MARQUETTE - When the Northern Michigan University football coaching staff hits the recruiting trail on Saturday, head coach Chris Ostrowsky - along with offensive assistants Rob Boss, Marcus Knight and Brian Mitz - will look to add depth with the class of 2013.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Brian Newberry and his position coaches - Joe Ballard and Joe Coniglio - must replace four key starters from 2012 up front.
Don't be surprised to see Ostrowsky - the offensive wizard and quarterbacks guru - out on the trail trying strengthen a defense that gave up 31.5 points per game last season.
Northern?Michigan?University sophomore defensive back Derek?Beltrame makes a tackle against Ashland on Sept. 22 at the Superior Dome in?Marquette. Beltrame and junior Brandon?Parson had a team-high three interceptions in 2012. (Journal file photo)
A year as head coach has given the longtime offensive coordinator a different perspective on how to win football games after going 4-7 overall and 3-7 in the GLIAC with the Wildcat football program.
"When you win games 13-6, you know you are going to win championships. When you win games 38-35, you better hold on every week," Ostrowsky said.
"I didn't think that (way) as an offensive coordinator, but as a head coach, I'll take the 12-9 win before I take the 38-35 win any day of the week.
"When you play great defense," he added, " you win championships, there's no question. We're very aware of that."
The Wildcats must replace four of its top eight tacklers from 2012 this offseason, with two coming on the defensive line in Zach Anderson and James Brito-White and two at linebacker in Josh Droese and Eddie Knoblock.
Anderson was an All-GLIAC First Team selection after making 71 tackles, including 40 solos. He had one sack and an interception anchoring the Wildcat defensive line alongside Brito-White, who finished with 46 total tackles.
Knoblock was third on the team in tackles with 80, including 34 solos. He had 1.5 sacks and an interception.
Droese, of Kingsford, began the year battling injuries. But he worked his way back into the starting lineup by the midway point of the season to finish with 45 total tackles.
"For me, it starts with up front," Ostrowsky said. "You got to have some great football players up front to win in this league.
"I think when you have pressure on the quarterback and you're only rushing four, your defensive backs can be a whole lot less talented.
"We have to create great symmetry up front on the defensive line," he added. "That will be a priority for us heading into the winter and the spring."
Northern will have a base of young players returning next season, starting with leading tacklers Nick Krause and Morgan Stenz.
Krause, a sophomore defensive back, led NMU with 94 tackles, including 56 solos. He finished with two sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss, good four fourth in the GLIAC.
Stenz, a junior defensive back, turned in 82 tackles, including 38 solos. He also recovered two fumbles.
"(Krause) literally plays at a different speed," Ostrowsky said. "He'll probably evolve into as good of a defensive player as there is in this league. I think he'll be that good.
"Stenz is consistent and tough. He's another kid that plays at a different speed."
Krause received help in the secondary from sophomore Derek Beltrame of Ishpeming and junior Brandon Parson, who both led the Wildcats in interceptions with three each.
Up front, the Wildcats will look to sophomore Jordan Adediran to anchor the new-look defensive line next season after the former Gwinn standout had 49 tackles and an interception return for 26 yards against Wisconsin-La Crosse.
After NMU posted a league-worst eight sacks in 2012, Ostrowsky said he's looking for more production out of Adediran and the defensive front next season.
"I think our defensive backfield took some blows this year when the reality is, it's all about 11," Ostrowsky said. "When your quarterback plays well, that means there's a whole lot of people contributing to him playing well.
"Consequently, if your defensive backfield is excellent, I'd be willing to guarantee you're getting great pressure on the quarterback."