Despite a nagging drizzle, Sunday was a great day for football at Frank "Muddy" Waters Field in Hillsdale. The Chargers capped their spring drills with the annual Blue White Scrimmage followed by a cook-out that quickly moved indoors.
Observations from Sunday
As is usually true with Spring practice, the defense looked a step ahead of the offense. It's not like the Charger defense hasn't seen every formation and play a hundred times and there is a lot less rhythm and timing on the defensive side to perfect. None the less, Andy Dion and Eric Weber looked to be improving upon the form that emerged last year as Hillsdale's defensive line became one of the top units in the GLIAC. Both were in the backfield all Sunday afternoon.
Linebacker Tom Korte stepped into the Middle Linebacker role and was impressive in the absence of senior captain Steve Balone who continues to rehab an injury. The Charger secondary had some big hits including one from Steve Otterbein and consistent coverage from Nick Sutherland who had the day's only interception.
Offensively, the line led by Chet Crowley continues to improve and tackle Jared Veldeer is a noticeable presence at 6'8" and 2 ounces less than a boxcar. A lot of eyes will be on Tight End Mike Pavelich as he tries to fill the big shoes left by Keith Recker. Pavelich looked solid both catching and blocking.
Phil Martin looked his usual self, as a dependable tailback with break-away speed. With just a year left in his career, you can't help but look down the depth chart to see who may be emerging as the next starter once Martin leaves. Vinnie Panizzi had an impressive outing, getting in for Hillsdale's only ground score, plus the visor makes him look really sweet as well.
Mark Nicolet will be just fine at quarterback still with a ton of upside potential, making solid choices with an improved lot of receivers. On Sunday it seemed his passes started a bit high (ask Derek Nelson), then were a bit low, only to find a nice medium and rhythm toward the end. The prettiest shot of the day came on a 52 yard laser to Nick Gurica. With really only one year (2 partials) behind him he looks nothing like the qb that had to jump in Aaron Scholl's absence last season and especially the one I saw get welcomed to D2 football as the 3rd stringer against Grand Valley in Allendale. The intangibles that continue to grow and mature in this kid are the biggest assets he brings not only to the program but to the campus and community. Hopefully he can keep his car out of the ditch during his philanthropic efforts this year. Scholl looked like vintage Scholl running the twos, displaying his amazing quickness that makes him a huge threat however he gets the ball now as a receiver.
Speaking of receivers, Nelson has the size and athleticism to be the most prototypical wide-out at HC since the days of Ed House. Nelson hauled in a leaping fade for a touchdown from Scholl, but must overcome the injury bug that has plagued his early career. Spend one minute talking to this kid though and you realize how focused and dedicated he is to being a big contributor to the program. "I just feel (the injuries) have motivated me," he told me Sunday. "I feel like I can help the team. I want to be out there. I love these guys. I love this program. I know where it is heading and it just feels great to be back out on the field."
Even if teams decide to lock down on Nelson, there are a number of other threats who showed the ability to get open, despite being what some might call undersized. Nick Gurica, Bill Brown, Aaron Waldie, and Scholl aren't going to wow anybody with tall, lanky receiver bodies but will match quickness with anybody in the league. These are the most weapons Hillsdale has had at this position and they remind me a lot of my teammates from the 1990's Joe Ransley, Bob Finkovich, and Marty Walsh--guys who had pretty nice careers and made key receptions when needed. This lot will be fun to watch and opens the offense up far more than could in years past.
Sure, there were some highlights on the field Sunday. But for me the real excitement was the atmosphere that just permeates from everyone involved with this team. They believe in themselves and know great things are happening with this program. The rest of the GLIAC might be hyping Ashland's rise and still putting all of their stock into the so-called Big 3 of GVSU, Saginaw, and Northwood. Me, I will take the Chargers to make the most noise this season. Let everybody judge Hillsdale by the last few years. We will see what they think in November.
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