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So when football season rolls around I try to take some time every year to just pack up and go. While I'm not one of those people that needs to dress to the hilt and impress everyone with my fandom, I just want to be there. It's not a fashion show people, though, the people watching can be outstanding at times, especially the coeds who dress a little too risque for a midwestern night game and end up freezing.
I took in a few games this year and even managed to catch a Division II game at one of the bigger stadiums at Grand Valley State University in the west side of Michigan. Doing a bit of research I found out that this program has won more than almost anyone in the past decade, and wond a couple of national championships under a coach named Brian Kelly who you probably now know as the Notre Dame head coach.
I wasn't sure what to expect but was pretty amazed at the facilities. The stadium had to hold close to 15,000 people and was filled mostly to the brim for what a lot of people told me was a down year. They were playing a conference rival from Northwood and for having a down year I sure couldn't tell as the Lakers pretty much trounced them from the opening kickoff. It was a heckuva learning experience about smaller college football, and the atmosphere still felt very big time. It was a night game, the fans were extremely loud and the stadium, the turf, everything felt bigger. I chatted up some fans and learned that Grand Valley has produced some pretty good NFL players as well, including recent $50 million dollar Dallas Cowboys signee Brandon Carr.
The biggest shocker was the level of play. I suppose I thought this would be glorified high school football, but far from it. The speed of the game seemed pretty comparable and the offenses both ran the West Virginia/Oregon styles of spread offense, though Grand Valley's hulking quarterback definitely seemed to be in better command of it, not to mention the guy looked like he could throw a football through a tornado (he could stand to work on getting some more touch, but the kid did have a cannon). The biggest difference between D1 football seemed to be the size on defense. I imagine it's pretty hard to recruit big defensive linemen and linebackers. If you're a really good athlete that's over 230 pounds, you're probably playing in Division I.
Anyhow, Grand Valley pulled out the win by 2-3 touchdowns and I headed into nearby Grand Rapids for a nightcap and the end to another lovely, stress relieving road trip.