Getting offensive: Mettlach pleased with progress of Fries

Michigan Tech quarterback Alex Fries searches the field for a teammate to pass to during a game against Davenport on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, at Kearly Stadium in Houghton. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Last season, as junior quarterback Alex Fries went, so did the Michigan Tech Huskies football team’s offense. When he was efficient, so was the Huskies’ attack. When he wasn’t, they struggled.

Such is the way things go with a first-year starter at the most important position on offense.

Over the course of the season, Fries grew into his role as a starter, allowing head coach Dan Mettlach and his staff to start throwing more complicated offensive schemes his way, and while the results did not necessarily show up in terms of wins against some tough opponents, Fries did earn his leadership role within the locker room through his hard work and determination.

Mettlach is proud of the development Fries has already made.

“He’s taken some positive steps,” Mettlach said. “He got a little bit nicked up during spring, so there were a couple practices that he didn’t get, so he missed some reps that way. But, I just talked with him (Monday). Going into the summer, his intentions going into the fall need to be to go from where he was last year to take that next jump of being, what I think is, one of the best (quarterbacks) in the league.”

Looking back at 2023, Mettlach was pleased with a lot of what he saw from Fries, especially once he got over an early-season injury that slowed him some.

“There were a couple games last year where we went through some growing pains early in the year,” said Mettlach, “but I also think, if you were to go back and look at his stats for a first-year starter, he did some things that you don’t see all the time in terms of what his production was.”

Mettlach feels that, despite missing time this spring, Fries is taking big strides in the right direction for the Huskies. At the same time, the Huskies found out exactly what his limitations were last season, and are working with him to improve in those areas.

“I think he’s ahead of the game right now,” Mettlach said. “His biggest thing and he knows this is when in the pocket taking a deep breath and trying to get that to slow down a little bit.

“We referenced it a ton last year when we talked about when he can get outside the pocket, and make plays with his feet, or have that opportunity to make plays, (then) he’s a lot more comfortable. But, if you’re going to beat those good teams, you have to be able to do it all. So, we’re getting there. I love where he’s at right now, but the next three months for him, from a physical standpoint, are going to be bigger.”

There are some things that Fries needs to do on his own to continue his development.

“You have to act like a senior Q now in the classroom, and watch him film on your own, and understand exactly where the coach wants the football to go, and why it should go there,” said Mettlach. “He’s got to take that next step with that part of it as well.”

As far as leadership of the offense is concerned, Mettlach feels that Fries could be more forceful, something that often comes with experience.

“That’s another great point,” Mettlach said. “Again, talked about (Monday), is there’s no question he’s our guy. The whole locker room knows that, our league knows that. So, now it’s got to get to the point where, and he does it at times, but he’s got to be a little bit more assertive with it.

“It doesn’t need to come from me to then get to the players. He’s starting to get more comfortable with taking initiative in the locker room, or in a huddle, in the weight room. Seven-on-sevens this summer where, he’s, in a leader way, telling the guys, we’re going to do it this way, and here’s why we’re doing it. But, the more comfortable he gets with exactly what’s going on, that’ll be easier for him to do.”

Being a former college quarterback himself, Mettlach feels that Fries will get there.

“There’s no question that he’s getting more comfortable in that role, and it’s coming, so we will better,” said Mettlach. “When it does not always have to come from my voice, that the Q is taking care of some of that stuff, it comes with maturity, but also the confidence of being in that role for a while. It gets a little bit easier to do that.

“That is not something you can do on Day One of being the starter. That’s a role that’s earned. So he’s getting there.”

Mettlach went through a lot of the same progressions in his time at Michigan Tech as a player, which helps give him the belief that his starter can follow a similar path.

“I went through the same thing with Coach Kearls (Tom Kearly),” he said. “You know, there’s kind of different phases in terms of how you coach that position. The way that Coach Kearls coached me is still what I do to this day with our guys.

“It’s a tough position to play. I believe that position needs to be coached hard. and, if you’re going to be able to handle it on Saturday in this league, you’ve got to be able to handle some tough love from your coach throughout the week. I think the guys that we have in that room appreciate that and understand why it’s done that way.”

Even as he watches his quarterback go through the growing pains of becoming a leader, Mettlach remains confident that the team will be better because of his growth.

“Everybody goes through the different phases, and when they get to that point where they can prove that they are capable of taking the keys and running, then you can back off a little bit,” Mettlach said. “But, I feel like that’s part of my job with that position is until they get to that point, whether you’re a fifth-year guy, a first-year guy, you have to be coached in a way that, until you can manage the offense and get the football where it’s supposed to go, the way that the game plan is intended, then there’s going to be some days where you might leave the office not liking me very much.

“But, that’s part of the maturation process, and Alex handles that really well.”


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