2019 Tech Football Season Preview, Picked 9th in GLIAC Poll

GLIAC Preseason Poll

HOUGHTON, Mich. – The 2019 Michigan Tech football season is just over a month away and the players along with the coaching staff are getting set to report for fall camp in just a few days. The Huskies will tee up the ball for the first time in the regular season in a non-conference at Hillsdale on September 7.

GLIAC Preseason Poll:
Michigan Tech is picked to finish 9th (16 points) in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, announced Monday by the conference office. Ferris State and Ashland are at the top of the rankings at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. The Bulldogs edged the Eagles for the top spot by nine points with 64. Ferris State had eight first place votes while Ashland accumulated 55 total points. Grand Valley State checked in at No. 3 with 51 points and one first place vote. Ferris State and Grand Valley State both advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs last season.

Saginaw Valley State (No. 4, 42 points), Davenport (Tied No. 5, 30 points), and Wayne State (Tied No. 5, 30 points) are the next three in line. Northern Michigan was slated seventh with 19 points followed by Northwood at No. 8 with 17 points and then Tech at No. 9 with 16 points.

Returners:
The offensive line will be led by senior Jeremy Bell (2017 2nd All-GLIAC), senior Logan Brunette, and junior Jacob Lechner. Bell, who hails from Negaunee, Michigan, will anchor the group at the left tackle position for the Huskies. Bell had his 2018 season limited to five games due to injury, but brings a wealth of valuable experience to the position.

Last year's front five helped produce 20.4 points and averaged 328.6 yards per game. The Huskies were fourth in the GLIAC in passing yards per contest at 197.9 and fourth in fewest tackles for a loss allowed per game (5.70). In the running game, the line opened lanes for the backs who combined to rack up over 200 yards in the three games and 119 yards or more in six of the 10 contests in 2018. The Huskies averaged 130.7 yards per game rushing last season.

The Huskies will be strong at the wide receiver position in 2019, thanks to a pair of senior returners, Jacob Wenzlick and Ben Hartley. On the field last year as a junior, Wenzlick was a 2018 Don Hansen Third Team All-American and a First Team All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection, leading the Huskies with 872 receiving yards while ranking fourth in the GLIAC this past season. He shared the team lead in touchdown receptions with four, ranked third in the conference in receiving yards per game (87.2), and was second in the GLIAC in receptions per game (5.2). Wenzlick completed 2018 with 52 receptions, including a season long 67-yard touchdown catch in the 2018 opener at Truman State.

Wenzlick also caused havoc for opponents on special teams with his ability to return kicks. Wenzlick led the conference in both combined kick return yards (873) and in all-purpose yards per game at 180.60. His combined yardage total was third best in all of NCAA Division II while the all-purpose numbers ranked fourth in the nation. Wenzlick broke a single season school record for kickoff return yardage with 819 in 2018.

Hartley, a junior from West Branch, Michigan, had a breakout year for the Huskies in 2018 and was an All-GLIAC Honorable Mention selection. Hartley was second on the team in total receptions (44) and reception yards with 597. He shared the team lead in touchdown catches with Wenzlick, as each player pulled down four this season. Hartley also completed three passes for 168 yards, with two of the completions going to the house for touchdowns. One of the TD's was a 67-yard strike to Wenzlick in the opener at Truman State.

At the running back position, sophomore Jared Smith emerged as the go to tailback for Tech. Smith, who arrived at Tech from Westphalia, Michigan, played in all 10 games for the Huskies in 2018 and led the team in rushing with 577 yards on 104 carries. He averaged 57.7 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry while finding the end zone on the ground three times. Smith cruised for a season high 198 yards against Wayne State (Oct. 13).

Junior quarterback Will Ark stepped into the starting role, appearing in all 10 games for Tech in 2018. Ark, who hails from Green Bay, Wisconsin, completed 132 passes for 1,654 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding four rushing touchdowns to the stats sheet. He passed for a season high 306 yards and two touchdowns against Ferris State (10/6/18) and tossed three TD passes at Grand Valley State (9-22-18).

Up front on the defensive line, senior Xavier Ciardo will help anchor the first line of defense. Ciardo, a native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, had a breakout year, establishing a career high 41 tackles, two sacks, and seven tackles for a loss for the Huskies in 2018. Ciardo played in all 10 games and added a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and two pass breakups to his tackle totals. He was an All-GLIAC Honorable Mention selection following the 2018 season.

Joining Ciardo on the defensive line is senior Mattias Hoehnen. Hoehnen is from Brookfield, Wisconsin and played in all 10 games for Tech. He racked up a single season career high of 34 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss last year. In addition, he delivered 2.5 sacks, had a pass breakup, and a blocked kick.

At linebacker, senior Marshael Ryan returns after a solid junior season in 2018. Ryan, who hails from Linden, Michigan, had a breakout year in 2018 as well with 70 tackles in 10 games, third most for the Huskies. He averaged seven tackles per game with seven tackles for a loss and two pass breakups. Ryan recorded a career high 12 tackles at Grand Valley State (Sept. 22) and had eight or more stops in a game five times.

Senior Travis Tidwell will be a key leader in the secondary and the overall defense for the Huskies in 2019. Tidwell, a defensive back from Detroit, Michigan, was fourth on the team in tackles in 2018 with 56 over the course of 10 games. Tidwell also posted 1.5 tackles for a loss, had four pass breakups and one interception; the fifth of his career. Tidwell now owns 197 career tackles, seven tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and 24 pass breakups in 31 games as a Husky. Tidwell was an All-GLIAC Honorable Mention each of the past two seasons and was named the GLIAC Freshman of the Year in 2016.

Sophomore defensive back Braxton Blackwell is coming off a strong freshman season in 2018. Blackwell is from South Lyon, Michigan and played in nine games for the Huskies, finishing the year fourth on the team in total tackles with 57. He averaged 6.3 tackles per game, posted 2.5 tackles for a loss and broke up two passes. He posted 10 or more tackles in three games, including a career high 12 stops against Ferris State (10/6/18).

2019 Schedule:
The Huskies will play 10 contests, which include two non-conference contests and eight battles against Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents.

Tech will play both of the non-conference games during the first two weeks of the 2019 campaign. The Huskies begin the 2019 journey at Hillsdale as the two clubs continue their annual series on Saturday September 7th at 1 p.m. eastern time. Tech will then face McKendree for the first time the following week (Sept. 14) on the road starting at 2 p.m. eastern time. The Huskies then pay a visit to Saginaw Valley State on September 21st to commence the GLIAC portion of the schedule at 1:30 p.m. eastern time.

Tech's home opener is Saturday September 28th against Grand Valley State on Homecoming Weekend, which is one of four games at Sherman Field this season. Tech has a bye week and then rival Northern Michigan arrives in Houghton on October 12th for the annual Miner's Cup game.

The other two home games on the docket this year feature Ferris State on November 2nd and Northwood in the regular season finale on November 16th. Additional GLIAC road games take the Huskies to Davenport (Oct. 19), Ashland (Oct. 26), and Wayne State (Nov. 9).