Well the “decade of dominance” will come to a full ten-year circle this season. Has it been that long!? My how time flies when you’re winning and having fun. The program as we know it today really took shape right after the events of 9/11. That 2001 team set the bar for the decade that followed, and helped the program and athletic department as a whole realize it’s true potential. There have been lots of changes in Allendale since those days. The media exposure, the fan base, the athletic department and school have all evolved in those ten years. In some ways we’ve become a spoiled lot. By some measures 2010 was our “worst” season in those ten years, going 11-2, capturing the conference title but only making to the second round of the playoffs before being blown out of the water in our worst loss since 2003. For many that game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota was a sobering moment. That 38-6 loss to Augustana was hopefully a wakeup call to the team as well. That score is posted in the locker room as a daily reminder. That game has made many fans wonder what direction the program will take the this year in response, for it was just about the first time in that decade that Laker fans have felt as vulnerable as we did on that day.
Coach Matt Mitchell is entering his second season as the captain of the Laker’s ship this year, and while there have been changes, he’s noted that for the first time in this past decade the whole staff is returning. In the face of change some consistency is a good thing and hopefully we see the results on the field. During the pre-season media shows Mitchell has noted that new starting quarterback Heath Parling is looking great, has taken a real leadership role on the team and the only thing in the coach’s eyes Heath lacks are game-reps. He’s a “similar duel to Cullen (Finnerty) but a little smaller…” noted Mitchell last week. We all know that in leading up to the season Parling was far and away the favorite for the starting QB spot, but even though the coaching staff held a competition for the job. While Parling won, Isiah Grimes has really caught the coaching staff’s attention. “Isiah Grimes is a little more like Ryan Mallet…” noted Mitchell in a recent interview with WBBL. By that description we know Grimes is more of a classic pocket-passing quarterback. Mitchell noted that if there’s going to be someone who is likely to get game reps outside of Parling, it’s likely to be Grimes.
Offensive Coordinator Eric Taylor broke down the changes on the offensive side of the ball this year. He’s called this year a “unique QB transition.” “There are some challenges because Heath has no game reps, but Heath is about three to four times ahead of where Kyle (Mitchell) was at this time last year.” Taylor mentioned to Brett Bakita of WBBL recently. He attributes Heath’s readiness due to his familiarity with the team, as he’s been around the program a couple of years as opposed to Kyle Mitchell who was a transfer. He’s also said the offense will be able to do some things is hadn’t been able to do last season. “We’re going to have four wide-out sets as well as full-back sets this year…also more movement on the line with personnel shifts.” Again, he’s credited the offenses new versatility this season to depth and experience. The offensive skill player positions are loaded. With Augustus and Gay returning, as well as Allendale local Jackson likely to get more touches running the ball with Juniors Norman Shuford and Jake Aberg. As Taylor mentioned to former Buffalo Bill (NFL) Ray Bentley recently, the skill guys are the deepest part of the offense at the time. That skill, experience and depth could give Parling a real cushion to work with as he grows into his position.
As much as Taylor is looking forward, he’s also looking back to improve on last season. “The biggest thing from the two losses last year (to Mi-Tech and Augustana) was turnovers, we just can’t turn the ball over.” In the second-round playoff game in Augustana GVSU had by some counts as many as six turnovers, and lost both offensive fumbles. Coach Taylor is as focused on having a big-threat offense as he is on simply holding on to the ball, maintaining possession, using the clock to our advantage and not being forced to play outside of our style.
Look for more 2011 season preview articles in the coming week-long run-up to the opener against Western Oregon on Thursday, September 1st.
The Lakers enter the 2011 season ranked 5th in the AFCA Coaches Poll and 4th in the D2Football.com pre-season poll. But as we all know, pre-season rankings can mean very little.