As the start of the college football season approaches, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is ready to kick off Division II play.
The GLIAC held its first in-person media day since 2019 on Monday with representation from each of the conference’s seven teams. Held at Wayne State, the event began with the unveiling of the GLIAC’s preseason coaches survey.
Ferris State, the defending D-II national champion and three-time defending GLIAC champion, came in unsurprisingly in first place with five of seven first-place votes. Behind the Bulldogs were Grand Valley State with two votes for first place, followed by Michigan Tech, Saginaw Valley State, Northern Michigan, Wayne State and Davenport.
Here’s everything you need to know about each team before the season starts:
Coach: Tony Annese, 10th season.
Last year: 14-0, 7-0; defeated Valdosta State 58-17 in the national title game.
The offence: Quarterback Mylik Mitchell threw for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021 while making 65% of his throws. He set a school record with 508 passing yards and six touchdowns Oct. 2 in Ferris State’s 67-25 win over Northwood.
Defense: The Bulldogs’ defense is led by defensive end Caleb Murphy, who earned consensus All-America status last season. The GLIAC’s 2021 Defensive Lineman of the Year led FSU with 21.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. This offseason, he earned first-team All-American honors from Lindy’s Sports.
“(Annese) has done an amazing job creating a culture where (after) the good players move on and graduate, the next ones know it’s their turn,” the assistant head coach said. of Ferris State, Brian Rock. “It’s a culture of winning and he’s done a great job of really fostering that.”
great valley state
Coach: Matt Mitchell, 12th season.
Last year: 10-2, 6-1; lost to Ferris State 54-20 in the second round of the Super Region playoffs.
The offence: One of seven All-GLIAC players to return to GVSU this season, quarterback Cade Peterson led the conference with 2,282 yards, 30 touchdowns and a passing rating of 174.1 in 2021. He won three awards GLIAC Player of the Week during the season.
Defense: Linebacker Abe Swanson, another ALL-GLIAC talent and three-time Conference Player of the Week, had 87 tackles in 2021. The 6-foot-1, 222-pound junior will captain a defense whose only two losses were in the hands of Ferris State last season.
“We face one of the best offenses in the country every day (in training),” Swanson said. “You go back to the COVID year, we play them four days a week. For them to get us ready for a game, it makes it easier for us when it comes to Saturdays.”
Coach: Steve Olson, fifth season.
Last year: 6-4, 5-2.
The offence: The Huskies offensive line is led by center Hayden Huttula. At 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds, the Hartland High product earned AFCA First Team honors in 2021, as well as the GLIAC Commissioner’s Award, which is given to athletes who also excel in class.
“Last year, at the start of the season, we had a lot of people on our offensive line,” Olson said. “Now our entire offensive line team is back. They should be intact, and we’re looking for a lot of improvement from that perspective.”
Defense: Defensive back Braxton Blackwell earned All-GLIAC second-team honors last season after recording an interception and a fumble recovery. He also led the team with 32 solo tackles and eight pass breakups.
Saginaw Valley State
Coach: Ryan Brady, third season.
Last year: 7-4, 4-3.
The offence: One of eight returning starters for the Cardinals, wide receiver Casey Williams finished last season with 598 yards and four touchdowns on 40 receptions. He caught 11 passes for 162 yards in SVSU’s season-opening 13-9 win over Texas A&M-Kingsville in 2021.
Defense: Reigning GLIAC Defensive Back of the Year Nick Whiteside had 40 tackles, four interceptions and eight pass deflections in 2021. He earned first-team conference honors and second-team AP D- II All-American.
“I think our coaching staff has done a good job bringing players in for every position group to compete,” Williams said. “You have to compete every day in training. And that pushes all of us to be the best players we can be.”
Coach: Kyle Nystrom, sixth season.
Last year: 4-7, 2-5.
The offence: All-conference honorable mention quarterback Drake Davis will look to elevate his personal accolades and team record in 2022. The Princeton, Ill., native had 1,401 passing yards and 340 rushing yards he a year ago, along nine scores in the air and four on the ground.
Defense: Defensive lineman John McMullen started in 10 games last season, totaling 45 tackles and 10.5 for losses. He also had 6.5 sacks on the year en route to earning second-team ALL-GLIAC honors. He’s listed at 5-11, 225 pounds, but McMullen thinks his size gives him an edge.
“At first (the offenses) want to look at you like you’re the underdog,” McMullen said. “Then after you start dominating, you start getting into their head a bit. That’s the best thing about playing on the D-line.”
Coach: Paul Winters, 19th season.
Last year: 2-9, 2-5.
The offence: Winters, the GLIAC’s longest-serving coach, has a backfield led by Myren Harris. The Clinton Township Chippewa Valley High product was an all-conference first-team selection in 2021 after finishing with 7.84 yards per carry, second-most at the D-II level. Harris had a WSU record 327 yards and four scores in a 56-21 win over Northwood on Oct. 30.
Defense: Julius Wilkerson has 160 tackles over the past two seasons. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound linebacker is a team captain and an all-conference first-team selection. He is also a member of the Allstate AFCA Good Works team, which recognizes the community service efforts of student athletes.
“You can’t expect to win games undefended,” Winters said. “When you have (Wilkerson) you have high expectations for him. And I think he’s surrounded by good football players who understand how important it is to play with high intensity. That’s what you should expect from us.”
Coach: Spark McEwen, fifth season.
Last year: 1-9, 0-7.
The offence: The Panthers’ massive offense was led by Jaier Harden, who had 372 yards and a touchdown on 83 attempts last year. Harden’s numbers were good enough for the No. 15 spot among conference race leaders.
Defense: Defensive back and Detroit native Jalen Robinson was second-team all-conference last year after breaking Davenport’s season-high total tackles record with 101. He was fourth among GLIAC talent in tackles per game with 9.2 and also had one interception and two forced fumbles on the season. .
“We’ve been tough defensively since coming into this conference,” McEwen said. “We had some challenges, but now is the time for our attack to take the next step.”
Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at Free Press and can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.