Developing team depth: Huskies football focusing on reps in spring practice
HOUGHTON — As new Michigan Tech Huskies head football coach Dan Mettlach adjusts to his new position, he also has a specific goal in mind, to be competitive with the Ferris States and the Grand Valley States year in and year out. In order to do that, he feels that the most important thing the Huskies can do is improve their overall team depth.
Mettlach has confidence that his starters can go toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs and Lakers, but where those teams become championship-winning squads is in their overall team depth. He feels that the Huskies have excellent top-end players like defensive lineman Samuel Kinne. He is looking to hone Kinne’s skill set while also developing players behind the junior.
“A guy like Sam Kinne, an All-American-type defensive linemen, maybe does not need spring ball as much as the first year guy, the second year guy, that’s gonna be playing behind him,” said Mettlach.
By getting depth players more reps in practice, they learn quickly what it takes to be competitive at the college level.
“So, we hammered home with all of them, Sam included,” Mettlach said. “Everybody needs to take their game from where they’re at currently to that next level, to get us to a point where we can be, seven-eight deep on the (defensive) line, eight deep, nine deep, on the (offensive) line, so on, so forth, throughout the whole room, where that drop off is not so drastic.
“That’s what we are getting out of the spring ball right now. Those reps are invaluable to those young kids that maybe don’t get to play as much, or you’re a third year guy that hasn’t seen the field for whatever reason.”
Just getting reps is not the only way that players improve, however, Mettlach feels that the concentrated form of spring practices can be a big help to players trying to elevate their games.
“It clicks for guys at different points, and, a lot of times, it happens during the spring ball because it is more controlled,” he said. “There’s not as much pressure, because we’re not playing any games, outside of what we’re putting on them, or they’re putting on themselves. But, the spring is invaluable for that part of it, for our whole program.”
Mettlach feels that while a player like Kinne does not need the same volume of practice at a high level, his work ethic rubs off on his teammates, who see him working at his top level, working to be better than his toughest competitors on other teams in the GLIAC.
“Sam is also a great example, because I think there could be a tendency, when you’re on a team that, when your best players sometimes will compare themselves to other guys in the locker room, as opposed to a guy like Sam Kinne, Michael Bates, Darius Willis, those guys are not comparing themselves to guys in our locker room. They compete every single day, but they want to be the best at their position in the whole league.
“They know they’re the best players in our locker room. So, the complacency of just being the best at Tech, we’re trying to get rid of that in our whole (team). We want guys to be, ‘I’m comparing myself, if I’m Sam Kinne, to the guy that’s setting sack records at Ferris or the tackle that’s at GV, or whatever it may be.”
Mettlach expects that players will continue to learn from the starters.
“The same thing for those other guys to where now you get the young guys that are comparing themselves to those guys, seeing how they work,” he said. “That climb happens a little bit faster for those other guys, where I’m not just trying to be the best in whatever my grade and in our locker room. But, if I’m going to get to that standard, and those guys are competing to be the best in the whole league, that’s what we want everybody to go to, working at the same exact deal.”
Mettlach likes the growth he is seeing out of Alex Fries at quarterback. The freshman out of Saginaw is taking advantage of the rep work he is getting. Mettlach also likes another freshman in Drew Collins. Collins is a 6-foot-3 quarterback from Montague. He is also learning to play tight end as well, which can add to his versatility.
“We’ve been fortunate enough here for the last four years that Will Ark was our (quarterback),” Mettlach said. Alex Fries is taking that next step in that position.
“Drew Collins is not only doing some good things at quarterback, but playing some H-back tight end for us as well. So he’s kind of double dipping with what he’s doing.”
Mettlach also likes what he is seeing from Asher Gregory and Jake Rueff at tailback. Both were freshmen this season.
“(We’ve) got guys like Jake Rueff and Asher Gregory, who are true freshman tailbacks right now, that are getting some reps behind that No. 1 (offensive) line, that have a little bit different juice that we haven’t had in a while,” said Mettlach.
On the defensive side of the ball, Mettlach is excited about the progress being made by Dakota Blackwell. Blackwell’s older brother, Jackson, has been a big part of recent Huskies’ defenses. Dakota is a corner that his coach feels could see significant playing time this coming season.
Another defensive back that Mettlach likes is Dante Basanese. He feels the freshman corner will be a key piece of the Huskies’ defense moving forward.
One other player that Mettlach has been surprised by is punter Drew Wyble.
“You’re probably not expecting to hear this one, but Drew Wyble (who) is our kicker, has completely transformed his body in the last couple of months down in the weight room, and he’s hitting it different on the field. I think, when we got back from Christmas, (he) shocked everybody a little bit how much he bulked up, and all good weight.
“But, even at that position, guys are starting to understand that it’s across the board, kicker, center, quarterback, it doesn’t matter what it is, the weight room has to be where we gain an advantage. I’ve said this for a long time. You’ve heard Coach Kearls (former coach Tom Kearly) say, you heard Coach Anderson, say that those dudes that get out the bus from Ferris and (Grand Valley) and Saginaw, they’re fast, they’re athletic, long. That weight room part of our program has to be where we get an advantage, our toughness, how we play the relentless effort that we go about our business with.
How players work in the weight room shows a team’s culture, according to Mettlach.
“It all starts down in that room, where I think a big part of our culture comes from, the way our guys go about what we do year in, year out, good or bad,” he said. “You got a locker room that’s willing to buy into the toughness piece, and we’re going to outwork everybody. You have a chance.”
The Huskies will host their annual spring game this Saturday at Kearly Stadium at 1 p.m.