NMU football: Trust is strong between Wildcats QB, receivers heading into homecoming vs. Ohio Dominican

MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan University junior wide receiver Marcus Tucker believes in himself.

The first-year Wildcat out of Mott Community College and Grand Blanc High School believes in his capabilities and what he can do on the field.

But to have his quarterback, senior Cody Scepaniak, feel the same way, well that’s pretty special, Tucker said.

“He believes that when he throws that ball up, I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be,” Tucker said. “I’m just trying to be where I’m supposed to be. It’s a great feeling when we are on the same page and everything works out.”

Tucker, in his first game since transferring to NMU this fall, made four catches for 65 yards against Findlay in Week 1, but no catch was more significant than a 23-yard touchdown reception from Scepaniak with 56 seconds to go in the first half of the 41-31 GLIAC victory.

With an Oiler defender blanketing him in the back of the end zone, Tucker reached around the arm in front of him to make a leaping grab that gave the Wildcats a 31-7 lead heading into halftime.

It was the kind of throw one would expect Scepaniak to make only to an experienced receiver like senior Christian Jessie, not a transfer who was playing his first game in green and gold.

It was the kind of throw a quarterback can make only if he has complete trust in his receiver.

Scepaniak said he does.

“I just can’t throw the ball up there and say go get it if I don’t trust you,” Scepaniak said. “It could end up in an interception or batted ball.

“I’m real excited we have that kind of trust.”

Of the 16 receivers on NMU’s roster heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. Homecoming game against Ohio Dominican (2-0 overall, 1-0 in GLIAC) at the Superior Dome, six are freshmen or redshirt freshmen, three are transfers and four others have nine career catches or less.

Jessie, who nearly cleared his own height of 5-foot-9 to make a leaping catch in double coverage last week, and junior Kelvin Smarwt, who caught five balls for 48 yards vs. Findlay after making 16 grabs in all of 2012, are the Wildcats’ only returning receivers with significant experience from a year ago since junior Julian Gaines is now doubtful to play a snap this season.

To help get the new receivers up to speed, head coach Chris Ostrowsky gave his quarterbacks and wide receivers a significant amount of snaps during the preseason and that’s continued into the regular season.

Tucker said those hours in practice are the reason trust existed between he and Scepaniak against Findlay.

“The hours we have put in is tremendous,” Tucker said. “It’s obviously shown itself on the field. (Scepaniak) believes in me. He trusts in my ability and I believe in him.

“As the season gets rolling and as our confidence builds with each other, as our trust level builds with each other, I’ll be able to make more plays and he’ll have the confidence to look my way every now and then.”

Tucker admitted to struggling with the Wildcats’ offense at first, but with the regular season underway, he’s adjusted, though still learning.

Jessie said what has helped the new class of receivers adapt is the simplification of the offense compared to years past.

That’s allowed players like Tucker to focus more on catching the ball – the only way to earn a QB’s trust, according to Jessie – rather than reads and routes, Jessie said.

“We’re running a lot less plays, but we’re doing it real fast,” Jessie said. “My freshman year, my first year here, we put a thousand plays in. It was so hard, I couldn’t even remember to run a bubble on a backside of zone. It was crazy.”

Trust between Scepaniak and his receivers will be key Saturday against an ODU defense that has already forced six fumbles with four recoveries, plus an interception in two convincing victories over Georgetown (Ky.) and Hillsdale.

In their GLIAC opener at home against the Chargers last week, ODU scored 16 points by only running 1:41 off the clock via plays by GLIAC Special Teams Player of the Week Di’Andre Harrison.

The sophomore defensive lineman blocked a punt through the back of the end zone for a safety, the recovered a fumble in the end zone. In between those scores, ODU’s Brandon Schoen capped a 3-play, 49-yard, 47-second drive with a 39-yard TD run.

“They are pretty good in all three phases,” Ostrowsky said. “Their offense has been really special. Their defense, like Findlay’s, is a defense that scores points.

“You are what you emphasize. I think we really work on understanding the importance of ball security and at the same time, creating turnovers on defense. I hope that shows on Saturday.”