MARQUETTE, Mich. – Homecoming has special meaning on a college campus. This year on the Northern Michigan University campus is no exception. Thirty- five plus members from the Northern Michigan University 1975 NCAA Division II National Championship football team will be back in Marquette for its 35th year celebration. It just seemed like yesterday they won the national championship. Many old stories will be told and embellished over the weekend.
Activities will begin for the group Thursday (Sept. 23) and go through the alumni reception Saturday (Sept. 25) after the football game against Ashland. Team members will be the grand marshals for the NMU Homecoming Parade Saturday (Sept. 25). The parade route will leave from the Superior Dome parking lot, travel up Fair Avenue, down Third Street to Hewitt, return back up Front Street and end at the Superior Dome.
The 1975 squad had the best improvement in NCAA football history. NMU ended the 1974 season with a 0-10 record. The 1975 Wildcats defeated Western Kentucky in the Camellia Bowl, 16-14, to finish the season 13-1. In the semifinals against Livingstone College the 'Cats scored 28 points in the second quarter and held on to win the game (28-26) to advance to the championship game. NMU defeated Boise State in the first playoff game in 1975 (24-21) to begin its march to a national title.
Current NMU defensive coordinator, Randy Awrey, raced 67 yards on the first play of the third quarter for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. He ended the game with 111 yards on 11 carries. Quarterbacking the team was Steve Mariucci. He threw for 133 yards on 5-14-1. Maurice Mitchell was on the receiving end of four of Mariucci's passes. He ended the game with 113 yards and a touchdown.
According the Awrey the reunion has special meaning to all the team members. "To get together and see guys you do not get to see very often is really nice. It is a brotherhood," said Awrey. "To go through the year of 1974 and then having all the guys pull together for the title in 1975 it was just one of those magical times when things just fell into place."
Two of the assistant coaches from the 1975 staff were Herb Grenke and Carl "Buck" Nystrom. According to Dan Stencil, a member of the squad, Nystrom had a big influence on the players. "People believed it's a team," said Stencil. "A team that works hard together anything is possible."
According to Stencil, Nystrom won several championships including the 1956 Rose Bowl when he was a member of the Michigan State team and game MVP. He was an assistant coach at North Dakota State when they won a national champion and at Oklahoma. In all he was a member of five national championship teams either as a player or coach. "It rubbed off on us. He (Nystrom) told us to savor the moment and hold it close," said Stencil.
The 1975 team picked up some hardware such as the "Timmie" Award presented by the Touchdown Club of Washington to the NCAA II Team of the Year, the John F. Kennedy Cup awarded by the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, the Camellia Bowl championship trophy and the NCAA National Collegiate Championship Award.
Lifelong friendships are still going strong with members of the 1975 team. Awrey added it was a fantastic time with special memories, but more important some fantastic friendships. Stencil spoke along the same line, stating his best friends today are his football friends from NMU.