The Grand Valley State Lakers football team represent Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in NCAA Division II football. After a national runner-up finish in 2001, losing to the University of North Dakota in the national championship game, GVSU completed the 2002 season with a perfect 14-0 record by defeating Valdosta State University, and winning the school's first-ever NCAA Division II national football championship. GVSU followed that success with a second national championship in 2003 with a 13-1 record, avenging the 2001 loss and defeating North Dakota in the championship game. GVSU was knocked out from the playoffs in 2004 by North Dakota in the now realigned playoff regions in the Northwest Regional Finals. GVSU has not lost a game since, winning back-to-back National Championships in 2005 and 2006 and setting the NCAA Division II record for longest consecutive win streak at 39 games (through 11/24/07). The streak has since ended at 40 games, ending with a loss to Northwest Missouri State in the 2007 National Semi-Final Game. Over the current seven-year span, GVSU has been one of the most dominant college football teams in NCAA history. Since 2001, GVSU's win percentage (.947 90-5) and average margin of victory have outpaced such teams as the University of Southern California, the University of Texas, and Ohio State University (NCAA Division I FBS) of the same era. The only NCAA football program with a higher winning percentage than GVSU is NCAA Division III's Mount Union College (96-3 [.969] 2000-2006 seasons).. Since inception, GVSU's overall winning percentage is .718, trailing only Michigan, Notre Dame, and Georgia Southern (all divisions). Since 2000, their winning percentage stands at .907. Their all time home record is 127-31-1.
GVSU launched its football program with a junior varsity schedule in 1970 and became a varsity sport in 1971. Robert "Rip" Collins, a successful high school coach at Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills High School, became the programs first head coach. Success didn't come quickly for the Lakers as it took almost three years for them to win their first football game. Coach Collins was unable to get the program off to a successful start after going 0-13 and being outscored 534-58 in 1971 and 1972.
E. James Harkema took over as head coach in January of 1973, coming to GVSU from Northern Illinois where he was an offensive backfield coach. Also awaiting Harkema was a brand new football field constructed in 1972 which featured the first "Prescription Athletic Turf" (PAT) football playing surface in the country.
It was ironic that Harkema began his GVSU career in the fall of 1973 opening against his alma mater, Kalamazoo College, where he had won 10 varsity letters and led the Hornets to six Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships. John Mahan rushed 26 times for 158 yards and Steve Brems added 122 more to lead GVSU to its first football victory in its season opener at home, a 27-14 win. Defensive tackle Bryce Berth and offensive guard Tom Teft were named the offensive and defensive players of the game.
Showing the program was heading in the right direction, the Lakers did it again the next week beating Chicago-Circle 40-8 in a night game played at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Mahan rushed for 147 yards and Brems added 138 more.
Grand Valley outscored their opponents 259-120 and posted their first winning season at 6-3. 1973 marked the start of the great football tradition at Grand Valley, and during the next 10 years under Harkema they would post a 68-29-1 record, win three Great Lakes Conference football championships and make one trip the NAIA playoffs. 1973 also marked the beginning of the multitude of individual national honors coming to GVSU players with the first NAIA All-American Honorable Mention (AAHM) awarded to offensive guard Tom Teft.
1974 marked the first conference play for Grand Valley with the forming of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. GVSU went 6-3 and finished third in that inaugural year. Offensive guard Ron Stallard became the second individual Laker honored as he was awarded NAIA AAHM status at the end of the season.
Many Laker followers feel that the 1975 team, with a 7-2-1 record, may have set the standards for many years to come. After dropping a hard fought road opener to Wayne State University, which also included the loss of their starting quarterback for the season. They beat Ferris State for the first time 38-0, defeated Saginaw Valley State and Hillsdale and tied Northwood. If not for an illegal trick play in the closing minutes by Northern Michigan University resulting in a 21-17 road loss, GVSU would have been invited to their first post season in the NAIA playoffs (that honor would come to the 1978 Laker team). However, the "75" team had 5 NAIA AAHM players plus the schools first outright football All-American in both the NCAA D-II and NAIA, offensive tackle Dan Karpowicz.
