GVSU football team all smiles at Media Day
It may be hard to remember at times, but football is a game, and games were created to be fun. One annual event that can always be counted on to be fun for Grand Valley State football players, coaches and journalists alike is Media Day, which was held Tuesday, Aug. 22, at Lubbers Stadium.
The day began with the entire team grouping up in the stands at Lubbers for their annual team picture. With the sun in their eyes and hardly a cloud in sight, the group was all smiles as photographers snapped the highly touted Laker squad.
Following the full-team picture, the seniors, dressed in road white jerseys while the rest of the players wore their black tops, gathered on the field to take their yearly senior class picture. However, the class of 2017 went a different route than any other group in preceding years.
Equipped with tables, ladders and chairs, the players arranged themselves in a professional wrestling-style setup, and the antics did not disappoint from an entertainment standpoint. Head coach Matt Mitchell had just a hunch on who came up with the idea.
“I think maybe (wide receiver) Brandon Bean because there’s been some stuff coming out of team breakdowns where he and one of the defensive backs have been doing some of the pro wrestling maneuvers,” Mitchell said of the comical photoshoot. “I don’t know where the genesis of all that is. It's just like, ‘All right, you guys ready to practice? Let’s go.’”
Mitchell was right: Bean and one of his defensive counterparts, who have spent the summer imitating wrestlers, put the idea into motion.
“I’ve got to be real—I can’t take all the credit for it," Bean said. "Every day before we break down to get into team pads, me and (defensive back) Thad Little reenact some famous finishers. We got the Stone Cold Stunner, Randy Orton RKO and John Cena Attitude Adjustment. All the moves you can think of, we reenact them just to get us going. My favorite wrestler has always been Shawn Michaels.”
Wrestling was not the only hotly discussed game on Media Day, though. Under new NCAA rules, the team was granted a sizable chunk of downtime during the summer in-between practices, and with the entire team living in the freshly built (and conveniently air conditioned) Holton-Hooker Learning and Living Center, the boys had plenty of time to play ping pong, pool, shuffleboard and (most important to many players) euchre.
Hot takes and big words were exchanged between quarterback Bart Williams and defensive lineman Dylan Carroll about the classic Michigander card game.
“The worst at euchre … (is) probably (quarterback) Cole Kotopka," Williams said. "He’ll call it up on 10. I’m the best. If I could play with myself (as a partner), I’d probably do that. (Quarterback) Matt Crable’s a good partner. He lost us a game against the specialists yesterday, though. (Co-defensive coordinator) Nick Postma is fun to play with, too, and (quarterback) coach (Matt) Vitzthum. Those are probably my top three partners if I had to pick: Crable, Postma and Vitzthum.”
Carroll did not agree with Williams’ hot take in the slightest, citing himself as the true best player on the team. In fact, Carroll even went as far as to say that Kotopka—whom Williams noted as the worst—was better than Williams himself.
In between all the wrestling charades, euchre trash talk, Katt Williams impressions (done impressively well by Jon-Marc Anderson) and practical jokes on Media Day, though, there was, in fact, some football talk.
With the Lakers ranked No. 2 in the nation in the AFCA coaches poll, many people on a national stage are intrigued by what the GVSU offense is capable of with almost all of its 2016 production returning this season.
“Expect everything," Bean said. "Pick your poison. I mean, what are you going to do? Do you want to try and stop Bart Williams and Urston Smith and Nick Dodson? Okay, fine, give the ball to (running back) Marty Carter, the leading rusher in Division II. Do you want to try and load the box to stop Marty? Alright, then just put the ball in Bart’s hands.
I just sit and watch and practice and say, ‘My goodness.' How do we have such a talented and deep roster? It’s scary. Once again, pick your poison.”
The key piece to take away from that excerpt from the senior receiver is to "expect everything." Mitchell echoed Bean’s statement, saying the copious amounts of experience on their offense gives them the flexibility and opportunity to try players in different places.
“Last year for (Carter), that was only his first year," Mitchell said. "We only put him pretty much in the backfield. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s emptied out some.
(Nick) Keizer, it’s his senior year, you’re going to see him out as a tight end in different spots and positions. You’re going to see different guys in different spots and different roles because (they’ve) really mastered their craft at one position, and we can do some other things with them.”
That kind of comfort level has not been achieved on the defense quite yet, as they do not have the luxury of returning a handful of their leaders from last season. Though some big names like Carroll and linebacker Collin Schlosser will likely continue to lead the way for the Lakers, there are several holes that still need to be plugged in the defense.
The Laker coaching staff, after thinking hard about ways to make their corps as formidable as possible, believe they have found some ways to right the ship.
“We’ve tried to do it three ways," Mitchell said. "Garrett Pougnet has played safety his entire existence, and we put him at inside linebacker. Take Mike Pettis who played linebacker his entire career, put him as a five technique. We take some transfers, we got (defensive tackle) Demetrius Farmer from Ohio Dominican, (defensive back) Darius Conaway, who I think is going to be a really good player who will stay for a couple years. You take that and then some younger guys who can really step up like Isaiah Nkansah who’s a linebacker. You take a guy like (defensive back) Thad Little who hasn’t played much and is back there. You have transfers, new guys, position changes and put them in spots. It takes time.”
There will be new faces and old faces in new places. That will be the theme for the Laker defense in 2017, and they are not afraid to take shots early on in the season in order to improve themselves in the long haul. It is fair to expect a different Laker defense in later weeks of the year compared to the one that will be on display against Indianapolis in week one.
“Getting the transfers acclimated to how we do and run things here at GV, it’s all about team chemistry and getting everyone to play together,” Carroll said. “Our defensive philosophy is 11 as one, and it’s about sticking together and doing your job. We can’t have individuals out there doing their own thing.”
The relentless pursuit, or “11 as one,” as Carroll described it, has been a common theme for GVSU throughout the years. If this new crew can replicate the success former squads have had, especially with all the talent on their side of the ball, it will likely not come as a shock to most of those coaches and writers that put the Lakers on a pedestal as the number two team.
With camp finishing up and game prep beginning for the Lakers' season opener on the road against the Indianapolis Greyhounds Thursday, Aug. 31, it is finally time for GVSU football players to strap on their helmets, lace their cleats and prepare for the 2017 grind.