Becoming the Record Year
By Rebecca Tavernini ’11 MA and Jen Dobias
Marcus Tucker has been an impact player for the Northern Michigan University football team since arriving in Marquette in 2013. As a wide receiver he led the team in receiving yards each of the past two seasons and is on pace to accomplish the feat again this year. In the Wildcats’ game against Quincy Sept. 12, he tied the single-game record with three touchdown catches.
With the football Wildcats steering one of the best seasons in years, Tucker says the energy and attitude of the team is what’s making it happen. “The excitement level is through the roof—the team feels it, the fans feel it. If we’re not winning, every week we’re just a play away,” he said. “The foundation is being set and in the next few years the bar will just get higher and higher. I’m looking for these younger guys to continuously be in contention.”
They’ve come a long way in the short period of time since Tucker transferred into the program from Mott Community College in Flint. “When I got here we were a joke in the league, and now there’s not a team that wants to come and play us. To go from that to where we are now, I can only give that to our coaching staff and to our team for believing in our own selves. The only people who believed we had a chance were the people in our locker room.”
That sense of possibility and passion are what ended up bringing Tucker to Northern—and football—in a roundabout manner. Just a few years ago he was playing basketball for Lake Michigan College. “My parents didn’t have money to send me to college, so although my heart was in the game of football I played basketball to make something happen and go to college after I became academically ineligible for football,” he recalled. “While I did well on the team, I felt that I was taking up somebody else’s dream. That just didn’t feel right. I quit and went back home to live with my mom and dad.”
With football still calling his spirit, he took his junior reel from his high school football days and used it to shop around. It eventually landed in front of NMU Coach Ostrosky. “I ended up coming up here and fell in love with the program and the people. I felt like Northern was where I needed to be.”
“There’s a spirit here in the U.P. not like anything I’ve experienced before—it’s in everyone’s demeanor, how they approach you and talk, everyone’s so kind-hearted, outgoing and willing to help. That’s really how people are here—it’s contagious. I can’t explain how much that meant to me coming from the city.”
As Tucker heads toward graduation in May with a degree in criminal justice he is hoping to stay in the game, using his experience to help other young men as a coach. He is following a path blazed by both of his parents—his mother, Cynthia, the first African American police officer in Holly, Mich., and his father, Marcus, a community-minded businessman who has always been involved with coaching. “Ideally I would love to be around my family [now in Texas], but where my heart feels like it needs to go is where I’ll go,” he said.
“Being a Wildcat is a lifestyle. I like to call it the ‘Wildcat Way.’ NMU gave me an opportunity to become a better athlete and young man. When I obtain my degree, I will walk across the stage as the first one in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. The bonds that I’ve made at Northern with my teammates, coaches and friends will carry me into the next phase of my life. I am blessed to be a part of this institution, and I am blessed to have done things the ‘Wildcat Way.’”
STATS // 2014 SEASON
Ranked 1st in the GLIAC averaging 21.1 yards per catch
Ranked 4th overall in the GLIAC for all-purpose yards averaging 154.9 yards/game
7th in the league with seven touchdowns
Top receiver for the Wildcats, making 40 receptions
Awards: 2014 Second Team All-GLIAC, 2014 NMU Offensive MVP, 2013 Offensive Newcomer of the Year
NMU Golf Ranked Number one in the Midwest
During the 2015-2016 season, Golfstat has ranked the Northern Michigan University men’s golf team as the number one team in the Midwest region, which contains 32 NCAA Division II teams. Golfstat also ranks the team No. 19 in the nation, out of a field of 217 teams. The Wildcats began at No. 17 in the region this season and were ranked No. 9 going into the NCAA Midwest Fall Regional. At the regional, however, they finished second overall. Golfstat’s rankings are based on head-to-head wins against regional invitational action. The top 10 teams in each region advance to an NCAA Super Regional.
