MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – The Marquette Football team returned to practice Monday as they look to once again be in the conversation for the Great Northern Conference championship.

“Our biggest goal and it always stays our most basic is, you know, we’ve had outright or part of the conference over the last four years and we’re looking to make it five,” said Eric Mason, the head coach for Marquette. “I think that’s our primary goal, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but to do that we get better each day and play as a unit and we’ll be fine.”

Getting there won’t be easy. In total, 25 players who had a significant role in last year’s success have graduated.

“They were a great group of kids,” said Eric Mason, the head coach for Marquette. “They set a great standard for these young kids, these young kids that watched them as they’re coming up. “Our offensive line is where we lost our most collective experience,” said Mason. “All five lineman graduated that started last year. So, we’re having to replace those kids. We’ve got some good kids, Dakota Carey, Theo Adams came out from the hockey team and he’s been great this year, and Dason Smith.”

The Redmen also lose a lot of talent on the outside but feel good with who they have returning to fill the void.

“In the last couple of years we’ve been blessed with a lot of good quality skill kids and we have it again this year,” said Mason. “Pete Closner, he’s 6’4 and a kid that can jump out of the gym is just a great athlete. Nate Benninger, Wyatt Lakenen, I mean these are all kids, like I said, watching those other kids going through the program and they’re picking up after them.”

Marquette will also rely on their run game and will continue attacking defenses with a balanced attack.

“I think we were fifty-one and forty-nine percent and fifty-one actually in the run game,” said Mason “We’re even balanced and depending on who the quarterback is this year. Depending on who the quarterback is, each one has strength and it will depend on who that will, kind of, dictate what we do throughout games.”

Currently, there is a 3-player battle for the quarterback position with senior Easton Miller, Junior Jack Quinnell, and sophomore Jackson Jurmu all vying for the spot. They have big shoes to fill taking over for Dream-Team quarterback, Austin Ridl.

“Jackson Jurmu is here and he’s a sophomore, a real talented young man, a good basketball player very athletic,” said Mason. “Jack is a junior, left-hander, very smart, he’s got a lot of savvy, he’s a great leader. Easton is a senior and he comes back with a lot of knowledge from the team last year. So, it’ll be interesting and I see that going right in through the scrimmage before we decide on who to go with.”

The Marquette defense could be a big factor early in the season while the offense catches up to speed.

“Defensively, we got some good safeties in Wyatt Lakenen and Adam Duvall,” said Mason. “Theo Adams will be a middle-backer for us. We have some quality defensive lineman. Our biggest thing will be our skills kids and speed. Like I said when you got good kids that work, defenses ‘want to.’ The way the kids put in the effort this summer in the weight room and in the conditioning program I look for great things out of our defense. That’s something with a young quarterback, no matter who it is, young whether it’s age or experience, you’re going to have to play great defense and I think we got the kids to do that.”

And while many may doubt the Redmen have what it takes to get back to the top of the GNC, quiet confidence radiates throughout this team early on in camp.

“People are kind of doubting us,” said Nate Benninger, a senior receiver and defensive back for Marquette. “It makes sense, you know, but we have to just trust the process and we should just go out and just play and just do our thing.”

“We have lost a lot of talent but I feel like we have just as much talent as last year if not better,” said Kyler Young a senior lineman for Marquette. “I can for sure see a good year for us. We just need to listen, focus during practice and be on each other’s side.”

Marquette opens up their season on the road at Traverse City West. The kick-off is set for 7 pm eastern.