1976 would be the year Grand Valley would receive national attention in more ways then one. The season started with a road game at Michigan Tech and a 39 yard field goal that never crossed the bar but was the deciding factor in the game. Tech had a wire strung some 50 feet in the air across their field and never announced the local condition to the game officials or to the GVSU team making their first visit to this upper peninsula school. When Roger McCoy kicked the ball it was well on its way to being good but it hit the wire and the impediment knocked it straight down to the field, short of its intended goal. After considerable discussion, GVSU was awarded the points and as the game played out, ultimately a 10-8 victory. McCoy had set a GVSU school record with a 60 yard field goal the previous week in another Laker win.
The game that put Grand Valley on the map was the season finale against Northern Michigan University. The Wildcats came into Allendale as the defending NCAA Division II National Champions, boasting an 18-game winning streak, ranked No. 1 in Division II and fresh off an 82-7 win over University of Nebraska-Omaha. And, as they were the team which ended the Lakers chances from going to the NAIA National Playoffs the year prior when they ran an illegal trick play, GVSU was seeking some payback on their home field.
ABC television sent a crew to do a feature on Northern Michigan, but it was the Lakers, playing 21 seniors who built up a 24-0 lead that went on to shock the Wildcats 31-14 before the then largest crowd in GV history. Many attending the game said it was one of the hardest hitting and well played games they had witnessed at any collegiate level. 1976 also had three All-Americans - Dennis Dermeyer-DE (NCAA DII/NAIA), Jamie Hosford-FB(NAIA) and Tim O'Callaghan-WR(GTE/COSIDA).
Harkema had traditionally built his teams on defense and a solid running game, but in 1977 with the transfer of quarterback Jeff Gonzalez from the University of Toledo, Harkema went to the air and won their first Great Lakes Conference Championships and ultimately won three in a five year period. The 1977 team went 7-3 and had one NAIA All-American, offensive tackle Gary Evans and eight NAIA AAHM athletes: Roy Gonzalez-QB, Daryl Gooden-DT, Mack Lofton-DE, Tim Maki-LB, Roger McCoy-PK, Clint Nash-WR, Joe Pollard-S and Rusty Steffens-OG. Gonzalez was followed by quarterbacks David Quinley, Steve Michuta and Jeff Lynch, who gave GVSU the most feared passing attack in the Grand Lakes Conference. They had been blessed with talented receivers like Tim O'Callaghan and Bill Gilmour in the past but with these quality quarterbacks came some outstanding receivers like Clint Nash, Michael Woods, Rob Rubick, Jeff Chadwick and Bill Luckstead as the Lakers averaged seven wins a year from 1977-1982.
Arguments still exist over Harkema's most successful and/or talented team. The 1976 club, despite an 8-2 record and posting the school's biggest victory in the school's history, finished second in the Great Lakes Conference and did not make the NAIA playoffs.
In 1978, with Quinley at the controls, the Lakers suffered early losses to Northern Michigan and Bowling Green State, but bounced back to win eight straight games including a repeat of the GLIAC title and an NAIA Playoff victory over Wisconsin-LaCrosse. The team ultimately lost to Elon College in the NAIA Semi-Finals on a wet, muddy field in North Carolina. The team finished 9-3 and secured the winningest season in GVSU History at the time. The team celebrated two NAIA All-Americans in Bob Beaudrie-C and Joe Pollard-DB and four AAHM, Wade Bent-LB, Ron Essink-OT, Roger McCoy-PK and Rick VanEss-FB. This was the highlight of the first decade of football for Grand Valley State as the 1979 season was a total rebuilding year and Coach Harkema's only losing season (4-5) at the helm. Despite the teams' play that year there were two players that stood out and won individual national honors: All-American Ron Essink-OT (NCAA DII/NAIA/Kodak) who went on to have an outstanding career in the NFL as a starting tackle with the Seattle Seahawks, and NAIA AAHM Mark Szczytko-DT.
1979 also saw the completion and dedication of the new stadium and track complex named after its president, Arend D. Lubbers, on September 15th. The stadium was built around the existing PAT field and had permanent seating for 4,146 fans.
The end of the 1982 season brought several new things to GVSU: a new Fieldhouse that replaced the Dome, giving some of the finest Division II facilities in the Midwest, and the departure of Coach Harkema who left to rebuild the program at Eastern Michigan University. Bob Giesey, Ball State assistant, replaced Harkema and was hired in December 1982.
