After a four-win improvement a season ago, the SVSU football team reemerged as a contender in the GLIAC conference. The Cardinals now open their 2017 campaign Saturday, Sept. 2, when they travel to Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia, looking to build upon its 5-5 record last year.
“Our team has really developed its chemistry; it’s a close-knit group,” head coach Jim Collins said. “Most of the senior class came in and were part of a team that was GLIAC North champs and a playoff team. Then, they were a part of some teams that struggled a bit. Having been through so much has tightened them up. It’s made them closer and more resilient.”
SVSU returns much of its core group from a season ago, but did graduate a few key players on both sides of the ball, including the likes of David Nay, Kyle Tiller and Matt McKoy. SVSU will also be without last year’s top receiver Marq Johnson, who is no longer in school, Collins said.
However, the Cardinals do return their quarterback, redshirt sophomore Ryan Conklin. Last year, Conklin threw for eight touchdowns and averaged 143.2 yards per game through the air.
“Playing in the actual games last year showed me how much different the speed of the game is live,” he said. “It also showed me what it takes to win the GLIAC and where I needed to be physically for this season. This offseason, I believe I’ve bettered myself in ways to prepare myself and our team to have a great season.”
The Cardinals did lose its leading rusher in Nay, but they return their next two leading rushers, junior Jermaih Johnson and sophomore Tommy Scott Jr. Senior Alfonso Vultaggio, SVSU’s second leading receiver last year, is also returning for his senior season.
“I’m most excited to go out there with my brothers one last time and win games and win a championship,” Vultaggio said.
Defensively, the Cardinals will be without McKoy, who led the GLIAC in interceptions a season ago. He also forced two fumbles and recorded 76 tackles. After getting some looks from NFL teams, McKoy will be spending this season as a graduate assistant in SVSU’s strength and conditioning department. SVSU does return leading tackler and senior Bryan Jones and junior defensive back Dillon Dixon, who was third on the team in tackles in 2016 and also had three interceptions.
“We have extremely high expectations for this defense,” Dixon said. “We have a lot of experienced players returning and have more depth than we’ve had since I’ve been here. We return eight starters, and the guys stepping in for last year’s starters got a lot of game experience last year.”
SVSU begins its season on the road against Alderson Broaddus, which finished 9-2 a season ago and ended the season on a seven-game winning streak.
“They had a tremendous season last year,” Collins said. “We’ve been really impressed with the things that we’ve heard about (them). What they’ve built in the short time they’ve had a program has been impressive. We’re expecting to play a very good football team.”
The Cardinals, who were picked to finish fifth in the GLIAC preseason coaches’ poll, host Walsh the following Saturday, Sept. 9, in their home opener. Key rivalry games come Saturday, Sept. 30, when the team visits Grand Valley and Saturday, Sept. 4, as the Cardinals travel to Northwood. SVSU also hosts GLIAC newcomer Davenport on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Collins said that, over the summer, over 70 players regularly attended the team’s strength and conditioning workouts, including every upperclassman quarterback. He said this year’s group won’t be satisfied with another .500 season.
“This is a football team that since the end of last season was not satisfied with where we were,” he said. “It was better than 2015, but it wasn’t a sense of accomplishment as much as it was taking a step. This year, they want to win a championship. That’s where their goals are.”