Despite loss of key players, Ferris football expects to compete for third straight GLIAC title

PRACTICE: Ferris State University’s football team runs through a drill during practice on Thursday at Top Taggart Field. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

PRACTICE: Ferris State University’s football team runs through a drill during practice on Thursday at Top Taggart Field. (Pioneer photo/Ryan Zuke)

BIG RAPIDS — Ferris State University football head coach Tony Annese was clear about the team’s expectations heading into the 2016 season with a 22-game regular-season undefeated streak on the line.

When asked after the first day of practice Thursday if he thought the program might take a step back after graduating two All-Americans – quarterback Jason Vander Laan and defensive tackle Justin Zimmer – along with its top two receivers, Annese reiterated that he has full confidence in his team contending for a third straight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.

“Our guys believe,” he said. “Nobody on our team is looking around saying, ‘Where is Jason? Where’s Justin? Where’s (graduated receiver) Jake Lampman? Our team, they’re not struck by that at all. We’re ready to turn the page and be a great productive team without those guys.”

Although a decision on a starting quarterback likely won’t come until the day of the first game Sept. 1, the fifth-year coach said, there are few questions marks at other key positions.

The linebacking corps remains intact, led by senior captains Anthony Darkangelo and Nick Huckabay, who finished second and third on the team in tackles last season, respectively.

The defensive line also is expected to be a major strength. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Roney (48 tackles, 9.5 sacks), redshirt sophomore Zach Sieler (17 tackles, 6.5 sacks), junior Marquis Dawsey (17 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and senior Corey Arnouts (39 tackles, two sacks) all are back. The group believes it can be more of a force this season, even with Zimmer’s departure.

“I do believe the d-line will be one of the big impacting factors of how the season goes,” Roney said. “I learned a lot from Zimmer last year. I’m going to try and use the mentality and all the lessons and hard work that he had, going to try and embody that as well as I can and step up. It’s a big loss, but I think we are still going to be able to handle it well.”

The Bulldogs also graduated just two players in their secondary.

“This is going to be a good football team,” Annese said. “This is going to be the best defensive team we’ve had since I’ve been here. We have a lot of guys on both sides of the ball who have a lot of experience. At the end of the day, we have a great opportunity to have a great football team, and it has to start here (first day of practice).”

There is little trepidation on offense, either. Senior right tackle Bryan Bell said the offensive line, which returns three starters along with blocking tight end and captain Kyle Thompson, is once again ready to pave the way for an offense that led the GLIAC with 519.8 yards per game last season.

“We are a tight-knit group,” Bell said. “We all have our same goals in mind. We have a lot of good guys on the o-line, so we are excited to see what we can do with it.”

The competition for the starting quarterback job has little effect on the offensive line, Bell said.

“They are doing what they are doing back there, our job is just to make sure nobody gets to them,” he said of the quarterbacks. “We trust all the guys back there. Everyone on this team has a great attitude.”

The Bulldogs are picked to finish second behind Grand Valley State University in the GLIAC North this season, according to the preseason coaches’ poll. Annese said there is enough talent on the team to win the league title, it just depends on if the Bulldogs can put it all together on the field.

“We have a group of young men who really work hard to be successful,” Annese said. “The culture is extraordinarily great. The expectations for themselves are incredible. We just have to bring it to the field.”

avatar

Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply