MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University senior offensive lineman Jace Daniels was a bit shy Friday to admit he had aspirations of being an All-GLIAC player in 2012.
Daniels shouldn't have been shy about his goal, however, because one of his teammates has his sights set even higher the Wildcats' veteran offensive line.
Senior running back Prince Young plans to do his part to make sure that group becomes All-Americans this fall.
Northern Michigan University senior running back Prince Young runs a passing route during practice inside the Superior Dome on Monday. Young was the sixth leading rusher in the GLIAC last season with 960 yards in only eight starts. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"They're going to create opportunities and hopefully, become All-Americans themselves," Young said. "They were in their first year themselves learning the offense (last season).
"Now, they're veterans. They know their role, what angles to take and not over-pursue."
Much of the buzz this preseason has centered around Northern's new starting quarterback Ryan Morley. But for the redshirt freshman to succeed under center and for the offense to flourish, the 'Cats will need their corps of running backs to do serious damage on the ground this season.
NMU's rushing offense ranked 10th in the GLIAC last year, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 158.1 yards per game.
Not by coincidence, the Wildcats' big-play offense was dead last in time of possession, averaging 27.04 minutes per game with the ball.
Those are all statistics that need to improve if Northern doesn't want a repeat of 2011's 4-7 season, which led to the ousting of head coach Bernie Anderson and promotion of offensive coordinator Chris Ostrowsky to the top position.
"If we can run the football consistently, we can become a pretty good football team," Ostrowsky said. "You have to be able to run the football. You have to be able to stop the run.
"We feel pretty good that we should be able to get after it in the run game."
Young, named a third-team preseason All-American by USA Football News, led the Wildcats in rushing last season after starting eight of the 11 games he appeared in.
He finished just short of 1,000 yards, with 960 on 202 carries. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 87.3 yards per game - good for sixth in the GLIAC. He also had five touchdowns, no fumbles and four 100-plus-yard games.
With fellow senior John Privitelli absent from training camp and his status with the team still an unknown, the Wildcats plan to turn to the 5-foot-9, 196-pound second-year Wildcat from Nepture, N.J., who transferred in last year out of Pierce College in California.
"Prince Young is definitely our workhorse right now. He realizes that now and knows he's our No. 1 guy, our go-to guy," NMU running backs coach Brian Mitz said. "We will relay on him a lot.
"He's our first down, third down, fourth down back to get that extra yard, and then as long as he stays healthy, we'll be good to go.
"But as we all know at the college level, you can't have one back running the show. You need to have one or two, maybe three guys there in the backfield."
Even without Privitelli, who's coming off a broken leg that forced him to miss almost all of last year, the Wildcats still have depth at running back.
Redshirt freshman Joe Neeb, sophomore Reggie Bowden and junior Casey Cotta - who has yet to practice this preseason - are all battling with true freshmen Keon Collier, Lance Smith, Dakota Smith and Zac Shaefer for carries behind Young.
Collier and Smith both saw significant time during the team's 97-play scrimmage on Aug. 16.
Lance Smith, a New Jersey native, has show an ability to catch passes out of the backfield well while Collier, at 5-8, 176 pounds, is a versatile back who can also line up as a slot receiver and is in contention to return punts.
"Lance Smith is as explosive as Keon. He's a real get-it-and- go," Ostrowsky said.
"(Collier's) ceiling is over the top, tons of potential. He's very explosive. He'll factor in as a freshman."
Ostrowsky has put a greater emphasis on the rushing attack this season after the team's second-leading rusher in 2011 was quarterback Carter Kopach with 505 yards on 144 attempts.
Ostrowsky, who played quarterback in high school and college, even went as far as to appoint offensive line coach Rob Boss as the run game coordinator. not only to develop a better ground attack, but to reward the young coach for his loyalty and commitment to the program over the past three seasons.
"As the offensive line coach, that's the kind of responsibility you want," Boss said. "You want a say in it. I think we have a chance to be very successful in the run game."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.