Northern Michigan RBs Jurasin, Collier fast tracking comebacks in spring season

MARQUETTE – Marquette native, Ishpeming High School graduate and Northern Michigan University sophomore Wyatt Jurasin said this week he’s willing to do whatever the Wildcats’ coaching staff asks of him.

If they tell him to run through a wall, he’ll run through it. If they want him to tackle that same wall, he’ll do that too.

Honestly though, Jurasin would rather run through that wall than tackle it.

“I love having the ball,” Jurasin said. “Running back is a lot more fun for me. I have a natural feel and I just enjoy running the ball.”

After bouncing between linebacker and running back since the start of his collegiate career in 2011, Jurasin finds himself as a full-time running back this spring at Northern, sharing repetitions with another young back in freshman Keon Collier, who is recovering from a broken leg.

Both are getting a boost in playing time during practices and scrimmages with junior running back Casey Cotta sitting out this semester to save NCAA eligibility.

Cotta emerged as the ‘Cats feature back late in 2012 while Jurasin, Collier and a slew of others sat on the sidelines and watched due to injuries.

Cotta’s loss has turned into the young running backs’ gain as the ball carriers receive valuable reps with the first and second team offense in preparation for the fall 2013 season.

“We feel good about the fact that we got guys who have done it with Casey Cotta coming back in the fall,” said Rob Boss, NMU’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator. “We have guys that are young and are talented and working right now. There’s nothing better that we could have than this spring because it really gives them a chance to be able get some reps and get some of that experience that we need them to have when we get into the fall.”

Jurasin is no stranger to playing on both sides of the ball, having done so as a Hematite under head coach Jeff Olson, but he’s best known for being a linebacker on the football field.

At IHS, Jurasin was a Detroit Free Press First-Team All-State linebacker and an All-U.P. Dream Team linebacker during his senior season in 2010, which is why he began his collegiate career in 2011 under former NMU head coach Bernie Anderson and former defensive coordinator Randy Awrey as a linebacker.

As a true freshman with senior linebacker Eddie Knoblock out due to injury, Jurasin appeared in all 11 games for NMU and was named the team’s defensive newcomer of the year.

It wasn’t until last season, prior to a game at Ohio Dominican, that NMU began experimenting with Jurasin in the offensive backfield.

After playing the first two weeks at linebacker, Jurasin got six carries for 21 yards in Week 3 at ODU, as well as an undisclosed injury that sat him the rest of the season.

“The one thing about Wyatt is he is a big, fast athlete,” Boss said. “He’s a guy that can do a lot of things purely off of ability. The biggest thing for him is to understand the footwork, understand his assignments. The more he can come along mentally, the better he’ll be because he has a lot of physical gifts.”

Jurasin’s move from linebacker to running back was in part because of the loss of Collier in Week 2 at home against Wisconsin-La Crosse. The true freshman, playing in only his second collegiate game, broke his ankle in the fourth quarter.

Collier only carried the ball 14 times last year, but finished fourth in rushing with 107 total yards and an average of 7.6 yards per carry. He caught a pair of passes as well for 30 yards, but is still awaiting that first collegiate touchdown through the air or ground.

“He seems to have the explosion that he had in the fall,” Boss said about Collier’s recovery. “He’s able to change direction still, able to cut off of that ankle and that’s been very promising.”

Collier said in the two games he played in 2012, he gained a good understanding of how fast the game moves at the NCAA Division II level, plus a few dos and don’ts.

Sitting on the sidelines also helped him better understand head coach Chris Ostrowsky’s offense by watching his teammates and immersing himself deeper into the playbook.

Collier didn’t lose a year of NCAA eligibility because the injury happened so early in the season, adding to the blessing in disguise which was the freshman’s broken leg.

“The fact that I’m actually out here now, and I’m able to do the things that I was held back from because of the injury, it just feels real good to be out here and be with the team,” Collier said.

“It was an unfortunate thing that had to happen, but overall, it helped with the knowledge aspect of the game.

“I’m just trying to be ready in August. We’re trying to win some games around here.”

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.