Michigan’s new quarterback coach Scot Loeffler’s debut ended with high praises, defensive backs Cato June and Jeremy LeSueur were seen in Michigan Stadium’s endzones numerous times celebrating defensive touchdowns and running backs were breaking tackles left-and-right en-route to six-point scores.
But there was something different about this Football Saturday and something different about the players on the field.
Loeffler’s starting quarterbacks were not John Navarre or Spencer Brinton, June and LeSueur were cheering their pupils’ touchdowns and the running backs breaking tackles were not wearing pads.
These players were participants in Coach (Lloyd) Carr’s Cancer Fund Fourth-Annual Women’s Football Academy.
The academy helps support the Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, which uses its funds for programs like Strength for Caring – a program designed to educate and assist those cancer patients who receive at-home treatment.
Saturday, 625 women, Michigan coaches and Michigan players-turned-coaches entered Michigan Stadium to show off what had been learned and taught at Oosterbaan Field House in the morning hours preceding the scrimmaging.
“It was very eye-opening because before we got to Michigan Stadium, we had break-up groups with each of the various offensive and defensive coaches,” said Anita Jursek, whose brother played for Michigan in 1977. “So they put us through the stances and the various plays they did, and it was fascinating how complicated a lot of the plays were. So it was fun to go in there and try them out.”
Jursek’s coach was Loeffler, and as an offensive guard and fullback, she was more than pleased with what the new coach designed.
“(Loeffler) was fabulous,” Jursek said. “He was full of energy and had some great tips for us on how to defeat the defense that we were up against.(He was) an excellent play-caller. We did a flea-flicker, we did a reverse, we did a burger-right – whatever that is.”
Although there was bad weather in Saturday’s forecast, it didn’t these women, who became as tough as the players who coached them as the day went on.
“We were coming into the stadium rain or shine, because all of these ladies come from all over the country to come here, and we weren’t going to disappoint them, because I think the thing they look most forward to is coming into the stadium,” Carr said.
As the day developed, so did the women’s aggression. In scrimmages designed around two-hand touch to stop plays, the running backs began not to stop when they heard whistles and continued into the endzone. The defensive players didn’t take too kindly to the constant scoring and began to tackle their counterparts instead of merely tagging them.
“Women are no different than men from the standpoint that they’re competitive,” Carr said. “And the more you play, the more you know what you’re doing and you want to stop them from scoring a touchdown or you want to score a touchdown. My only worry is that I didn’t want anybody to get hurt. I saw some pretty good tackling out there even though they were not supposed to tackle.”
As the tackling got better, the defense’s ability to create turnovers did as well. The defensive groups coached by June and LeSueur had the most success recovering fumbles and picking off passes for 70-yard scores. And just because the two defensive backs weren’t participating in the game didn’t mean they didn’t get involved.
Located in the endzone, the two sprinted to their new students to accompany them on their touchdown runs. Since endzone celebrations are frowned upon in actual games, June and LeSueur didn’t pass up the opportunity to do a touchdown dance with the women playing in their positions.
“I thought Cato June showed a lot of enthusiasm,” Carr said. “That’s the one thing – (the players) seemed to enjoy themselves, which is really a positive thing. It’s not exactly their element, but the ladies’ concentration was very good and they pay attention, so that makes it more fun for the coaches.”
As for next year’s academy, Carr was unsure whether to add more participants as there is only so much that his staff can handle in a half-day period.
“Somewhere there’s a number that is ideal in terms of making sure everyone can still have a good time and yet getting as many people as we can,” Carr said.
He also said that the thought of adding more was a possibility, but he would have to talk with Erik Campbell, wide receivers coach and the emcee for the event, and the rest of his staff first.