GVSU football finishes spring practices, prepares for 2019 season
Spring is in the air in Allendale, and while many students are stressing over finals, the Grand Valley State football team has been conducting their annual spring practices, which culminated on Saturday, April 13 at the 2019 Football Spring Classic at Kelly Family Sports.
GVSU football fans were invited to enjoy tailgate food, enter a few raffles, buy Laker football merchandise and, most importantly, watch the football team prepare for the 2019.
While this was a special event for the general, it was just another day at the office for head coach Matt Mitchell.
“From a football standpoint, it was kind of just one of 15 (spring practices) for us,” Mitchell said. “We don’t put any more emphasis on this practice than the other ones, but I’m glad we're able to continue to develop players. We got a lot of experience on defense, a lot of work to do on offense and we got a lot of young talent, but we really got to develop.”
While GVSU lost a lot of key contributors in quarterback Bart Williams, wide receiver Nick Dodson, linebacker Dylan Carroll and offensive linemen Ben Walling, the young talent this team possesses proves that while this team may look different, a revamp and reload for success is eminent.
Mitchell and the rest of his staff have been working tirelessly this spring to get to the younger players acclimated into GVSU football’s culture, as he feels that a lot of young talent can contribute next year as redshirt freshmen. Mitchell specifically mentioned that young linemen Matthew Stefanski, Jake Kochanny and Joel Lindon could contribute on the offensive line in just their second years with the program.
“We’re probably going to have two or three redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line,” Mitchell said. “On defense, we’ve got some really good young defensive linemen. We have some experience there, but we have some younger guys who are able to step up if need be.”
The GVSU football team has been successful for so long because of their adaptability, as they often change their schemes on defense based on the personnel provided. That was especially clear at the spring practice, as after running a 4-3 front for the majority of the 2018 season, the GVSU defense played more of a hybrid style, experimenting with a 3-4 front while playing a lot of nickel coverage.
“We really overhauled our defense, doing some different things with our front and linebacker play,” Mitchell said. “We felt like we had to be better than we were last year, and we have enough humility to understand we can tweak some things on defense to be better, so that’s what we did.”
The defensive side isn’t the only side of the ball that’s seeing changes, as although many key skill players like running back Chawntez Moss and wide receiver Austin Paritee will return, the person throwing them the ball will, for the first time in four years, not be Bart Williams.
GVSU’s all-time leading passer left some big shoes to fill under center, but after developing behind him over the past few years, junior quarterback Cole Kotopka has had a strong spring and is ready for his time to start.
“This is my fourth spring, so I’m pretty used to what’s going on,” Kotopka said. “We learned a lot of new things this spring. We put in some cool stuff, and I’m very happy with how it turned out.”
While Kotopka has the most experience of any of the GVSU quarterbacks, he’ll still have to compete with fellow gunslingers Nathan Barko, Austin Brown and Cal Endicott for the starting spot, and Mitchell is excited to see the guys push each other with a starting role on the line.
“We’ve been really excited about these quarterbacks. Cole’s in the lead, but we’ve got talent at that position and it will be a different offense than what we had with Bart,” Mitchell said. “It’s kind of invigorating to have (the competition). We’ll miss Bart’s experience, but having a different guy in there, we’re looking forward to that process too.”
GVSU will kickoff the 2019 season Saturday, September 7 at 7 p.m. against the Edinboro Fighting Scots. GVSU's 2019 schedule will feature seven home games, including four of their first six games taking place at Lubbers Stadium.