Giesey's team lost the final two games of the 1983 season by one point each and finished the year at 4-6, the first losing season in over a decade. The following year GVSU went 0-10 in "84" and managed only 99 points for the whole season. Giesey resigned and Athletic Director Dr. George MacDonald began a nationwide search which culminated with the hiring of Tom Beck, a Chicago native, who came to Grand Valley from the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League and who had turned losing programs into winning ones at Illinois Benedictine and Elmhurst College.
It took Coach Beck three games to get back on track in 1985. Faced with a 14-game losing streak, Beck made some key personnel changes. Beck moved Guy Schuler in as starting QB and moved wide receiver Ray Buckner to tailback, linebacker Sylvester Johnson to fullback, and defensive tackle Brian Mulcahy to middle linebacker. The Lakers went out and defeated Evansville 28-14 and finished the year 6-5.
The next five years would see explosive offenses, outstanding players and solid coaching which would result in trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs, as well as the Lakers becoming a fixture in preseason and postseason rankings. Beck's 1986 team posted a 9-2 record, but that was only an inkling of things to come. Three players obtained national honors: Dean Clem, AP AAHM at OG, Brian Mulcahy, LB - Football News AAHM, and Guy Schuler AP AAHM at QB.
1987 and 1988 ended in the same result with a pair of 7-4 seasons. Four players obtained national honors: Mark Prins, OT was both AP and Football News AAHM in "87" and Football News AA in "88"; while Guy Schuler again was named AP AAHM and Frank Miotke was a Football News AAHM for his first time.
In 1989 the Lakers posted their first undefeated season with an 11-0 record and the final Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championship. GV led Division II in total offense, averaging 480.9 yards per game and also in points with 44.5/game. One of the highlights of the 1989 season was a GVSU record breaking 91-0 victory over Valporaiso. The Lakers jumped out to a 56-0 halftime lead as they rolled up 731 yards in total offese. Freshman kicker Miguel Sagaro from Spain set a Division II record when he connected on 65 of 66 extra points for the season and sophomore fullback Eric Lynch scored 21 touchdowns. Lynch became the Lakers first Harlin Hill candidate and finished 6th in the voting and later went on to have an outstanding career with the Detroit Lions.
Grand Valley finished third in the final 1989 Division II regular season poll and earned the first of three consecutive playoff berths, losing to Indiana, PA 34-24 on a frigid November afternoon highlighted by 11 inches of snow on the ground. That team had four players earn national awards: Todd Tracey, DT - AA (NCAA D2/Kodak), Dave Beebe, OG - AA (Football Gazette/AP), Mark Smith, OT - AA (GTE/COSIDA) and Miguel Sagaro, PK - AAHM, Football Gazette.
The Lakers continued their winning ways, posting a 22-game regular season winning streak before falling at Hillsdale, 38-34. GV won the inaugural MIFC crown, finished with a 10-2 record and lost to East Texas State, 20-14 in the playoffs. That 1990 season saw five Lakers win national recognition: Chris Tiede, OC - AA Football Gazette; Jim Cramer, DT - AA Football Gazette; Eric Lynch, FB - AA Football Gazette; Mike Flannery, CB - AA Football Gazette and Charles Sippial, LB - AA Football Gazette.
The winter following the "90" season, Coach Beck left to become an assistant at Notre Dame and Athletic Director Mike Kovalchik filled the position with 28-year old Laker assistant Brian Kelly, a graduate of Assumption College, who continued to lead the Laker's to success on the gridiron. He posted his 20th and 30th wins faster than any of his predecessors, and upon his departure posted a 118-35-2 record with two National Championships in thirteen seasons of competition.
Kelly's first season was a roller coaster ride as the Lakers began by defeating defending Division II National Champion North Dakota State, 21-17, in Fargo, North Dakota, breaking the Bison 25 game home winning streak as the Lakers became the first team to score a rushing TD in 38 quarters. The following week Grand Valley was shutout in the Butler Bowl. Kelly's 1991 team went on to post a 9-3 record, losing to East Texas State in the playoffs, 36-15.
The 1991 team had eight players earn national awards at the conclusion of the season with five AA and three AAHM. Chris Tiede and Eric Lynch earned AA honors for the second year - Tiede from the AP, Football Gazette & Kodak - Lynch from the Football Gazette; Todd Wood, DB - AA (GTE/COSIDA); Mark Smith, OT - AA (GTE/COSIDA); Jim Cramer, DT - AA Football Gazette; Jack Hull, QB - AAHM Football Gazette; Bill McGory, OG - AAHM Football Gazette and Bob Michell, TE - AAHM Football Gazette.
