Michigan Tech Football Preview 2012
Being on the cusp of the NCAA Division II playoffs three times in the last four years has left the Michigan Tech football team hungry to take the next step. The 2011 squad finished 7-4 overall and tied for third in the GLIAC North Division standings at 6-4. One more win likely would have put the Huskies into the playoffs for just the second time in school history.
Being in the playoff hunt again in 2012 is going to be a challenge. While the Huskies return virtually all their skill players on offense, the defense will have a whole new look. Nine starters on that side of the ball have graduated after helping the Huskies lead the GLIAC in total defense and scoring defense in 2011.
Tyler Scarlett returns for this sophomore season to lead the Michigan Tech offense. Th e 6-1, 215-pound quarterback was the GLIAC Freshman of the Year in 2011 after setting a school record for passing yards in a season (2,406). Scarlett, who has been praised by head coach Tom Kearly as the most accurate passer he's coached, complete 66.1 percent of his passes a year ago and ranked sixth in the league in pass efficiency (146.9). Senior Ray Wojtala and redshirt freshman Brandon Cowie are both capable backups who could push Scarlett in preseason practice.
Two-time All-GLIAC First Team tight end Bryan LaChapelle is one of many experienced targets for Scarlett. LaChapelle caught 32 passes for 404 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.
Tech has five senior wide receivers on the roster — Pat Carroll, Matt Curtin, Alex Elsenheimer, Mike Potes and Ethan Shaver. Curtin (37 receptions for 370 yards) and Carroll (24 receptions for 281 yards) were the two most productive among the group a year ago. Elsenheimer and Shaver are versatile in the offense and on specials teams, where both return kicks. Anticipate all five to be integral in the 2012 offense. Shaver, who took several direct snaps a year ago, could be used in the same role again this season.
Michigan Tech will try to reload on the offensive line after losing three of its five starters. Returning are center Aaron Brandt and right guard Chris Mullen. Junior Buddy Poljan, sophomore Bruce Tebelman and redshirt freshman Frank Vruwink are penciled in to fill in those slots. Several others will vie for time during the year including Kyle Schuber, Bryan Haslinger and Austin Roy.
A solid running game is the hallmark of Michigan Tech football, and with three quality tailbacks, the Huskies look poised to continue that tradition. Akeem Cason was the starter a year ago as a junior. He posted 749 yards and eight touchdowns on 165 attempts. Cedrick Barber and Charlie Leffingwell also saw their fair share of carries. Barber posted 377 yards on 119 touches while Leffingwell rushed for 196 on 46 attempts. All three are capable of taking the top spot, and Kearly has said the starting job is wide open entering fall camp.
Despite the big personnel losses on defense, Michigan Tech retains the same system and several key players from a unit that ranked ninth nationally in points allowed (17.7) in 2011.
The Huskies have relied heavily in recent years on their line's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Todd Storm and Drew Vanderlin—two NFL-prospect ends—anchored the group a year ago. Senior tackle Jake Klingelhutz is gone as well. That said, Tech should still have a strong defensive front with the return of senior Justin Blake and junior Jacob Clark. Blake is a 6-2, 290-pound defensive tackle who is healthy after battling injuries a year ago. Clark, a 2011 Academic All-American, recorded 43 tackles including five sacks in 2011. Nelson Wienke, David Russek and Cameron Allen are all expected to make large contributions to the unit as well.
Senior Justin Armstrong will anchor the defense from his middle linebacker position. An All-GLIAC Second Team pick a year ago, Armstrong totaled 73 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception. Sophomore Dan Perrault and junior Taylor Ziolkowski will compete for the other starting job. Both saw action a year ago.
Kearly admits some question marks in the defensive secondary, where the loss of five senior starters has left some holes to be filled. Emmett Bjorn, a junior free safety, saw a good amount of playing time a year ago with six tackles and an interception. Senior Kevin Nancarrow is atop the depth chart at the outside linebacker/safety hybrid position, a staple of Tech's 4-2-5 defense. Sophomore Ben Potter and seniors Greg Pedersen and Kurt Lehmann all seek the starting role at the other alley position.
Sophomore Jeremy Mims, who played in seven games in 2011, will be moved from safety to corner this season. He will be joined by redshirt freshman Cedric Jones and sophomore DeShawn Nelson. Nelson tallied three tackles in limited action at cornerback a year ago.
For the first season in recent memory, Michigan Tech will return virtually all its special teams personnel.
Kicker Garrett Mead is back for his sophomore campaign after a solid rookie year. The Alpena, Mich., native was accurate on 7-of-11 field goals and 36-of-39 extra points in 2011. He could be pushed in preseason camp by redshirt freshman Matt Bautch.
Jordan Ledvina, a converted wide receiver, took over punting duties a year ago and averaged 38.3 yards per attempt.
Elsenheimer, who was among the league leaders in punt returns in 2010, will receive punts. Shaver and Cason, two of Tech's most successful return men in recent history, will be Tech's primary kick returners.
Kearly likes Tech's early schedule as the Huskies play three of their first four games at home, opening with Tiffin on Sept. 8. The Huskies will host their second-ever night game at Sherman Field on Sept. 29 with a 6 p.m. kickoff vs. Grand Valley State. Just one week later, Tech faces its arch rival Northern Michigan in Marquette. The Black and Gold will have possibly the toughest final four weeks in the league with road games at Ferris State, Saginaw Valley State and Wayne State and a home tilt vs. Hillsdale.