Welcome to D2football.com’s Tony Nicolette

Another season, another GLIAC columnist at D2football.com. Personally I thought last year’s writer Jeff Chaney did a pretty decent job keeping us all up to date with league happenings. But if this year’s writer Tony Nicolette, a graduate of some school in Allendale, puts out a weekly column as in depth as his season preview, then we are all in for a treat. Take a look at his take on the Chargers and then read the entire piece.

One note about Tony is that he is the same age as I am, both 1994 grads, so he has seen a lot of GLIAC/MIFC football and brings a sense of the league’s history with him. He’s not old, but if he is anything like me, he probably finds himself in more and more situations where he feels like he is.

Nice job Tony! You have set the bar awfully high for yourself.

Head Coach Keith Otterbein enters his sixth season at the helm of his alma mater, and he’s hoping to take the next step with his program and get them to a winning record this year. With a fair amount of talent returning on both sides of the ball, the Chargers appear to have a good foundation from which to continue moving upward from the “mid-ranks” of both the W/L and statistical GLIAC standings.

QB Mark Nicolet (Zionsville, IN) returns for his senior campaign. He earned All-GLIAC HM plaudits as a junior, thanks in no small part to his ability to manage the game and minimize mistakes (only six INT’s in 261 attempts). He’ll be glad to see all three of his top receivers returning, including ALL-GLIAC senior WR Nick Gurica (Adrian, MI), junior WR Aaron Waldie (Sylvania, OH), and senior H-Back Derek Nelson (Jenison, MI). Nelson looks to have an even greater presence after struggling with injuries throughout parts of 2006.

The offensive line returns completely in tact after last year’s campaign that saw them relinquesh the 2nd fewest sacks in the league. Seniors Dan Stapf (Hudsonville, MI) and Chet Crowley (Concord, MI) will be the leaders of this dependable unit.

The only real offensive hole left from 2006 is at RB. 2nd Team All-GLIAC performer Phil Martin is now gone, after posting the 2nd highest career rushing total in Charger history. There doesn’t appear to be a clear cut favorite for a starter at this point, but the bulk of the carries should go to either junior Brett Lark (Alma, MI) or sophomore Vinnie Panizzi (Grosse Pointe, MI).

No doubt about, the engine that makes the Charger defense go is junior LB Tom Korte (Grand Rapids, MI). In a fantastic sophomore campaign, Korte made the All-GLIAC 1st Team by leading the conference in both tackles and forced fumbles, and snaring three interceptions. There are a lot of talented linebackers in this conference, and certainly some teams that have better corps as a hole. With that said, Korte represents the GLIAC’s gold standard for the position heading into 2007. It should be exciting for Charger fans to watch him wreak havoc week in and week out.

Looking to keep Korte free from being blocked will be a youthful group of defensive linemen lead by 2nd Team All-GLIAC selection Eric Weber (Defiance, OH). Weber was 2nd in the league in sacks in 2006, and the junior will have to help bring along a group that is very young, but does have some game experience.

Despite a fair amount of youth and inexperience along the defensive front seven, the secondary looks to be a bit more solid and established. All-GLIAC 1st-Teamer Jared Kell (Wyandotte, MI) is back for his senior season after leading the GLIAC in both interceptions and fumble recoveries a year ago. He is joined by fellow returning starters Palmer Schoening (Clarkston, MI) and Josh Hutchison (Tecumseh, MI).

There is a fair amount of marquis talent on this defense. If they can overcome their inexperience and the loss of four All-GLIAC HM players due to graduation, moving the ball against the Chargers could be a difficult proposition.

Special Teams:
Punter Matt Vanover (Adrian, MI) and kicker Mark Petro (Rocky River, OH) both return to handle their respective duties this year. WR Nick Gurica is also back. Not only was he a 1st-Team All-GLIAC pick at WR last year, but he was also a 1st-Team selection as return specialist. His 12.8 yard average per punt return was tops in the conference.

If Coach Otterbein wants to make the jump to seven or eight wins this year, he definitely has the schedule with which to do it. The Chargers have six home games this season, including hosting Tech, Wayne State, and SVSU. The most noticeable advantage of their slate is the absence of both Northwood AND Grand Valley. I can find five games on their schedule that they probably SHOULD win. If they jump up and bite just a couple more teams, where they finish in the standings could be eye opening.

Summary/Hot Questions:
I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but here is yet another team that could easily go 8-3 or 3-8, and I wouldn’t be shocked either way. While the schedule is a bit softer without GV and “The Wood”, it is still full of pitfalls for a team if they aren’t ready to go every single week. Top to bottom this is easily the most talented Charger club I’ve seen in a while, and it will be fun to see how much Coach Otterbein can get out this group of kids. The defense has a few truly special players, but can the entire platoon as a whole do a top-flight job of slowing down opposing offenses? Who in the heck is going to run the ball for this team? Can whoever does help Hillsdale establish a ground game similar to last year’s unit that held the ball the 2nd most in the league in terms of time of possession? Tom Korte had an All-GLIAC HM LB’s on either side of him last year. Can the new starters shoulder enough of the load so Korte doesn’t have to do everything himself?

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