Sept. 1, 2010
Thursday night showdown at the Stadium
By David Boyce
- Northwest has won 30 of its last 31 home games
- Northwest is 2-0 all-time against Kingsville, winning playoff games in 1998 and 2004
- The Bearcats are 9-7 in season openers under Mel Tjeerdsma but have lost their last three
- Northwest's 14-game winning streak dating back to last season is D-II's longest active streak
Photo opportunities will be plentiful before Northwest Missouri State kicks off the 2010 season 6 p.m., Thursday at Bearcat Stadium against Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Mel Tjeerdsma will receive the 2009 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award.
The 2009 national championship trophy will be presented and then last year's seniors will walk the trophy to the Loch-O'Rourke Family Center.
It will definitely be an emotional moment for Bearcat nation and last year's seniors. They endured some heartache to reach the pinnacle of NCAA Division II football.
"I think it is a great thing," senior linebacker Willie Horn said. "We haven't had this since I've been here. It's going to be something different for the first game.
"It's great for them. They worked their tails off for the four or five years they were here. Nobody is more deserving than them. I'm happy they get to come back and be a part of this game and have that tribute to them."
And to top it all off, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will be in attendance.
It's a spectacular way to kick off the season. But could all the pre-game electricity drain the energy from the Bearcats before the game starts?
"We haven't even talked about it," Tjeerdsma said. "Most of them didn't even know the Liberty Mutual stuff and the championship stuff. We will be in the locker room. I'm not too worried about it. I think our focus will be good.
"We just go about our business and concentrate on what we have to do. We will be in the locker room when all that stuff happens."
The most important thing to the 2010 Bearcats is their first opponent. As the defending national champions and the preseason No. 1 team, they know they are the target for every team they play.
In addition, Northwest is opening up against a team capable of making a run to a national title.
Texas A&M-Kingsville reached the playoffs last year and is currently ranked No. 14.
The Bearcats are just ready to see how they stack up against any team.
"It's pretty much the same every year," Horn said. "You don't want to be too eager. But at the same time you are ready for it to get here after practicing against the same guys for three weeks.
"You can tell everybody is ready to get going. I'm just excited, especially with this good of a team coming in."
It will be a challenge for the Bearcats. They are facing an offensive-minded team. Northwest lost five starters on defense.
The first game could definitely turn into a shootout. The Bearcats return all but one starter on offense. But the one who moved on was running back LaRon Council, the MIAA offensive player of the year last season.
Tjeerdsma and his coaching staff have some idea of what kind of team they have, but they definitely are not 100 percent sure.
"They are just anxious to play," Tjeerdsma said. "You hear all the stuff about the rankings and all of that and finally you get to a point you want to get on the field and prove who you are and find out who you are.
"Each year a team has to establish its identity. What's your makeup? I'm looking forward to that."
And so are the players. Tjeerdsma could sense something different on Thursday in practice when they started to specifically prepare for Texas A&M-Kingsville. There was just a different spirit.
The excitement has only been building since then. On Monday, during practice at Bearcat Stadium, loud music was pumped through the speakers to get the players accustomed to crowd noise.
"They are really starting to feel it," Tjeerdsma said. "You got a bunch of guys who have played. They know what it is about. They want to get out and play. That's the fun thing. There are not many people who just enjoy practice. The reward is the game. That's why you work all the time."
Yes, the players are ready to hit, tackle and bang with someone other than teammates.
"You always have that fear of being overly eager to play," Horn said. "I still think we have enough experience on the team to keep everybody under composure."
Once the game is over, the players and coaches can soak in what took place. As is usually the case, a number of former players will be in attendance and some of them will be on the sidelines.
Tjeerdsma probably won't notice them until the fourth quarter ends and that's when he embraces the evening.
"Every game that we have is fun after the game to see who we have," Tjeerdsma said. "I could walk right pass them before the game and not know they are there. But after the game I figure out what's going on other than the game and I really enjoy it. That's a special time to see all those guys there."
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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