What Eastern Michigan University lacks in the number of tailgaters, it makes up for with a strong fan-base of people who root for the team – win or lose.
Proud parents, such as the moms of players Alex Bellfy and Alex Gillett, travel to watch their sons play every game.
“We try to get others to participate, but we’re the die-hards,” said Michelle Bellfy, a resident of Lake Columbia, which is about 20 minutes south of Jackson. “We send out emails to all of the players’ parents. Not only do the boys have to be committed, but so do the parents.”
Bellfy and Sara Humphrey, mother of Gillett, became friends after many weekends of watching their sons play football. The two families now tailgate together before the game, bringing tents, food dishes and their families to cheer on the Eagles.
PHOTO BY: JESSICA PROTECH | Eastern Fan Carl Ebach of Ypsilanti in full Eastern gear at Ryanearson Stadium.
“We try to make breakfast foods, since the games are so early,” Bellfy said. “We make things like breakfast casseroles, butterscotch coffee cake, and ‘monkey bread’, which are basically cinnamon rolls.”
The mothers of the players are all proud of the Eagles, and give all of the players their support.
“I write my son a poem before every game,” said Humphrey, who comes from Green Springs, Ohio, to watch him play football. “I’ve done that every game since high school.”
“I always send him encouraging texts, even though he makes fun of me,” Bellfy said. “Win or lose, you have to stay with your kids.”
Eastern Michigan football games may not have many tailgaters, but the Eagles do have dedicated fans and alumni to cheer them on.
Carl Ebach, an Ypsilanti resident, has been to every home game for the last 16 years. He not only comes to football games, but also cheers on players at basketball, softball and other sports played by EMU students.
“The players call me ‘super fan,’” said Ebach, who graduated from EMU in 2000. “They all know me real well.”
Chris Elitch, Dave Bedwell, Andy Bedard and Nick Bates are among EMU’s alumni. They come to tailgate together – and drag their wives along, too – to watch the Eagles play and to have a good time.
“We get drunk and play Cornhole out here,” said Dave Bedwell, who graduated from EMU in 2005. “We have a lot of fun.”
Bedwell also owns the largest EMU flag ever made. The flag flew proudly in the cold, rainy air at Eastern’s Rynearson Stadium parking lot during its home game against the University of Toledo.
“This is a pretty good-sized crowd for us, even with the weather,” said Bates. “But it really is too cold to be exciting today.”
Chris and Amber Horton, residents of Superior Township, visit the EMU home games once a year. The Hortons like that the Eastern games have smaller crowds, because it provides a safer place for their two children, Nathan and Marisa to play.
“We usually cook hamburgers, hotdogs, pasta salad, everyone likes that stuff,” said Chris. “It’s a nice family environment.”
Chris, a graduate of EMU, said that the family has also watched the Eagles’ baseball team. He enjoyed his time at Eastern, and because they live so close to the stadium, it’s easy for the family to come out and watch a game.
“Amber is a Michigan State graduate, and I went to Michigan State and Eastern,” he said. “So we’re University of Michigan haters.”
EMU hires former Syracuse assistant
Rob Murphy, an assistant coach at Syracuse University for the last seven seasons, has been hired to lead the Eastern Michigan Eagles men’s basketball team for at least the next five years.
The decision was announced last Thursday by EMU Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg.
“We are excited about having Rob Murphy leading our men’s basketball program into the future,” said Gragg.
Murphy will be paid $210,000 annually with extra incentives for post-season opportunities, victories, high level performances in the Mid-American Conference and for filling the seats at EMU’s Convocation Center.
Prior to his stint with Syracuse, the 38-year-old Murphy spent his time coaching in the Detroit Public School League, leading Detroit Crockett Technical High School to a Class B State Championship in 2000-01.
“Coach Murphy has been on the staff of two outstanding college basketball programs and was also a highly successful high school head coach in Detroit, leading Crockett to the Class B State Championship in 2000-01 and was the associate head coach on the staff of the Detroit Central High School team that won the Class A state title in 1997-98,” said Gragg. “We feel that his experience with outstanding teams has prepared him for this opportunity.”
After leaving the high school ranks, Murphy found an assistant coaching position at Kent State University, where the Golden Flashes won back-to-back Mid-American Conference East Division crowns, posting 22-9 records both seasons, starting in 2002.
After leaving Kent State, Murphy joined up with coach Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse University Orange as an assistant. In his seven years on staff, the Orange recorded a 180-67 record and played in the post season every year in his tenure.
Murphy competed with the likes of former Butler coach Todd Lickliter and former Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne coach Dane Fife, who ended up taking a job to become an assistant coach at Michigan State University.
FROM ‘FIRST TO WORST’
Alabama running back transfers to EMU
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Mike Marrow, transfer student from Alabama, plans to add some muscle to the EMU football program.
With the first win in two years, could things finally be looking up for the Eastern Michigan University football program?
On top of the 41-38 win over Ball State that ended the Eagles’ 18-game losing skid, EMU received a transfer from the University of Alabama, a kid who literally decided to go from first (the Crimson Tide was ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first eight weeks of the season) to worst (some pollsters had EMU ranked last among all 120 major college programs at the start of the season).
Mike Marrow, a 20-year-old running back originally from Toledo, made the decision to transfer to play for EMU coach Ron English after the death of Marrow’s grandfather. In an interview with The Voice, Marrow said he couldn’t stand being 15 hours away from his family. With Eastern located just up US-23 from Toledo, he’ll be much closer to his loved ones. And will ultimately be a happier football player.
“My grandfather passed, that was the hardest part,” said Marrow. “I just wanted to get closer to my home. I have younger sisters; I wanted to be a part of their lives.”
Marrow had lost three grandparents in the span of 12 months when he decided to transfer to EMU. When other schools got word he was to transfer, a lot of interest started coming his way.
Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin were just a few of the schools interested in accepting a transfer from Marrow, but he ultimately decided with EMU.
“What happened was I waited too long when I transferred…they (Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin) were already two weeks into school,” said Marrow.
But he doesn’t regret it at all.
“I’m fine here. I plan to make changes and help out a lot with this team,” said Marrow. “When I was thinking about transferring, Coach English was really friendly. He’s just a really outgoing, fun coach. He keeps me really happy.”
Out of high school, Marrow was the second-best fullback in the country, according to ESPN, and he received offers and interest from several big schools.
“I was all Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Nebraska,” said Marrow, regarding who offered him a spot as a high school senior.
Marrow chose Alabama to play for head coach Nick Saban, one of the best coaches in the college ranks today.
While Marrow was redshirted during 2009, he practiced with and lived for Alabama football, and helped accomplish the team’s goal of winning a National Championship.
Marrow transferred to EMU early in the 2010 season as a redshirt freshman and hoped as a result that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) would grant him permission to play early, as opposed to sitting a year like the NCAA transfer rules insist.
“They just turned it down,” said Marrow, “but my coaches are trying to appeal it so I’m able to play.”
When he does play, Marrow can certainly make a difference on a team in desperate need of a difference-maker. He possesses a power running game, and he’s a skilled blocker.
“He’s definitely impressive physically,” said Chase Goodbread, sports writer for Tidesports.com “I would be surprised if he didn’t play.”
On top of just helping the team on the field, Marrow also plans to help his teammates from the sidelines.
“I bring positive energy for the team,” said Marrow. “I’ll make big plays. Usually when you have someone who makes good plays, it makes others play good around you.”
Marrow hopes to use all of his abilities and eventually go pro, but for now, he has a few goals he’d like to achieve at EMU.
For starters: “Be the top back in the conference,” said Marrow.
And in the process, maybe he can carry his team from worst to first in the Mid-American Conference.
English and Eagles looking for first victory since ’08
It’s been 667 days since Eastern Michigan football last won a game. On Nov. 28, 2008 EMU beat Central Michigan. Since then coach Jeff Genyk was fired, and Ron English was hired as head coach. Through three games in his second campaign, English has still yet to win with the Eagles.
Not a single game.
The Eagles kept the games in single digits only twice last year. In year two under English, the first two losses were an improvement, if you can consider a loss an improvement. Both losses to Army and Miami came down to the wire before Central Michigan came to Rynearson Stadium and dominated 52-14.
“The first two games this year, we had a fighting chance until the final whistle blew,” said English. “We are playing hard.”
But even opposing teams noticed the improvements.
“Eastern played very, very well in their first two games,” said Central Michigan coach Dan Enos. “They could’ve won both of those games.”
A major problem for defense-minded English has been his rushing defense.
In the first three games, the Eagles have allowed 253 yards per game on the ground as well as 11 touchdowns.
“We can’t stop the run right now,” said English. “We have to find linebackers to stop them. We have to fill holes and start fitting runs.
“We’ll continue to make changes.”
One thing a coach has to be worried about when losing 15 straight games is his team’s attitude
“I thought the kids came out with the right frame of mind,” English said following the CMU loss.
“Attitudes have been good. Now we have to be concerned about who’s going to show up this next week.
“We need to continue to improve and develop. We really want to be competitive.”
Next weekend, English and the Eagles will play again for a win facing the Ohio Bobcats. A win that could finally bring relief to players, fans, parents and most of all, a frustrated, winless head coach.
Young arm may push
for QB controversy
During the 38-point loss to Central Michigan, EMU coach Ron English put in second-string quarterback Devontae Payne.
“We really wanted to develop him,” said English. “We didn’t want to just put him in a blowout. We wanted him in the game when it was close.”
English might have gotten more than he hoped. The redshirt-freshman threw a 33-yard strike on his first pass of the game that lead to EMU’s first score of the CMU game. The 6-foot-6-inch, 231 pound quarterback finished the day 13-24, with 134 yards and no turnovers.
“We’ve seen him throw better. He left a few high, but he had three or four real good throws,” English said. “He’s going to be good.”
Alex Gillett, the Eagles’ starter in the first three games, went 12-20 with 148 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble against CMU. Gillett adds a dimension that Payne hasn’t shown on the ground. Gillett is the Eagles’ second-leading rusher with 172 yards and one score.
UM sneaks past upset-minded Massachusetts
Central Michigan junior running back Paris Cotton ran for a career-high 209 yards and three touchdowns Saturday to lead the Chippewas to a 52-14 win over winless Eastern Michigan at Rynearson Stadium.
“He’s such a competitor he wants to do everything right,” said CMU coach Dan Enos, whose team improved to 2-1. “He gives tremendous effort. He’s explosive.”
The Chippewas dominated the first half with a 21-7 lead. Wide receiver Cody Wilson had a big half with 100 yards on three receptions, including a 21-yard score.
Starting the second quarter, Eastern Michigan pulled starting quarterback Alex Gillett for redshirt-freshman Devontae Payne. On Payne’s first passing attempt of the day he connected with Kinsman Thomas for 33-yards over the middle. The drive was capped off by Dwayne Priest’s third rushing touchdown of the season.
Cotton took his first carry of the second half 61-yards, giving CMU a 28-7 lead.
“All 11 guys did their job and made it easy for me,” said Cotton.
On the bright side for EMU, true-freshman Donald Scott caught his first career touchdown pass for the Eagles on a 52-yard strike from Gillett.
“I thought the kids came out with the right frame of mind,” said EMU coach Ron English, who is still looking for his first victory in his second season. “We’re not stopping the run. We need to find linebackers to stop them.”
CMU linebacker Mike Petrucci ended any hope of a fourth-quarter comeback, picking up a fumble and taking it 43 yards for a score following a Sean Murnane sack. The defensive score put the game well out of reach at 42-14.
The loss dropped Eastern to 0-3. It was the 15th straight loss for EMU.
“We have to fight through it,” said English. “When you get blown out, there are not a lot of positives to take from it.”
Next week the Eagles travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the second-ranked team in the country, Ohio State.
WCC students can get discounted UM, EMU football tickets
JONATHAN KNIGHT WASHTENAW VOICE
Washtenaw Community College students can now purchase ticket for football games at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University at drastically reduced rates.
The UM tickets are available for the Nov. 6 game against Big Ten rival Illinois. The tickets that normally cost $65 are being sold for just $25.
“We’ve gone to (UM) basketball and hockey games recently, but never football,” said Rachel Barsch, events coordinator in Student Development and Activities. “We reached out to (UM) and they provided us with some tickets.”
EMU, on the other hand, approached WCC about offering a special package to students. For just $3, students get a voucher good for any EMU home game, a hot dog and soda. Students are also given an EMU goodie bag with some special giveaways when they buy their tickets.
“EMU is promising a tailgating-type atmosphere for all students to enjoy,” said Barsch.
Tickets for both universities’ games are available at the cashier’s office located on the second floor of the Student Center. Those purchasing tickets need to show a current student ID. Students must also provide their own transportation to and from the game.
Disc golf coming to WCC?
Washtenaw Community College has upgraded its sporting facilities in a major way, but could another project be in the making?
According to Director of Student Development and Activities Ian Griffin, disc golf could be likely.
With the popularity of disc golf rising in the community, a three-hole course may be added behind the softball and baseball fields on the college’s property next to the Health and Fitness Center. The original idea was brought up in Summer of 2007, but was just resurrected during Winter semester.
“The general reaction has been pretty good,” Griffin said. “People who are disc golfers would love just to see the baskets.
“I kind of see this as a means to give people a break if they do have a day where they are taking three classes. I can see people going over and playing a round of disc golf.”
According to Griffin, the three-hole course would cost about $4,500, each basket costing around $1,500. The course may also include a 30-50 meter practice hole.
The college will start mapping out the location of the disc golf course and figuring out how many holes can potentially fit in the limited space.