“It’s exciting. It definitely wasn’t one of our goals, but it’s a really cool thing,” said Head Coach Kyle Wittenbach, “It gives us a really good chance to make it into the NCAA post season in the spring and that’s probably the best thing about it.” Wittenbach also said that the road leading to this accomplishment has been short. “Nobody expected us to be number one. We started the year with three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior in our lineup,” Wittenbach said, “So we don’t have any seniors consistently playing. This has all been a combination of last year’s principles and the returning players pulling the new, strong, freshman players right into our fast-paced, high-energy system that we have going, and it’s worked out really well.“
The main goal for the team is to compete in the NCAA Super Regional tournament in NMU’s region. However, a new goal has been set to qualify for the national tournament. Wittenbach said, “I’d be on the moon if we could do that.” To achieve this goal, the team will have to place in the top five teams out of 20 teams at the Super Regional tournament.
NMU now has men’s and women’s golf teams. “The women’s golf inaugural year as a program is looking to be a good one,” Wittenbach commented. “This diverse group of women is going to set the bar for NMU women’s golf for years to come.” The women’s team is composed of six freshmen, a sophomore and transfer student Avery Rochester, who was the high school D1 Upper Peninsula Champion for three years in a row.
His expectations for the women’s team are as high or higher for next season as the men’s team. “Our men are number one this year, and I’m not saying that means we are going to be number one for the next 10 years, but I wouldn’t expect us to become irrelevant any time soon. Both teams are going to be hopefully winning tournaments and competing for conference and NCAA championships for every year from here on out.”
Making a Splash
The 2015-2016 season is the first for the NMU men’s swimming and diving team since the program went dormant in 1980. “The season has been going awesome. The men recently went up against a very strong St. Cloud team, which has been within the top 20 teams in the country, and we only lost by a little bit so we were very competitive,” said Head Coach Heidi Voigt. “The women have benefited, too; the more people, the more support, which they have been feeding off of and they’ve been working really hard.”
In the program’s returning season, the men’s team has already set records. “All of the backstroke records have been broken. Quite a few others have also been broken. I expect that after we start resting, and after conference, there should be quite a few more old records coming down.”
The new men’s team has quite a few international student- athletes competing. The roster includes athletes from Latvia, Lithuania, Turkey, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Mexico. The ability to be able to cast such a wide recruiting net comes from social media and Internet outlets. “We receive emails several times a day that go to all college coaches and I think we do a really good job responding and selling Northern. Potential recruits check out our Facebook page and see that we’re having fun, training hard and doing well. I think that all helps,” said Voigt.
“I think that once people see our program and where we are, more recruits will come. They will know what their expectations are and what our expectations are for our program: we want to win as much as any Division I team,” said Voigt. “It’s also about the whole student athlete experience: taking everything into academics as well as athletics.”
Voigt said she hopes to see the teams become GLIAC champions in the future. “We have a little ways to go before that, but we’ve been closer every year. That’s always been our goal for the women’s and now the men’s program as well—to get to the highest level that we can. We’d love to be a top ten team at the NCAA. Those are always the goals.”
Going the Distance
The Northern Michigan University women’s cross-country team has experienced quite a bit of success recently. They have been ranked number eight in the NCAA Division II women’s cross country national coaches’ poll, released by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. They finished second out of 35 at the Roy Griak Invitational, the largest collegiate cross-country race in the nation. The team also placed second at the Conference Crossover Invitational behind Grand Valley, which is ranked as the number two team in the country.
“It’s really exciting. We’ve been building the team up for quite a few years and we’ve been getting closer and closer to making the national championships. The team’s been getting stronger every year, and it’s really fun and exciting to see all of the hard work pay off,” said Head Coach Jenny Ryan ‘02 MS. “We have a good shot at doing really well at the conference championships as well.”
The goals for the team for the rest of the season include placing well at the GLIAC conference championships and qualifying for the national championships at the NCAA Regional meet. To achieve this goal, the Wildcats will have to place in the top six teams overall at the regional. “We would like to not only go there,” said Ryan, “but have a good performance at the national championships. I think if we run well and everything goes well, we could be in the top ten in the country.”
“These student-athletes are also very good academically. This team usually has the top GPA of any of the teams. Last year, all seven of our regional runners got the All Academic Award, for which you had to be in the top 30 percent of the race and have a 3.25 GPA. We were only one of three teams in the entire country to have all seven of our student-athletes receive that award,” Ryan said. “I hope to showcase that cross-country running is a strong program here at NMU, not only athletically but academically as well.”