All times Eastern
Thursday, August 25 – at Traverse City West, 7 p.m.
Thursday, September 1 — at Alpena, 7 p.m.
Saturday, September 10 — GAYLORD, 6 p.m.
Friday, September 16 — at Kingsford, 7 p.m.
Friday, September 23 – GLADSTONE, 7 p.m.
Friday, September 30 — ESCANABA, 7 p.m.
Friday, October 7 — at Menominee, 7 p.m.
Friday, October 14 – MIDLAND, 7 p.m.
Friday, October 21 — PETOSKEY, 7 p.m.
MARQUETTE — There’s no doubt that the Marquette High School football program will get a facelift this season after losing many players from last year’s qualified senior class.
This fall, the MSHS team will be young, but from head coach Eric Mason’s perspective, talent won’t be an issue.
With what has arguably been the best team on the Upper Peninsula in recent years, the Redmen have been on a roll with four straight Great Northern Conference titles and three consecutive MHSAA playoff appearances.
With that kind of success, Mason must have seen quite a few good players leave in recent years. Even though turnover happens every season at high schools, recent MSHS alumni showed their faces to lend a helping hand to future Redmen prospects.
“The best thing about them is their leadership,” said Mason. “This summer the majority of them came in and led our off-season program, they helped out with a lot of our training and just volunteered.
“They want to be part of the program, they’re good examples, and I think any time you bring alumni back, that’s a good thing.”
Marquette had nine players in this summer’s UP Football All Star Game, the most of any school. Several players in this group now play college football. The Redmen lost three-year-old starting quarterback Austin Ridl and the “strategist” of the Desmond Mullen defense, as described by Mason.
As much as this group had done for the program, it’s time to turn the page on a new group of Redmen.
Despite the loss of qualified personnel, this area will not be a problem for this year’s team. For example, at quarterback, there is no clear starter, but instead two players can shine with different skills.
Junior Jack Quinnell has been playing football since his youth and brings a savvy, veteran mindset to the center. Sophomore Jaxon Jurmu is only in his second year of football, but he has already shone with his athleticism and skill.
Mason is high on both guys and said he expects them both to be on the court most Friday nights.
In the backfield, Nate Benninger returns, while newcomer Tucker Welch plays football for the first time with a hockey roster. Peter Closner, at 6ft 4in, will line up everywhere for the Redmen to impact the game.
Other talents Mason says to look for include Wyatt Lakenen, Jacob MacPhee, Curtis Houghton and Adam DuVall.
Last season, MSHS fired five linemen from the previous year, but this year none returned. Theo Adams is making his football debut after leaving hockey and he’ll turn some heads at guard, according to the head coach.
“We have very good athletes here; I would put this group up athletically with any of the previous groups we’ve had,” said Mason. “It’s just a matter of experience level to level them up and make them understand what we’re trying to do.”
The Redmen open with long drives downstate on back-to-back Thursdays at Traverse City West this week and Alpena next week.
MSHS plays its first home game in Week 3 hosting Gaylord on a Saturday afternoon, then dives into its four GNC contests over the following consecutive weeks with road trips to Kingsford and Menominee and home dates with Escanaba and Gladstone.
The Redmen end the regular season with two straight home games against another pair of Lower Peninsula schools, Midland and Petoskey.
The schedule hasn’t gotten any easier this year for Marquette, and the season itself won’t be easy with several newcomers.
Once the Redmen can combine their physical abilities with their mental ones, a fifth consecutive GNC title could be on the way.
“A big part of it is you have to slow things down, back things up, you can’t go at the same speed as the year before,” said Mason. “It’s about backing things up and making sure the players understand things. This group has been fantastic, they’ve been sponges.
Travis Nelson can be reached by email at [email protected]