Sounds like fall: Huskies football wraps up second spring under Mettlach

Michigan Tech football coach Dan Mettlach addresses his team after a game against Saginaw Valley State on Saturday, Nov.11, 2023, at Kearly Stadium in Houghton. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

[Editor’s note: This story is the first of a series looking at the Michigan Tech Huskies spring football practices.]

HOUGHTON — With the annual Spring Game on Saturday, the Michigan Tech Huskies football team wrapped up a strong spring filled with four weeks of intense practice sessions, intended to help evaluate exactly what the Huskies will be working with this coming fall season.

While the weather in the Copper Country was mild this winter, for the most part, the Huskies did have some small issues when it came to their practice schedule.

They were able to prepare for their spring practices with workouts outside as much as possible, but then, during the four weeks they could work as a team on the field, two storms dumped snow in the area. Thankfully, according to head coach Dan Mettlach, the Michigan Tech grounds crew sprang into action, keeping the impact of the storms to a minimum.

“We were fortunate enough that we had great weather this winter,” he said, “so, the field was ready to go and the guys had great energy.

“If we would have gone a month earlier, we probably would have had better weather. But, the grounds crew, and Mother Nature, before all the storms came, helped us out to the point where we weren’t dealing with four feet of snow when those storms came.”

The lack of heavy snow throughout the winter, along with an adjusted schedule, allowed the Huskies to stay on track.

“We were able to stay on schedule,” said Mettlach. “We backed everything up this year to a four-week spring ball, rather than a five-week. So, we didn’t have to adjust any practices. We were on schedule the whole time.”

Of course, if the team did not buy in to what the coaching staff wanted, the weather would not matter at all. As Mettlach enters his second season as the Huskies’ head coach, he feels that things were smoother this spring than they were last year.

“I think the biggest thing that we all noticed is that our current staff, our current group in our locker room, we set a standard last year for how we want to practice, how we want to do things in the weight room, what our meeting should be like, so on and so forth,” he said. “So, if there’s anybody surprised by things going into spring ball last year, there was nobody that was surprised by it this year, which allowed us to raise that level of what our expectations are a little bit.

“We’re fortunate with who we have in the locker room right now, that our expectations are not greater than the kids, which is a good thing.”

Special teams coordinator Phil Milbrath, who played at Michigan Tech after Mettlach’s career ended, agrees with Mettlach that while the message has not changed, the players have a better understanding this spring of what is expected of them.

“The message has always been the same, that hasn’t changed or wavered,” he said. “Guys have always been bought into it, but maybe just a little, the ins and outs, little details of what do we mean when we say your relentless pursuit of excellence (are clearer).

“As you go through that spring, a summer, a full fall season where, hey, everybody’s in it together, through another off season, back into this spring again, I think that the message has always been the same. The guys have always been bought in, but (there is) more of a chance to kind of put a solid, keep building on top of the foundation that’s already been laid.”

As the Huskies look to their first season with the veteran presence of players like wide receiver Darius Willis, defensive back Michael Bates Jr., and defensive lineman Sam Kinne, Mettlach is excited to see last season’s junior class step into larger leadership roles this coming season.

“We have a mature group down there that handles quite a bit of the day-to-day stuff in the locker room that we don’t have to take care of,” said Mettlach. “But, I’d say the biggest thing this year, compared to last year, is that everybody is on the same page right now in terms of what we want to see on the field, and how we go about it. We were able to crank that up a little bit this year.”

The understanding by both the players and the staff of what is expected as Mettlach attempts to push the Huskies into the upper half of the GLIAC standings year in and year out allows everyone to work towards that goal from Day One.

“Last year, I think we spent quite a bit of time on getting them to understand, and be confident in, what we do have,” Mettlach said. “What we’re doing is going to put us in a situation to be competitive. I felt like we were competitive last year. Now, that standard that I’m talking about raising is getting the guys to the point where not only are we not going to back down to people, and we can compete in this league.

“(We want to be) approaching every single weekend with the mindset that we’re going in to win, not just be in a game. So, those kind of behaviors, thought processes, if you will, are a day-to-day thing. That’s every day. We’ve got to have that mindset, and, at the same time, trying to temper some of that stuff to the point where we’re not looking ahead to anybody again.”

The end goal at this point is to compete for a GLIAC championship, something Mettlach, who won one as a player at Michigan Tech, knows all about.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a team compete for a conference championship,” he said. “So, you want the guys to have the confidence that we can do it, but, at the same time, understanding that it’s a day-to-day, it’s a week-to-week, thing. We can’t overlook anything. Take care of business one step at a time before we can get to that point where we’re playing for something meaningful at that point.”

With only four weeks on the field, it does not give the Huskies a lot of time to get the type of repetition in practices that the practices during the season give them, however, if used effectively, they can be a huge learning tool, which is how Mettlach and his staff approach the spring.

“Spring ball is definitely a shorter season, and you can only do so much the way we approach it,” said Mettlach. “We’re trying to not only get our young guys acclimated to our systems that they maybe don’t get a chance to do in the fall, because they’re on scout teams, reading off of cards the whole time. So, you’re trying to get those guys up to speed on what we do from an offensive or defensive special team standpoint, at the same time, getting your vets enough reps to get them better as well.

“I felt like we did a really nice job both on the offense and defense in terms of what we installed. We didn’t put a ton on the guys’ plates. The repetition, I think, was good. The guys could not only understand what we were doing, but improve on what those skills are, as well.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today