HOUGHTON - Never have the colors of Green and Gold been such a sight for sore eyes.
After 22 days of training camp, with nothing but each other's increasingly tedious company to practice against, the Michigan Tech football team finally gets to line up against a real, live, warm-blooded opponent Saturday as the Huskies kick off their season and conference opener at 1 p.m. at Tiffin. They get to hit someone like they mean it.
"It has been a long time coming," newly minted Tech starting wide receiver Brandon Cowie said. "It is going to be fun. Going against our guys day-in and day-out, it gets to become a challenge after a while seeing the same defense, seeing the same offense. So it is going to be a nice change for us."
And nowhere will there be more change than to the Husky receiving corps.
With Tech losing five senior receivers and senior tight end Bryan LaChapelle to graduation, junior quarterback Tyler Scarlett will be dealing with a blank slate for pass-catching this season.
Literally. Not one of his outside targets have ever caught a pass in an actual college game.
"It is cadence, and nerves, those jitters," Tech coach Tom Kearly said. "Especially in your first game, it is those type of things that can cost you plays and games if you don't get acclimated quickly. The breakdown of execution is what scares you.
"We are excited to show everyone what we got," Cowie added.
For at least the first game - as these things are always subject to change early in the season - Cowie and Central Michigan-transfer Jordan McConnell will start on the outside, with sophomore Andrew Clark coming in on three-receiver packages and sophomore Anthony Root featuring with four wide outs.
Cowie and McConnell certainly look the part, with each weighing over 200 pounds of corded muscle and Cowie standing at an advantageous 6-foot-3.
"Cowie is a big target for me on the boundary and Jordan has good feet, he runs those crisp routes," Scarlett said.
For their part, even with all the nuances that accompany the position -route depth, checks, lining up correctly - the receivers understand they really just have one job to help the Huskies start successfully.
Just get open.
With Scarlett's already owning every major passing record in Tech history and sporting a sterling 65 percent completion rate, the new targets can be sure a catchable ball is coming their way if they can gain that hint of separation.
"Scarlett is a great quarterback, the past two years have shown that, so it is a comfort having him back there," Cowie said. "It is just our job to get open because you know he will deliver the ball."
As Cowie sees it, this debut for the new group has not been building not since camp opened Aug. 22, but since spring ball and the summer beyond.
It has been months and months of him catching balls with Scarlett. He is beyond excited to show off the hard-earned chemistry in a meaningful situation.
"Just like anything else, repetition is key," Cowie said. "We worked a lot this summer, myself as well as the other receivers, to try and develop that relationship we need come game time where he can trust us and we can trust him to put the ball where it needs to be. Over the summer and this camp we really developed that."
Tiffin presents perhaps the best opponent from the Huskies' vantage to break in the new receivers.
Tech hung a 51-15 loss on the Dragons last season at Sherman Field and are 3-0 against Tiffin since the program entered the GLIAC in 2009.
Scarlett threw for 276 yards with a pair of scores in last year's meeting and the 2013 version of the Dragons does not appear drastically different, giving up 375 yards through the air in a season-opening loss to McKendree.
Still, the Huskies are saying all the "right" things before the matchup.
"I think that game got away from them a bit last year," Scarlett said. "They definitely have skill on both sides of the ball, so we have to be ready."
Where Tiffin does have an edge on Tech, however, comes simply from having gotten a game under their belt.
Football, more than any other sport, is most difficult to simulate the real adrenaline and intensity of a game in practice.
For Kearly, execution on offense and tackling on defense have always been the key indicators for season opener.
"That is a bit of a disadvantage," Kearly said. "They say you always improve the most from game one to game two, and I don't know if that is true, but there is some merit to that statement. The two biggest things when you are playing somebody where it is their second one and your first one, is one, the ability to execute offensively, and two, the ability to tackle defensively."