Grand Valley shared its second MIFC crown with Butler, Ferris and Hillsdale in 1992 with an 8-3 record. The 1993 season saw the Lakers slide a bit posting a 6-3-2 record with key losses to Indiana (PA), Ashland and Hillsdale. Kelly and the Lakers bounced back in 1994 with a return trip to the playoffs and finished with an 8-4 record and a first round playoff loss. They started and ended that 1994 season with losses to Indiana(PA), regular season opener and first round of playoffs. The Lakers then posted back-to-back 8-3 seasons in "95" and "96", finishing second in the MIFC both years, but no playoff games either season. They again started each season with games against non-conference national competition but both ended in losses - "95"-Indiana(PA) and "96"-SW Texas State.
Multiple Lakers over those years earned All-American or AAHM status. 1992 - Miguel Sagaro, PK - AA Football Gazette; Jamarl Eiland, FB - AAHM Football Gazette; Jorgen Gustafsson, OT - AAHM Football Gazette; Brian Tazic, QB - AAHM Football Gazette. 1993 - Hardie Farr, SS - AA (CM Frank/AP); Youssef Sareini, WR - AA Football Gazette; Jorgen Gustafsson, OT - AAHM Football Gazette; Dan McLean, CB - AAHM Football Gazette; Mike Sheldon, OG - AAHM Football Gazette; 1994 - saw two repeats - Mike Sheldon, AA (AFCA/CM Frank/Football Gazette) and Youssef Sareini, AAHM (CM Frank/Football Gazette); Darnell Jamison, FB - AAHM CM Frank; Kwame McKinnon, QB - AAHM CM Frank and Tim Postema, LB - AAHM CM Frank. 1995 - Three players were awarded AAHM for a second year they were Darrell Jamison, Kwame McKinnon and Tim Postema. Kevin Gee, OL - AA CM Frank; Matt Potter, DL - AAHM CM Frank; Paul Siembida, DB - AAHM CM Frank and the most honored from this class was Diriki Mose, WR - AA (AFCA/Football Gazette/CM Frank/CoSIDA/Daktronics). 1996 - saw one player win multiple All-American awards after earning AAHM honors the year before - Matt Potter, AA (AFCA/Football Gazette/AP/CoSIDA/Daktronics) while Doug Kochanski, PK earned AAHM honors from the Football Gazette.
GVSU earned a share of the conference crown in 1997 with a 9-2 overall record and finished the regular season 9-1 with only a 30-27 loss to Saginaw Valley State in overtime. Their second loss came at the end of the season in GVSU's first matchup with University of California-Davis (19-21). This loss knocked GVSU out of the playoffs even though they won the conference. Conference AD's selected Ashland, despite losing to GV 31-20 earlier in the season, to represent the conference in the playoffs. 1997 saw Jason Graves, defensive back earn AAHM honors from (Football Gazette/CoSIDA/Daktronics) and Jeff Fox quareterback, earning AAHM from the Football Gazette.
Quarterback Jeff Fox led the Lakers to their second straight MIFC title and back into the playoffs in 1998 with a 9-1 conference mark. They again lost to Cal-Davis (38-40) finishing the regular season 9-2 overall. Fox became Grand Valley State's first-ever Harlin Hill Award Finalist (Division II Heisman) as he rewrote the GVSU single-season and career offensive record books. The Laker season was ended by Slippery Rock, again in the first round of the playoffs, 37-14. Jeff Fox was awarded AA status from CoSIDA/Daktronics/Football Gazette as did Billy Cook, Spcl Teams - AA Football Gazette.
With the graduation of several top players and the mounting losses to top national teams Kelly decided to go with a youth movement for the 1999 season. Kelly recruited hard and told these players they would play their first year if they came to GVSU. These were some of the top recruits in the State, however the inexperience showed as the Lakers stumbled to a 5-5 finish and seventh in the newly re-created GLIAC. One player earned national recognition - Dan Gibbons, DT - AA (CoSIDA/Daktronics/Football Gazette).
