TRAVERSE CITY — There'll be a lot of familiar faces on the field Saturday when the Traverse City Wolves open up their 2013 season against the Muskegon Mustangs.
And that familiarity won't be limited to one side.
The Wolves bring back a fair number of players from last year's squad, but the Mustangs will also have a lot of faces who dedicated Traverse City fans will remember.
Muskegon is coached by former Wolves coach Brad Haney — and have a roster littered with ex-Wolves, including quarterback Aaron James, running back B.J. Chandler, defensive backs Holsey James, Corey Edwards, Kajauntae Pennington and Evest Briggs and linebacker Karey Morrow-Bey.
"There's probably between 10 and 15 players on their team that came up and played for us when Brad was the coach," TC head coach Rich Micham said. "It's going to be a good war, because we know a lot about each other, even though we haven't watched each other play much."
Haney coached Traverse City for the 2010 season and was in a different league last year before returning the Great Midwest Football League in Muskegon, which is a much shorter commute from his hometown of Grand Rapids than Traverse City.
"It'll be something different," Wolves linebacker Matt Ohlert said. "But then again, playing the big TC Central-TC West rivalry games, we're used to having a few friends from across town on the other side of the ball. Yeah, they do live a couple hours away and we did play with them a few years ago, but come game time, it's a different story until after the last whistle blows."
Muskegon has already played one exhibition game, as well as a scrimmage. The Wolves played a scrimmage game two weeks ago, but haven't had an exhibition yet before opening up the season Saturday at 7 p.m. at Thirlby Field.
"Our team has come together pretty quickly and gelled," Ohlert said.
The Wolves — who have 44 players on the roster — return several starters on both sides of the ball.
Ohlert and his brother Tim anchor the linebacker and secondary units. Both were league All-Stars last year, and Tim Ohlert has earned that status in three of five seasons. Tyler Perkette returns at the other corner spot, while Alvin Sitkiewicz is back with the team to play alongside Matt Ohlert at inside linebacker, along with Scott Rademaker.
Nick Rademaker and Maurice Gilmer return on side lines, while Emilio Bacardo and Aaron Bennett are back at receiver.
"I think we're looking pretty good," Matt Ohlert said. "A lot of good returners and a lot of new guys that are going to be stepping up and filling positions."
Newcomer Mason McGuss steps in at quarterback.
"He's a great pocket quarterback and he's got an arm on him," Micham said. "We're looking for great things out of him."
Kicker Pablo Bocardo and holder/receiver Pete Boyles are the team's captains so far, with two captain spots remaining to be voted on by the players.
Third-year running back Davonn Cooper and former Forest Area standout Justin Gordon are expected to handle to load in the backfield as Forest Area High School head coach Josh Merchant takes over as offensive coordinator for Sean Liles, who stepped after assuming ownership of the team.
"Things are definitely looking up," Micham said. "With Josh behind the offense, I feel we can definitely put points up.
"I feel we're a step ahead of where we were last year. We have better skill positions on offense than we've had in the last couple years. And some of our returners on defense are hard-hitters that we've had in the past, so that will let us set a tone defensively."