The plan has been stalled because of the amount of space needed for an actual course; it’s important that spectators are safe, and vehicles can’t be harmed by flying discs, Griffin said.
If the course is built and receives enough activity, it’s possible for the college to expand the course in a different area. A full, 18-hole course, while not likely due to limited space, would cost about $18,000.
The course will be available for anyone’s use, but the college will not supply disc golfing equipment.
“It’s always best to bring your own disc,” Griffin said. “Discs are not very expensive and we do have some in the office.”
EMU women’s basketball making a run for MAC
JOE SHARP WASHTENAW VOICE
Sophomore Tavelyn James averages 21 points a game for the Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team, which ranked 10 in the nation and first in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Yet third-year coach AnnMarie Gilbert wants more.
“I don’t think she’s as selfish as she should be,” Gilbert said. “When Tavelyn James plays a superb basketball game, when she’s consistently in attack mode, it’s not even a contest. I don’t think she knows what she’s capable of. This is a kid that could easily average 25 in a game in conference.
“We need her to play that way.”
But James, who appears destined to play in the WNBA one day, knows she has capable teammates that can get it done as well.
“She’s always saying (to be more selfish),” James said of her coach. “I feel like when she’s saying that is when our whole team is playing well. I’m just going to play my game.”
Still, Gilbert gets on James to keep doing more.
“She’s had several games where she’s had 18 points at half, and she’s not breaking a sweat. I’m like ‘are you gonna get to work out there?’” Gilbert said.
Does her coach think she can play professional hoops?
“No question,” Gilbert said. “She’s got the speed and offensive ability to have a shot. Beyond being a very good player, she’s an awesome person. She’s a kid that’s just got good balance in her life, not a cocky kid, just a confident kid that wants to make her team the best they can be.”
James is right when she says she’s not alone in helping the Eagles to a 15-5 record. James’s co-MVP last year, junior captain Cassie Schrock, has brought leadership and experience to the young Eagles. Schrock plays 36 minutes a game and does everything and anything EMU needs with 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.
Joe Sharp WASHTENAW VOICE
“Cassie Schrock is the glue that holds our team together,” Gilbert said. “She is the one that should be receiving a lot of the credit for corralling and getting the best out of them.”
Her teammates agree.
“She means everything to the team,” James said. “She’s the glue that holds us together, players and coaches.”
Schrock has started every game this season and leads the MAC in assists.
“As she goes, so do we,” said junior point guard Sydney Huntley-Rogers.
The Eagles have enjoyed playing in Ypsilanti at the Convocation Center, going 8-1 at home this season. Offensively, they have been most impressive, scoring 79 points per game in the first nine home games.
“Our players really are responding to being able to play in front of their family and friends,” Gilbert said.
And other than fans like that, attendance has been very sparse. Only four games have had an attendance higher than 500, but interest appeared to perk up as the team racked up home wins.
Gilbert came to EMU following five seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan State University, where winning women’s basketball is not such a hard sell.
At MSU, Gilbert learned about unearthing collegiate talent by serving as the recruiting coordinator.
“I didn’t lower my standard. At Michigan State we recruited high major prospects. We still recruit high major prospects here at Eastern,” Gilbert said. “We’ve been fortunate to get a couple that were looked at by high major schools. Once you can solidify a recruiting style like that, you can get some success.”
Eastern’s most recent recruiting class was ranked 59th in the country and first in the MAC. EMU looks to continue its success with the final six games left before postseason play. The last six games feature just two teams with a record of above .500.
EMU building a new indoor all-sports practice facility
EMU ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS COURTESY PHOTO
YPSILANTI — In an effort to catch up with the competition, Eastern Michigan University is building a new $3.9 million indoor athletic facility.
The 410 feet long, 210 feet wide, air-supported facility will give EMU a cutting edge practice field for football, soccer, baseball and golf.
“Virtually all sports can use it and be able to train indoors,” said Doug Dowdy, EMU associate athletic director.
The multi-purpose facility will be laid with field turf that can make football and soccer fields, as well as the general area that all sports can use for conditioning and workouts.
“It’s such an advantage,” said EMU football offensive lineman Derek Gotham. “It takes the weather aspect out of it. If it’s raining or thunder storming, as of right now we couldn’t practice. Now we’ll always be able to practice.”
The field will go in right beside both Rynearson Stadium and Oestrike Stadium on Huron River Drive. It will be just north of the Rynearson, and east of Oestrike. The money to construct it came from a 2005 tuition increase; the four percent increase generated $4.4 million.
“It keeps us up to speed or ahead of our competition,” Dowdy said.