Grand Valley finished the season 13-1 overall and set the school record for most wins in a single season. Curt Anes set a single season TD record of 48 and a .697 completion percentage record. David Kircus set a single game touchdown reception record of 5 against Ferris State University. 2001 saw five Lakers win national awards - David Kircus, WR - All-American (AFCA/D2Football/Daktronics/Football Gazette); Curt Anes, QB - All-American (Daktronics/Football Gazette); Dale Westrick, OT - All-American (Daktronics/Football Gazette); Dan Vaughn, DT - All-American (Football Gazette); and Mike Wilford, OL - All-American Honorable Mention (D2football.com).
The 2002 team had eleven players earn post season national honors, four of which were repeat winners - Curt Anes - Harlin Hill Award, All-American (AFCA/D2Football/Daktronics/Football Gazette); David Kircus - All-American (AFCA/AP/D2Football/Football Gazette/Daktronics); Dale Westrick - All-American (D2Football/Football Gazette/Daktronics) and Dan Vaughn - All-American (Football Gazette/AP/D2Football) others include; Keyonta Marshall, DT - All-American (Football Gazette/D2Football/Daktronics); Scott Mackey, DB - All-American (Football Gazette/AP/D2Football/Daktronics); Reggie Spearman, RB - All-American (Football Gazette/D2Football/Daktronics); Orlando Williams, LB - All-American (Football Gazette/Daktronics); Phil Condon, TE - All-American (D2Football); Terrance Banks, WR - All-American (Football Gazette) and Tom Hosford, OC - All-American Honorable Mention (Football Gazette).
However this playoff run had to be done on the road as GV entered the playoffs seeded third in the Northeast Region. The Lakers opened with a 65-36 win at Bentley College that set up a rematch with SVSU in the Regional Final. The game was a defensive struggle as neither offense could find scoring opportunities. Scott Mackey, GV's All-American DB picked off a pass late in the second quarter to score the games only TD and give GVSU a 10-3 win. The National Semi-Finals saw another new foe for GVSU: Texas A&M-Kingsville. GVSU's offense and defense dominated the game and GV won 31-3 and was off to their third straight NCAA D-II National Championship. A familiar foe was to meet Grand Valley: North Dakota. The game was sure to be a defensive battle as both teams rode their defenses to the title game. GVSU was leading 3-0 in the third quarter, but UND was driving into Laker territory looking for the lead when Lucius Hawkins made the play of the game. Hawkins forced the Sioux QB to fumble, and Lucius returned the ball 59 yards to the North Dakota 20-yard line. All-American Running Back Michael Tennessee scored three plays later and gave GVSU a 10-0 lead. GVSU led 10-3 in the closing minutes as North Dakota was driving. Senior linebacker Mike Hoad picked off a pass on the Laker 10-yard line to preserve the win and give GVSU back-to-back NCAA D-II National Championships. The 2003 GVSU senior class etched their names in the record books by becoming just the second team (the other being the University of North Alabama) in NCAA D-II history to make three consecutive trips to title game. The Laker seniors were 47-2 in their final 49 games and tallied a four-year GLIAC record of 34-4.
Several players earned honors after the season: Keyonta Marshall, DT - AA (AFCA/AP/Football Gazette/Daktronics/D2Football/College Sports Report); Scott Greene, PK - AA (AP/D2Football/Collage Sports Report); DeJuane Boone, DB - AA (Football Gazette/Daktronics); Lucius hawkins, DB - AA (Football Gazette/Daktronics/D2Football/Collage Sports Report); Demonte Collins, WR - AAHM D2Football.
GVSU also set the DII Football record for longest consecutive win streak at 40 games.
Dec. 8th: GVSU's win-streak was snapped when they lost at Northwest Missouri State in the Division II National Semifinal game. It began as a close game with Grand Valley leading 13-10 at halftime. The Lakers were able to pull within one, 16-17, late in the third quarter on Justin Trumble's third field goal. After NWMSU kicker Tommy Frevert made one from 22 yards early in the fourth quarter and Xavier Omon scored on an 11-yard pass 2 1/2 minutes later, the Bearcats were up 27-16. Five plays later, Omon broke loose for a 98-yard touchdown run with just over 9 minutes remaining. Final score: GVSU 16, NWMSU 34
Game totals: GV's Brad Iciek threw for 273 yards and a touchdown and an interception on 23 of 42 passing. Xavier Omon ran for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
GVSU ended the season with a 12-1 record.