November 24, 2023
Michigan Tech running back William Marano turns upfield during a game against Northern Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, at Kearly Stadium in Houghton. The Huskies held their annual spring game on Saturday for the first time in three years. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

The first spring game for the Michigan Tech Huskies football team in three years, as well as the first under new head coach Dan Mettlach, was played on Saturday afternoon. Even though not every pass was accurate and not every spin and cut was flawless, the Michigan Tech Huskies were happy to be able to practice in front of a cheering audience on a bright afternoon.

Phil Milbrath, head coach of the running backs and special teams coordinator, remarked, “It’s amazing. “Over the past week and a half or two weeks, the weather has been pretty good. Consequently, we’ve actually had a larger turnout from the community for our open practices this spring, but given the excitement that was present today due to the weather, and the fact that 24 of our incoming players came to check out the spring game, I think it was a pretty successful day.

The coaching staff was aware that the Huskies had missed the opportunity to host their spring game the previous three years.

The storm that hit last year prevented us from holding a spring game, Milbrath said. “(It’s) actually an interesting fact that we talked about with a couple of our guys going back to COVID over the last couple of years,” he said. The boys were therefore excited to go outside today and officially mark the end of a really excellent spring.

The Michigan Tech Huskies were only permitted to work out 15 times over the four weeks coming up to the spring game, but Mettlach believed that significant development was achieved throughout the practices.

He remarked, “We felt like from practice one until practice 15, we improved.” “Many of our players—veterans as well as the young players we’re trying to develop depth with—got important reps.”

Two freshmen quarterbacks competing for the starting job left available by the impending graduation of Will Ark, a four-year starter for the Michigan Tech Huskies, were on display for the Michigan Tech Huskies. Parents and Huskies supporters in attendance had several opportunities to observe Alex Fries and Drew Collins showcase their abilities in the position throughout the day.

Both Fries and Collins impressed Mettlach, but he believes there is still a lot of room for improvement before the start of the autumn season.

We still have a lot of work to do replacing a four-year starter at (quarterback) up front on the offensive side, according to Mettlach. Therefore, with Alex and Drew taking up that position now, there will be some mental growing pains.

Both Fries and Collins shown confidence in being willing to roll out in either direction and gain yards, either by passing on the fly or just taking the ball and running with it themselves, in contrast to Ark, who was a more typical pocket passer.

Their athleticism, according to me, is what first stands out, Mettlach added. They are both capable of making plays with their feet. In terms of the quarterback participating in the run game, we will thus be able to do certain things that we haven’t done before. By doing it that way, we become more vibrant on the edge.

Fries was quick to admit that the previous two seasons of watching Ark have taught him a lot about college football.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with Will for the past few years, remarked Fries. “There is a lot of advice there, then. But I’m beginning to feel at ease in the role and with the offense. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around this offensive for long enough that it’s finally beginning to make sense. Getting a lot of reps in spring helped me get ready for the autumn, so that was very useful.

Even though the audience on Saturday was very encouraging, Fries is aware that he still has a ways to go before he can take the Huskies’ helm at center.

I think I’ve been doing a fairly good job getting my body ready in the weight room, he remarked. “My next step is definitely going to be mentally getting ready for the fall, understanding defenses better, and really slowing the game down as a whole,” the player said.

Collins worked his way into the offense at tight end while playing snaps second to Fries throughout the day. Mettlach has seen Collins do this a bit previously and wants to keep working with him on it because having him on the field will help the offense.

Mettlach affirmed that “part of that is a necessity.” “That position is a little slim for us. As a freshman, he had some reps there. He can manage that since he’s a large, powerful, physically active child.

“Drew needs to be out there if Alex winds up being the one who plays every snap at (quarterback). He is simply too talented an athlete to be seated next to us on the sidelines. To be able to harness his agility on the field, we will play him in certain h-back-type scenarios.

While the coaching staff may not have preferred it, the offense will be headed by a guy with less experience in the fall, but they can be proud that their message of “taking care of the football” was communicated throughout the whole spring.

“What I liked a lot today is that, in between our periods and our sessions today, whether we were doing our red zone stuff, coming out of our own goal line, that the guys really understood the situation really well, whether it was third down, second down, coming out, going in, taking care of the football, doing a good job there, and then ultimately playing with high energy,” said Milbrath. Therefore, even some of the younger players who might have had some doubts about the specific play calls and system went out and played aggressively while flying about at 100 mph. All we can ask is that.

Sam Kinne and the Huskies’ other defensive starters appeared prepared for the battle that will await them this fall once the season gets underway. Mettlach was impressed with his starting lineup, but he wants to keep adding depth wherever feasible.

Michael Bates and Sammy Ahearn take care of a lot of grass on the hashes, and we have a lot of players who have played on the back end. We’re also enthusiastic about that portion since we have a lot of veterans playing corner, said Mettach. “I’m not going to talk about the 11 guys any longer because obviously those people need to have a fantastic summer as well in order to be able to provide some depth. To build players who can enter the game when the starters aren’t available, we may start talking about 15 to 22 players.

For Mettlach, defense-first self-assurance may be what spurs offensive growth.

“There’s no doubt that those 11 on that side of the football are going to start with our leadership, our heart and soul of our team going into August,” he added. “Until those guys mature up front and at quarterback, we’re going to have to piggyback off that on the (offensive) side,” said the coach.

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