MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Northern Michigan University Football team featured a young team throughout the 2019 season and will look to grow on the experiences they gained this year.
The Wildcats featured a squad that consisted of just 26 players in their junior or senior season, the fewest upperclassman in the league. Due to a lack of upperclass experience, it allowed for younger players to gain valuable playing time throughout the year. In the season's finale at Ashland University, NMU featured 29 freshman and sophomores with 15 juniors and seniors playing.
This youth showed they will compete in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in the future.
Freshman Tyshon King (Kankakee, Ill.) led the team with 647 yards rushing, finishing the year with seven rushing touchdowns to place him eighth in the GLIAC despite playing one fewer game than all but one player ahead of him. His 4.5 yard per carry placed him seventh.
Freshman Tyquan Cox (Chicago, Ill.) made a huge impact in the return game as he paced the GLIAC with a 27.9 kickoff return average. Against Wayne State University, he took a kickoff back 99 yards for the longest return in the GLIAC and the first kickoff return touchdown in three years for NMU. He made such an impact that it forced teams into kicking it short to avoid the danger of his returns.
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Johnson (De Pere, Wis.) was one of just four quarterbacks in the conference to reach 100 completions as he returned to the field after an injury ended his 2018 season after just two plays. He finished 2019 with eight passing touchdowns.
Defensively, sophomore Isaac Darkangelo (Brighton, Mich.) led the team and was second in the GLIAC with 10.5 tackles per game and was just one of two players in the league to average double figure tackles. The linebacker notched a career-high 17 tackles at Northwood University and finished with double digits in six games.
Both Cox and Darkangelo were named to the All-GLIAC Second Team. King was joined by senior John Kwiecinski (Plymouth, Mich.), juniors Brady Hanson (Kewaskum, Mich.) and Jay Young (New Baltimore, Mich.), sophomore Jack Reiger (Hoffman Estates, Ill.), and redshirt freshman Antonio Howard Jr. (Chicago, Ill.) in receiving Honorable Mention All-GLIAC honors.
This year's defense played a key role in the season as they led the league with 11 fumble recoveries. At Ferris State University and Michigan Technological University, the Wildcats recovered three fumbles in both games. The 11 fumble recoveries were more than double the 2018 total while this year's squad also recorded more interceptions, led by Hanson's three. Up front, the 2019 team also had more tackles for loss.
The special teams were vastly improved as well. The team allowed a yard fewer per kickoff return compared to the 2018 season while they reduced the punt return yards from 12.8 to just 3.3 yards on punt returns. The Wildcats improved their returns by over a yard on both kick returns and punt returns. The kicking game saw sophomore Daniel Riser (Ada, Mich.) hit a career long 50-yard field goal against Saginaw Valley State University after hitting one from 46 yards the previous week at Northwood University. Kwiecinski earned his Honorable Mention status after he improved his per punt average by nearly a yard, and put 17 punts inside the 20.
The 2019 season may not have had the wins the team wanted, but the season saw a large number of young student-athletes gain valuable experience. As the team is expected to lose just five total starters, the future looks promising for the NMU Football program heading into 2020.