UNIVERSITY CENTER, Mich. – The Saginaw Valley State University football team is gearing up for a return to the field this fall after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, while former Cardinal standouts are continuing to make a name for themselves at the professional level.
SVSU football continues to establish a tradition of sending athletes to the professional ranks, including Cardinals competing in the National Football League and Canadian Football League. The introduction of a new format for spring professional football has allowed two former SVSU standouts from different generations to come together on the field.
Paul Spicer, a 10-year NFL veteran, took a coaching role with the Spring League, an elite professional football developmental league, in 2021. Spicer saw an opportunity to bring in another Cardinal alum for a chance to compete at the professional level, reaching out to Heath Williams, a former defensive lineman for SVSU (2016-2019), and invited him to Texas to take part in the league.
"We knew this league would be great exposure for a player like Heath," Spicer said. "Every game was on national television, including on FOX and FS1. That creates an opportunity for someone like Heath and all of the players involved. The best way to be noticed is to be on the field, playing against strong competition and showing the professional levels that you belong."
Williams was a force for the Cardinals on the defensive line for four years from 2016-2020. He played in 43 games, recording 46 tackles, 22.5 sacks, and 39.5 tackles for a loss while forcing two fumbles and recovering two more.
The Spring League, which has been in existence for five years, competes over a six-week season, with the organization expanding to eight teams for the first time in 2021. Two divisions make up the league with a North Division held in Indianapolis and a South Division in Houston.
Spicer served as a coach for the South Division's Sea Lions, one of the two teams added for the 2021 season. According to Spicer, the league serves as a pipeline for the players moving on to the NFL, CFL, and other professional leagues.
"We tell all the guys when they get here that they are here for one purpose only, and that is to work towards opportunities to get to the next level," Spicer said. "Players come to this league from all over and from all levels."
SVSU Head Coach Ryan Brady takes great pride in helping cultivate future professional football players from his programs.
"We are excited for Heath to have an opportunity to continue to play the game of football at a very high level and audition for NFL Scouts in the Spring League," Brady said. "Heath Williams had a tremendous career at Saginaw Valley State. Heath is an outstanding person, player, and a tremendous worker. It was very unfortunate his pro day at Central Michigan University was canceled due to the pandemic. When Paul Spicer, former SVSU great and Defensive Line Coach, called and asked about Heath Williams, I pounded the table for Heath. It was cool that two former SVSU All-American Defensive Lineman found each other in the Spring League. We are wishing Heath all the best in his pursuit to land on an NFL roster this fall. SVSU football has produced 14 NFL players as well as five in the CFL. Heath would be a great addition to an NFL Franchise and working with a coach like Paul Spicer, I am confident Heath can make his dreams a reality."
List of SVSU Alums/Former Coaches in the NFL:
- Matt LaFleur - Green Bay Packers Head Coach (19-Present)
- Ruvell Martin WR - Green Bay Packers Assistant Wide Receivers Coach/Played for GB (06-08), St. Louis (09), Seattle (2010), Buffalo (11-12)
- Jeff Janis WR - Green Bay (14-17)
- Jeff Heath DB - Dallas (13-18), Las Vegas (19-Present)
- Lamar King DE - Seattle (99-03), Tampa Bay (04)
- Paul Spicer DE - Player - Seattle (98), Detroit (99), Jacksonville (00-08), New Orleans (09); DL Coach - Jacksonville (11-12), Tampa Bay (15-18)
- John Digiorgio LB - Buffalo (06-08)
- Eugene Marve LB - Buffalo (82-87), Tampa Bay (88-91), San Diego (1992)
- Todd Herremans OL - Philadelphia (05-14), Indianapolis (15)
- Glenn Martinez WR - Pittsburgh (04), Detroit (05-06), Denver (07-08), Houston (09-10)
- Marlion Jackson RB - Chicago (00), New York Jets (00-02), Denver (03), Atlanta (05-06), Carolina (07)
- Nathan McCrary RB - Baltimore (21-Present)
- Nick Caserio - General Manager - Houston Texans (21-Present)
- Rob Callaway DT - Detroit (10), Dallas (11-12)
- Tom Beer LB - Detroit (94-96)
- Ryan Anderson Punter - New York Giants (19)
List of SVSU Alums/Former Coaches in the CFL:
- Jon Jennings QB - British Columbia (15-18), Ottawa (19)
- Matt Black DB - Toronto (09-18); Front Office Executive (19-Present)
- Josh Miller DT - Winnipeg (08), Saskatchewan (09-10)
- Tyler Scott WR - Toronto (08-09), Edmonton (10-12)
- Jermaine Jackson WR - Calgary (09-10)