players for next season

These four Ishpeming High School athletes signed national letters of intent on Wednesday at their school. From left are Ty Kauppinen, who signed to play football at Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Otto Swanson, football at Northern Michigan University; Tia Mattila, softball at Bay College; and Jacob Kugler, football at NMU. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

MARQUETTE — The 2020 college football season may not start for nearly seven months, but you can make the case that it started Wednesday with NCAA National Signing Day as high school players all over the country officially declared where they’ll suit up this fall.

Northern Michigan University landed 21 recruits for this year’s squad, including five from the Upper Peninsula. The Wildcats also got 10 players from the Lower Peninsula, several from Wisconsin and four from northern Illinois.

“Out of those players, I’ll break them up into how we identify players,” Northern head coach Kyle Nystrom said. “Offensive skill, your quarterbacks, your tailbacks, your receivers, seven in that department. Big skill on offense, your tight ends and your fullbacks, we took seven.

“And that was an area where we needed to get some numbers in. We’re a little bit thin in there as far as numbers and the size of stature of players that we need to have in there. So we went hard in that area.

“What we call the offensive power group, obviously the O-line, we took two in there and really truth be known, in the O-line and D-line, that can swing around a little bit. You can sign players as one or the other and they may end up moving over.

These four Ishpeming High School athletes signed national letters of intent on Wednesday at their school. From left are Otto Swanson, who signed to play football at Northern Michigan University; Ty Kauppinen, football at Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Jacob Kugler, football at NMU; and Tia Mattila, softball at Bay College. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

“And to a point, they’ll do the same thing in the big skill group. You may sign a linebacker and he may end up at fullback or tight end, or vice versa. But as to take a player right now and say this is where he belongs, a lot of them are identified that way, but some of them can play more than one position.

“So out of those groups, where we kind of project most of these guys fitting, we have one quarterback, three receivers, seven players between the tight ends and fullbacks, three tailbacks and there’s a guy in there that’s a really good DB (defensive back) also. So if need be, he may find himself over there. And offensive line, two.

“On the defensive side of the ball, we took one defensive skill player. We had a pretty big year last year in that category, so we went with one this year. Defensively, two big skill players and two power players. So we have one DB, two linebackers and two defensive line.

“And we’re going to have another one. We’re just waiting for the paperwork. We can’t talk about them until they get their paperwork in. You like to recruit players as much as you can that can play more than one position because you’ll find that it happens more often than not.”

Of those five U.P. recruits, two are from Ishpeming — lineman Jacob Kugler and two-way player Otto Swanson. Kugler was an Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association All-U.P. Dream Team honoree last season as well as the Mitchell Snyder Lineman of the Year and all-conference First Team offensive and defensive awards. Swanson, who is listed as a tight end for NMU, was a UPSSA Special Mention and first team all-conference last year.

“He’s (Kugler) a real thick kid,” Nystrom said. “A real powerful kid and he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s got some personality. Sometimes when you recruit prospective student-athletes, if they won’t talk to you and you do find that more often than you think with this age group there, they sit there and they’re a little bit meek and mild, and Jake’s not that way. He likes to talk and have a lot of social interactions with you.

“But he’s a powerful kid. He just scored 28 points last night in basketball. So you’re talking about a kid that’s 260 (pounds) that’s out scoring almost 30 points in basketball. So we like his range at defensive line. I think he’s tough and he’s going to be a good player here.

“Otto, we look for him to be a fullback or tight end and grow into that. (Assistant coach) Bobby (Jurasin) recruited both of those young men and he obviously has a lot more interaction with them. I get to talk to them when they come and visit for campus and if I go out and see any of them for one special reason.

“So we’re happy to have them. They’ll be fun players to develop and coach here at Northern.”

Another central U.P. player picked up by the Wildcats was Manistique athlete Schyler Andersen. He earned two spots on the UPSSA Dream Team, both as a running back and as a punter along with being named All-West PAC Iron Division Player of the Year.

“(Emeralds head coach) Todd (Kangas) called me back in the fall and said ‘I think I got a guy here you want to take a look at. He could help you,'” Nystrom said. “So, it was during that open week, I did some work on the road recruiting and on a Friday, I went down to Manistique and talked to coach about him.

“He’s a good-sized young man. According to the chart, he’s anywhere between 5-foot-11 1/2 and 6-1. So he’s a little bit over six feet, and he’s put together well and he’ll develop. We’ll have to project where he’s going to play, but he’s got the body type and the skill set to be a fullback or a linebacker.

“So we’ll put him out there and when we get him here, put a helmet on him, and line him up and see how he adapts. And you can tell after two practices where their skill set leans toward and we’ll find him a place to play.”

The two other U.P. players are Menominee’s Caden Bigger and Pickford’s Nick Edington.

Listed as a receiver for the Wildcats, Bigger was a UPSSA honorable mention last year along with being an All-Great Northern Conference tight end and All-GNC wide receiver over the course of his career.

Edington was a member of the MHSAA Division 2 eight-player state champion Panthers. Edington also earned all-state, All-U.P. and all-conference awards twice in his career.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.