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Rock football kicks off season with southern road trip

The+Rock+opens+the+season+in+third+place+in+the+PSAC-West+pre-season+coaches%27+poll.
The Rock opens the season in third place in the PSAC-West pre-season coaches' poll.

The Rock opens the season in third place in the PSAC-West pre-season coaches' poll.

Rebecca Dietrich

Rebecca Dietrich

The Rock opens the season in third place in the PSAC-West pre-season coaches' poll.

Stephen Cukovich, Assistant Sports Editor

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With many new faces, such as a new quarterback, The Rock football looks to kick off the 2017 season this weekend as the team travels down south to Frankfort, KY to face the Kentucky State Thorobreds on Saturday starting at 1:30 p.m.

Coach Shawn Lutz enters his second season as the program’s head coach after posting a 7-4 record in his first season.  This Saturday will mark the first meeting between The Rock and the Thorobreds, with another match-up in the future already in place to start the 2018 season.  Coach Lutz mentioned that preparing for an unknown opponent can prove to be a challenge at times.

“We just gotta slow things down and really reinforce,” said coach Lutz.  “We might not be able to do as many things as we’ve done before from a schematics stand point, but it’s gotta be reinforced more with film sessions on paper like studying your notes and scale some things back on the things we do on defense, because you loose games when you make mental errors.”

When the Green and White goes on their road trip this weekend, it will be the first game in four years where The Rock has played on natural grass.  In 2013 the team played on natural grass twice, beating Northwood, MI 51-36, while losing to Winston-Salem State in the playoffs that year 27-20.  Coach Lutz said it is a mental thing, but it shouldn’t matter because everyone should be excited to play some football.

“We will see the field on Friday,” said Coach Lutz.  “We’re going to go there just to walk the field so they can see the visiting locker room, see that grass, and get that out of their minds.”

Up until the team came out of preseason camp, The Rock still hadn’t named their starting quarterback, but now redshirt senior Tanner Garry has been named the starter for week one.  Garry was on the team last year, but sat out after transferring for a second time.

“One thing about Tanner Garry is he’ll make any type of throw out there,” said coach Lutz.  “He can throw the ball from one hash all the way to the other, not always sayin it is going to get the guys hands, but he can throw the deep ball.”

After playing for Fort Cherry High School where he set many school records, Garry started his collegiate career at Bowling Green, followed by three seasons with Youngstown State.  Saturday will mark Garry’s first collegiate start and first start since high school in 2011.

Senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson looks to put together his best season yet after joining the program last fall and pulling in 54 catches for 898 yards, and 13 touchdowns.  In the back field more changes follow, as redshirt freshman Chacar Berry is to get the start, with redshirt senior Isiah Neely expected to see a good number of the carries as well.

“The perfect game would be 20 and 20 carries each because they are basically both the starters,” said coach Lutz.  “You wanna split them up.  It is a long season, a long game just pounding.”

The offensive line looks to continue to get stronger and allow the skilled players to run the show.  Four of the five starters are returning from last year, with the exception Northwestern University graduate transfer Ian Park at right guard.  Redshirt junior Steve Gaviglia will protect at right tackle, while redshirt senior Jim Popa moves from guard to center.  On the left side, redshirt junior Austin Fields will stay at guard, and redshirt sophomore Chris Larsen tops off the left side at tackle.

“Hopefully we will be better and win the game up front with the offensive line,” said coach Lutz.  “I hope our strength factor type of football we play in the PSAC will overwhelm them.”

This year’s Rock football team welcomes 16 freshman to the team who will either start or work as back-ups, with 11 of them on the defensive side of the ball.  The Green and White plan to start four redshirt freshmen, and two true freshman in week one.  Cornerback De’Vajan Franklin and linebacker Trysten McDonald are the true freshman who will start this Saturday, while redshirt freshmen linebackers Tim Vernick and Dylan Whiteman join McDonald in The Rock’s typical 4-3 defense.

The defense has more new faces than familiar ones with just three potential starters returning to the lineup.  Redshirt senior defensive end Marcus Martin, who sits at sixth in career sacks for Division II football with 40.5.  Junior safety Kyle Hall who started three games last year will see some playing time, as well as redshirt senior DB Delmar Henderson.  Coach Lutz hopes the young guys feed off players who have been around and have great work ethics like Martin.

“You hope they learn from one guy who could be the best ever at playing defense in college football in Marcus Martin,” said coach Lutz.  “The way his work ethic is all about and some other guys we have on defense like the Delmar Hendersons, the Kyle Halls, and they learn from those guys.”

The team captains for the 2017 season will include Martin, Henderson, Park, and redshirt senior wide receiver Milly Raye.

The revamped Rock team will look to get things going this weekend against an unfamiliar opponent.  The Thorobreds were 4-7 last season, and scored a total of 194 points last year compared to The Rocks 390.  Kentucky beat out SRU last year in the run game with 1,654 rushing yards compared to 1,562, however The Rock dominated through the air last year with 3,234 passing yards compared to the Thorobreds’ 1,220.

“I really think the players have really bought into everything we are all about,” said coach Lutz.  “These guys have really bought into doing all the little things.  They’re hungry, they don’t really know any better maybe, and you can really get on this football team and hold these guys accountable whether it is positive or negative.”

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Rock football kicks off season with southern road trip