The other two Mid American Conference schools in the state, Western Michigan and Central Michigan, both have an indoor practice facility for football.
“Central’s is extremely nice,” said Gotham, who attended CMU in high school for football camp and used the facility then. “It is connected with the weight room and other facilities.”
“Our objective is to provide good opportunities in all of our sports,” Dowdy said.
Construction is expected to be completed by next spring.
English strives to make Eastern Eagles soar
LON HORWEDEL / ANNARBOR.COM COURTESY PHOTO
For 12 straight seasons, Eastern Michigan University hasn’t had a winning season. It’s been 22 years since the Eagles made a bowl appearance. Ron English was hired as head coach to change that.
English was defensive coordinator at University of Louisville and University of Michigan before landing his first head coaching job in Ypsilanti.
“I came here because I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to come to a place where football was important and were the president decided to support the football team whole-heartedly,” English said. “I thought we’d have a chance to win.”
Then he went about doing what’s necessary to turn the beleaguered program around.
“No one likes change, but we all just bought into Coach English’s philosophy,” said Brandon Downs, EMU co-captain and defensive tackle. “It’s been a good change. The program’s headed in the right direction.
“He brings consistency; we always know what we’re going to get from him.”
“The one thing I never liked as a player, and I’ll always remember it, is when a coach made one game bigger than another game,” English said.
Whether it’s Army to open the season, Northwestern from the Big Ten, as in the second game of the season, or perennial national power Michigan— where English and some of his players once toiled—his approach to the games never varies.
And English is under new illusions about turning around a long-suffering program in a few games. In 1987, he was a freshman playing for a California Golden Bears team that only won three games. California consistently got better, and by the time he was a senior the team finished with seven wins including a victory in the Copper Bowl.
“At Cal, it was the leaders of the team and the core of the team having had enough losing, and they started holding the fringe players accountable,” English said. “You better get on the boat or you better get off. We’ll play without you; we’ll play with 32 guys or 40 guys. We don’t have to play with 85.
That I remember clearly as why we turned that program around.”
A few games into this season, his EMU players have already started asking the most out of each other.
“We all gotta be accountable,” said Andy Schmitt, Senior Quarterback from St. Johns. “The little attention to detail it can change a game with one play.”
Schmitt wasn’t the only Eagle to notice the attention to detail. Former Michigan star Tyrone Wheatley is finding it out quickly in his first year coaching under English.
“He’s a clear cut deceive person,” Wheatley said. “He doesn’t use a lot of words, very clear, very short. Just ask him for directions. It’s longitude, latitude, north, south. He’s a very detailed guy.”
Fifth-year senior Zach Johnson is starting to believe in his new coach’s philosophy.
“It’s all about believing,” Johnson said. “You have to believe in what you’re doing and that you can win.”
With both head coach and running back coach having thick Michigan roots, it’s not surprising that some of the what made the Wolverines a success is rubbing off on the Eagles’ program.
“Things I’ve taken from places like Michigan I’ve tried to bring here,” said Wheatley, whose only other coaching experience came from Robichaud High School in Dearborn Heights, were he once starred.
English won’t just take all his coaching philosophies from Michigan though. He explained he takes things from every place he’s been.
Johnny Sears, a former Michigan player who now plays for Eastern, has noticed some similarities from his days in Ann Arbor.
“Coach Carr kept the team tight-knit and focused, just like English,” Sears said.
Wheatley is very supportive believer and is buying into English’s plan for the program. He respects how English tries to run his program off of two basic things, first integrity and belief in the process.
“Trust and those other things are good, but the first two are integrity and embrace process,” Wheatley said. “Football is an incredible process. It thickens the skin.”
English’s start isn’t exactly what he would have scripted, starting out 0-4, but it’s easy to see progress in noticeable increments.
During the second quarter of the second game in the English era, EMU was down 21-0 at the University of Northwestern. With the game in hand, it looked like just another typical blowout between Big Ten and the Mid-American Conference.
But the Eagles showed a resilience that hasn’t been seen from an EMU team in a long time. They scored 24 of the next 27 points in the game to forge a tie with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter.
They eventually lost on a field goal with six seconds left, but the toughness the Eagles showed to fight and claw their way back in the game has not gone unnoticed.
“I told them at halftime, ‘I hope you’re having as much fun as I am,’cause I’m having fun,’” said English. “I want our players to enjoy playing the game; they finally started doing that in the second half of that game.”
His message was well-received, and better fortunes for the program are just a matter of time, his players said.
“Coach English is very intense and very focused on detail,” Schmitt said. “That detail is what gonna help this university turn the corner.”