Aug. 23, 2010
Tjeerdsma, Bearcats Prepare for Title Defense
By David Boyce
Mel Tjeerdsma leaned back in his office chair and exuded a calm air that defies the pressure of trying to repeat as national champions.
But that's coach Mel Tjeerdsma.
Tjeerdsma begins his 17th season as Northwest Missouri State football coach and nothing has really changed about him. He's been through it all.
He suffered a winless season the first year he arrived in Maryville, Mo. He won back-to-back NCAA Division II titles in 1998 and '99. There have been a couple of seasons when the Bearcats failed to reach the playoffs.
His personality remained the same each year after losing four straight title games.
So it only makes sense that Tjeerdsma's unwavering steadiness is intact now that he has to answer questions about trying to defend a national title.
Practices for the 2010 season have begun and that's the only thing that matters. The glorious history of the past decade and a half is not going to be the reason why the Bearcats succeed this season.
"One thing about our kids is they don't talk about that stuff a lot," Tjeerdsma said. "The losses in the championship games have been a motivating factor. I don't think there were any doubts that they wanted to get back and prove they could win it."
Finally winning the title again created a slightly different attitude during spring football.
"We weren't focused on what was ahead," Tjeerdsma said. "We didn't have that bitter taste. We kind of had a sweet taste."
Well, now that the Bearcats are two weeks into practice, Tjeerdsma sees the hunger. It starts with 20 seniors who want to leave their legacy and ends with the younger players eager to make their mark.
Four or five years ago, Tjeerdsma said, the coaching staff started recruiting more athletic players. It has enhanced competition at nearly every position.
"These guys, whether they are redshirt freshmen or sophomores, they are not content just to be out there," Tjeerdsma said. "They want to play and they want to be starters. Because of that, they really push. That's been one of the keys to our success. We've had so much competition."
Simply put, Tjeerdsma is thrilled summer vacation ended a couple of weeks ago.
Sure, most of the players were around during June and July.
And yes, Tjeerdsma spent hours in his office preparing for the upcoming season.
"Summer gets long," he said. "Most of our kids are here in the summer, but we don't have that interaction that you normally do because of the rules. Now I see them every day. It's fun to see the kids accept the challenge to get better. Some kids come so far, not just on the football field, but how they handle themselves. That's really rewarding.
"Once you get past all the things you have to get done before practice that is when it is fun. I can't say I'm a fan of 2-a-day, but that's part of it. Just having the kids around is fun."
So really there is no new news on how Tjeerdsma is approaching this season as the defending national champions.
"It really isn't any different," he said. "You think after doing it for so many years it gets easier with preparation. But I'm just as nervous about things getting started right and doing things right as I ever am. I think that's good. It's fun."
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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