Northern Michigan football team leans toward defense on National Signing Day

MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University football team will head into training camp in August with a gapping hole in its defensive line following the graduation of starting end James Brito-White and starting all-GLIAC first-team tackle Zach Anderson of Sault Ste. Marie.

In addition, NMU loses White’s backup in Weston McIntosh, plus two key linebackers – Josh Droese and Eddie Knoblock.

Considering those losses, it’s no surprise the Wildcats’ offensive-minded, second-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky locked up 13 defensive players he locked up via National Letters of Intent on National Signing Day Wednesday at the Superior Dome.

“I think we have a great group of guys on defense coming back,” Ostrowsky said. “I think we have a bunch of guys now on the defense that can make an impact and win football games.

“With that being said, we did graduate some guys. We knew we had to get better and create depth up front. I think because of that, some valuable minutes will be played by some of these guys.”

Six of the 13 defensive signings came on the line where Anderson and White combined to make 117 tackles last season.

Two defensive linemen signings came from the state of Florida, where Ostrowsky picked up five commitments total.

Cornell Gilmore is a 6-foot, 260-pound tackle from Miami and Rodney Lamar is a 6-2, 239 lineman from Pompano Beach.

Lamar is transferring to NMU after not playing in the fall of 2012 as a junior for Florida Atlantic University, which is moving from the Sun Belt to Conference USA in 2014.

“Rodney Lamar is a transfer player that comes to us with an unbelievable amount of potential to be a great player on this level,” Ostrowsky said. “Explosive, all the things you would want in a defensive lineman.”

The other four linemen all come from Michigan – where NMU pulled in 16 total recruits – including 6-1, 317-pound Detroit Cass Tech lineman Dominick Hamilton; 6-0, 270-pound tackle Cedric Washington of Flint Southwest Academy; and JaMarco Willingham, a 6-2, 245-pound lineman from Livonia.

The linemen also includes one of two Upper Peninsula players Northern signed to scholarships in Gladstone defensive end Jared Vuksan at 6-1, 220.

He’ll be joined by Brimley native Kyle Root, who is a 6-0, 210 All-U.P. first-team running back that played at Sault Area High, the alma mater of Anderson.

“Jared is a big defensive end for us, outside linebacker type kid,” Ostrowsky said. “We’re excited as could be about him. He really came up for his visit and wowed us.”

The Wildcats only brought in two linebackers to possibly challenge for the vacancies left by Droese and Knoblock, who combined for 125 tackles.

Junior college transfer Marcus Lee is one of five recruits from Illinois at 6-1, 200-pounds. He made 64 total tackles for the College of DuPage last year.

NMU also signed Ross Querro, a 6-0, 215-pounder out of downstate Armada, plus five in the secondary.

“I would say the defensive guys have more of a chance of impact right away,” Ostrowsky said. “We felt that was a need for sure.”

Offensively, NMU added seven receivers, three running backs, an offensive lineman and quarterback.

On special teams, the Wildcats added kicker/punter John Oberheide out of Park Ridge, Ill.

NMU will enter the spring with potentially five quarterbacks, three of which were on the roster last season in senior Cody Scepaniak, redshirt freshman Ryan Morley and true freshman Jay Tollefson.

Freshman QB Chris Nelson left the program after redshirting in 2012, but was replaced by a transfer from Villanova who is already on campus, Dustin Thomas, plus the 6-4, 205-pound QB signed Wednesday in Shaye Brown of downstate Fenton.

“Obviously Cody did an amazing job for us at the end of the season,” Ostrowsky said. “We won some critical football games with him as our quarterback. What we’ve done is we’ve built a depth chart of quality football players. I don’t think with Ryan Morley becoming healthy, with the two guys we brought in, with Jay Tollefson, who we have on the roster, I don’t think that there is a guy we can’t win football games with.”

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at