MARQUETTE, Mich. -Saturday will mark the final home game for 12 seniors on the Northern Michigan University football team. The class entered in 2006 with 32 members when Bernie Anderson and current staff members Joe Ballard and Tom Wender joined the Wildcat family. Of those 32, two played their true freshman year and finished their eligibility. Now only seven remain from the original class, with the other five being transfers.
On the offensive side of the ball there is wide receiver Dustin Brancheau, a local product from Ishpeming, Mich. Entering this season Brancheau had hauled in 67 receptions for 689 yards and four touchdowns. Brancheau has caught 33 balls for 475 yards and five touchdowns during the 2010 campaign.
Moving to the tight end position Blake Crider (Fenton, Mich.) had hauled in 15 receptions for 207 yards and two scores. This season Crider has two catches for 41 yards and one touchdown. The 6-5, 260 pound beast has been a physical threat throughout his career in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
Heading down to the trenches the ‘Cats say goodbye to Jason DuMont (Racine, Wis.) and Mike Levy (South Bend, Ind.). DuMont has been a starter the last two seasons at left guard. Battled by some early injuries DuMont has overcome the grueling pain that offensive linemen deal with to be a stunning part of the NMU running game. Levy has been a reserved offensive tackle and the ‘Cats starting short snapper for the last four years.
Now looking at the dark side of the ball the ‘Cats will salute two defensive linemen in DJ Catalano (Belle Mead, N.J.) and Tyler Kruzel (Boyne City, Mich.). The Jersey Shore (Catalano) sensation has been a big threat for opposing offenses. Catalano coming into this season recorded 54 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. This season Catalano has registered 37 tackles. Kruzel who has handled the long snapping duties this season for punts has recorded six total tackles.
Outside linebackers John Blessing (Birch Run, Mich.) and Eric Wells (Agoura Hills, Calif.) will be missed with their outside presence. Entering this season, Blessing tallied 100 total tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks. This season Blessing has 39 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, one fumble recovery and 1.5 sacks. Wells who joined the ‘Cats last season from College of the Canyons has found a spot right at home on the outside as he tallied 18 tackles in 2009.
Wells has nearly doubled those numbers this season with 36 total tackles. He also has one interception and two forced fumbles on the year.
Heading into the secondary NMU is losing the head hunter himself Ricky Neaves (Cooper City, Fla.), DJ Oke (Royal Oak, Mich.) and Junior Michel (Delray Beach, Fla.) Neaves can be remembered by his attempts of laying the knockout hits on the gridiron. Entering this year Neaves has a total of 89 total tackles and 5.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack. This season Neaves has 34 tackles, one interception with two forced fumbles.
Oke who is the fastest Wildcat on the team with his nearly four second forty-yard dash is fifth on the team with 41 tackles and two interceptions. Michel who transferred in last season from Rock Valley College has a career-high 37 total tackles with an interception. This season Michel has battled some injuries, but has been able to earn 14 total tackles.
Finally we look at the special teams’ phase of the game with the flow master himself Anthony Leandri (Clearwater, Fla.) Leandri has handled the kickoffs and field goal duties over the years. His career longest was a 49-yard boot against Michigan Tech back in 2007 which earned him GLIAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Come to the Superior Dome this Saturday for a 1 p.m. kickoff as the seniors and rest of the ‘Cats host Saginaw Valley Sate University.
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Story by Michael Levy