Sept. 24, 2010
Jones, Northwest look to keep Hickory Stick green
By David Boyce
Ryan Jones probably envisioned a better start to his senior season. But when he left the field at halftime in the opener, he thought the Bearcats were winning.
Northwest Missouri State was actually losing by three points in a game they eventually lost to Texas A&M-Kingsville.
All is OK for Jones and the Bearcats now. They head to Kirksville to play Truman 1 p.m. Saturday for the Hickory Stick. Northwest is 1-1 after an impressive 58-23 victory over Nebraska-Omaha last week.
The season didn't look nearly as bright back on Sept. 2, especially for Jones.
Jones never saw the second half of the opener. He couldn't remember the day. Jones suffered his first-ever concussion.
"I was kind of in a daze," he said. "I was trying to figure out what was going on. I remember looking at the scoreboard and I thought we were up and we were losing. It was pretty bad for me."
"First of all he took himself out, which is something he never does," Tjeerdsma said. "It was on our sidelines. As he was coming off I was asking why he was coming off. I could see his eyes and I knew why he was coming off the field because you could see it.
"It didn't surprise me when they came up and said you won't have Ryan the rest of the game because he has a concussion."
While most of the Bearcats wanted to return to the field immediately to cleanse the bad taste the 16-7 loss to Kingsville left, Jones needed the 16 days to recuperate.
He probably wouldn't have been available if Northwest played one week after Kingsville.
When the Bearcats returned on Sept. 18, Jones was more than ready against Nebraska-Omaha.
Jones spent the first week away from the practice field studying film, getting himself mentally ready to go. The physical part for Jones came the following week so by game time he was ready to make plays.
"I definitely think the week off helped me," he said. "I had time to recover and I was able to study film and get mental reps when I couldn't practice. I think that helped out a lot. A lot people say if you go out and practice, it helps. To me mental reps and actually doing it helps."
The formula worked so well for Jones that he intercepted a pass early in the first quarter against UNO, setting up Northwest's first touchdown that sparked the Bearcats to 23 straight points.
Jones, in his fifth season, arrived at Northwest from Liberty with an idea of what to expect. One of his high school position coaches, Charlie Pugh, played at Northwest from 1996-99 and won a couple of national titles.
Still, Jones had a lot to learn about what it takes to be successful in Bearcat green. He excelled in some things like the weight room. He needed work in other areas.
"Technique wise, Coach (Will) Wagner and Coach (Brandon) Clayton have done a great job with his technique," Tjeerdsma said. "He's become much more coachable as his years have gone along.
"I think he's really figured out, especially this fall, how important practice is and he can learn a lot in practice if he goes 100 percent. I think that has really made a difference for him."
Jones is at the point where he's helping younger players.
"Now I can break it down a lot more and teach it to the younger guys so they can understand it and go out there and know what to do and not freak out," Jones said.
One thing that has been noticeable in the first two games is the Bearcats overall defense looks a tad faster than previous years. They are flying all over the field trying to make plays.
In fact, Jones' first-game injury came from a teammate trying to make a play. Jones called it friendly fire.
Jones reluctantly admits the defense might be a little quicker this season.
"Our defense, especially on the back end, the secondary, we have a lot of speed back there," he said.
"But I'm not going to hate on Myles (Burnsides). He was very smart out there. He helped us out a lot. Right now we do have a lot of speed out there. Our linebackers and defensive line are very fast."
It all adds up to a MIAA conference winning streak that grew to 38 last week, just three shy of the record 41 set by Northwest from 1997-2001.
The players and coaches don't talk about records and what happened in the past, but fans and media sure do. And you can bet opposing MIAA teams talk in their locker rooms about being the team to end the streak.
The Bearcats can feel those outside pressures whether they talk about it or not.
"Each year it gets greater because everybody expects so much more out of us each year and expects us to go undefeated," Jones said. "Once we don't go undefeated and we lose that first game everybody goes, ‘we don't think Northwest will do this or that.'
"But to us, we don't worry about that. We worry about ourselves getting better and doing the little things."
The pressure this week is to keep possession of the Hickory Stick. The series dates back to 1931 and Truman actually leads the Hickory Stick series 42-29-4.
"When I first came here, we didn't have it and all we could do was show pictures of it," Tjeerdsma said.
"I think it is good. It is a unique thing, the football tradition of our school and their school. I think it is a special thing."
Northwest has won 13 of the last 14 meetings. The one loss was 2001 when Truman ended Northwest's 41-game conference winning streak.
"When I first got here I heard we had a game over a stick that is painted at the tip either green or purple," Jones said. "I was wondering why in the world we doing this? What's the meaning of it?"
"Now I know it's a very big and important game not only to us, but pretty much the whole Northwest community and the alumni."
Jones truly enjoys being part of the Northwest community. The tradition means a lot to him.
"When I go back home to Kansas City I see somebody with a Northwest alumni sticker," he said. "Or when I wear my Northwest shirt, people ask me if I go there still, do I play football and then we have a 5 or 10 minute conversation to see who is coaching up here. That's pretty 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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