By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — The Traverse City Wolves are back.
After opening the season on the road last week with a 28-0 victory over the Southeast Michigan Mercenaries, the Wolves will be in action at home today at 5 p.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
A year ago, the Wolves finished 5-5 and just missed out on the playoffs. This marks the fourth year for the Wolves and their second season in the Great Midwest Football League. Second-year head coach Rick Micham recently talked about his team and the season with the Record-Eagle.
R-E: What were your biggest impression from the first game?
RM: I made the decision to step Tyler Alpers up to defensive coordinator. He had been a starting captain for me basically since the inception of the team. We've basically kept the same defense year to year, so he was able to step in and get the job done, better than I could've, in my opinion. Being head coach and being able to delegate two other people who can get the job done for you really helped us start the season off strong. We had a leg up defensively in that first game. That's expected, based on our history.
R-E: I'm sure Tyler brings a different perspective, since as a (former) player on the team, he's been out there doing it.
RM: And that's something I haven't done since high school. Like I said, it was probably one of the best moves we could have made this year, putting him in that position. I've been coaching right around 10 years and I was fortunate that I was able to call plays on defense my very first year, and almost every year since. Letting go of that was kind of hard, but it was the right thing to do. But this was the first game where I was able to watch the whole thing and orchestrate the sideline stuff that I couldn't do prior when I was calling the defensive plays.
R-E: How many new players are on the team this year?
RM: I bet we're pushing close to 60 percent. Not necessarily first-year players, but new to us as an organization. A lot of the guys that are back have been with us since Year 1. Brian Mauer, Pablo Bocardo. Those are two guys that have been with the club from the get-go.
R-E: What are some strengths with the new players you have?
RM: We have a lot of talent at defensive backs and the receiving corp. Pablo's younger brother, Emilio, he came out really young last year. Just that extra year of growing in age, he's showing much more poise this year. He'll be a go-to player (at receiver) for a long time, I think, if we don't loose him to college. Which is our goal as well. We want to send them off somewhere.
Of course I'd like to dress 55 guys, but being northern Michigan, we have logistics to deal with. It's a challenge for us up here to dress the number of players we want, when they're not getting paid to do what they're doing. It's just the love of the game. And it shows on the field. Every team we play says we're one of the hardest hitting teams. That comes with being northern Michigan footballers. Even the guys that come up from Muskegon and Grand Rapids, when they come up here, they adopt our attitude in a hurry. We try to carry on the (former TC Central coach Jim) Ooley era. He set the pace many years ago and we're just trying to follow in his footsteps.
R-E: Who are a couple of impact players this year on offense?
RM: One is (quarterback) Brian Mauer. We had never really looked at him at the quarterback position, which may have been a coaching mishap. I worked him out at defensive back the first couple years. Last year in our first game, our starting quarterbacks went out in a hurry. Brian was actually injured too, but when he got healthy he stepped in and became a great leader for us.
A new player coming up from the Detroit Diesel is Jon Craven. He's a very fast receiver, he's got a great attitude and he's an instant leader. The only reason he's not a captain is because he's not a returning player. We just need him to get used to the northern way a little bit.
R-E: On defense?
RM: Returner from Year 1 and an All-Star two of the three years is Tim Ohlert, a lockdown corner for us. We throw him on the offense as well, because he has a motor that doesn't quit. Another player defensively, (end) Maurice Gilmar. He's been making a lot of the practices and is just moving his family here from Saginaw. He found a job here, he loves what we have to offer. He's a big boy and has been a two-way player for us. He's very dedicated to his new organization, and his attitude just rolls over to everybody else.
R-E: And on special teams, you've got (kicker) Pablo Bocardo back?
RM: Pablo's still kicking. He's got a great deep ball. Compared to some of these semi-pro teams, he's got such a level head that we're comfortable trying to get the three points when we need it. A lot teams will go for two-point conversions because their kicker isn't so good, but he's nearly perfect on extra points. We're excited to have him back. We can throw him in at linebacker — he had a pick-six in our first game. We don't start him on defense because of his foot, but he's ready to go at any time. And, he can take snaps at fullback. He's probably our No. 1 utility player.
R-E: You're sitting 1-0 so you're off to a good start, but realistically what are your expectations for the season?
RM: Undefeated is always our No. 1 goal and you're disappointed if you don't get that. Of course we want to win every game, but we have to make playoffs. If we don't make playoffs, it's a failure. I don't want to make playoffs at 7-3, I want to make playoffs at 10-0. That's the way you're supposed to do it. I believe in our league, we have probably the second hardest schedule, playing the (Detroit) Ravens, the (Michigan) Gators, the (Metro Detroit) Wolverines and the Cougars. Those four teams are actually top 10 teams in the state right now out of all the semi-pro teams. If we can get through them with wins, that just sets us up for the playoffs. We won't see tougher teams.