NMU football: South Florida pipeline reaches Wildcats in Marquette

MARQUETTE – There was no upside during the last fall when the Northern Michigan University football team was forced to spin the quarterback carousel.

From the first August practice until the end of the season in November, injuries forced Wildcats head coach Chris Ostrowsky to work with five quarterbacks as regulars.

The team ended the season with true freshman Shaye Brown as the starter and running back Austin Young, who starred as a QB at Escanaba High School, as his backup.

But a silver lining has started to appear as multiple returning quarterbacks now have game experience and several quality recruits have been brought into the fold.

One of the newcomers who is getting a chance to show his stuff and learn the Wildcats’ system during spring practice is Jaranta Lewis of Weston, Fla., a recruit who was announced during the February signing period, but has been enrolled at NMU since the start of winter semester.

Lewis, at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, last played in 2012 at Cypress Bay High School in a suburb of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

His high school played in Class 8A, the equivalent of Division 1 football in Michigan, where he started for three years.

Ostrowsky has connections in southern Florida, a hotbed of major college football talent. Currently a half-dozen NMU players are from that area, but the coach said the number may double by the time practice restarts in August.

Lewis said he was first told about NMU by Wildcats sophomore-to-be receiver DeMarco Haynes, who lived about 20 miles away from Lewis in Hollywood Beach, another Miami-Fort Lauderdale suburb.

“He told me I should check it out and that coach might want to talk to me,” Lewis said.

Ostrowsky said one of Lewis’ biggest strengths is his poise and decision-making on the field.

“He keeps his head in the game,” the coach said. “His football intelligence is very high, he’s a very fluid athlete and his arm strength is excellent.”

He added that while Brown could be considered the front-runner for the fall starting job as last year’s end-of-the-season starter, the position is in actuality an open competition between Brown, Lewis, junior Dustin Thomas, who broke his wrist midway through the 2013 season, and sophomore Ryan Morley, who was out with an injury all fall.

Each could see plenty of time under center in Saturday’s spring football game to be played in the Superior Dome at 4:30 p.m.

Since coming to Marquette, Lewis says he doesn’t mind the cold, not even on the first day of practice three weeks ago when the Wildcats were forced outside when the indoor turf couldn’t be rolled out.

“It was cold, really cold,” Lewis said with a smile. “But it wasn’t too bad. Once you got moving, it was easy to stay warm.

“But my fingers were really cold. I think I fumbled the ball three times.”

On that day, March 18, snow was steadily falling, the wind was blowing a bit and temperatures were in the 20s.

Not exactly south Florida weather.

Lewis considers himself a dual-threat quarterback who can both run and throw.

“When I was a sophomore, we ran the ball a lot, then my junior and senior years, we opened the passing game up a lot more,” he said about Cypress Bay, which has been part of ESPN’s online game coverage.

He added his basic high school formation was a wing-T and included a spread.

A memorable game for him, even though it was a loss, was a 53-50 shootout with Apopka High School for the Class 8A state championship in December 2012. In fact, Lewis’ highlights from the game are readily available in a video online at YouTube.

Lewis plans to major in athletic training at NMU.