Dec. 12, 2010
Smooth as Soy
By David Boyce
Northwest Missouri State junior wide receiver Jake Soy seems to be in perfect sync with senior quarterback Blake Bolles.
A week ago, Soy had a career-high 161 yards receiving in a 35-31 victory at Texas A&M-Kingsville in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
But an unsolvable issue exists between the two and it definitely won't be cleared up before the Bearcats, 11-1, take on Central Missouri, 11-2, 1 p.m. Saturday at Bearcat Stadium in the quarterfinals.
The dispute: Who will win when Nebraska plays Iowa next year in the Big 10?
Soy grew up in Durant, Iowa, and was a season-ticket holder to Hawkeye games. Bolles is a native of Lincoln, Neb., and obviously bleeds red when he's not in Bearcat green.
"Bolles is about the biggest Nebraska fan you will find," Soy said.
So who will win in what will become a huge football rivalry in the Midwest?
"Yes, Nebraska is going to win," Bolles said. "Jake knows that."
Soy responds with that slight grin he gets before answering an amusing question, "Yea, right."
Soy then walked away as he heard Bolles talk about how valuable the wide receiver is to Northwest.
"He's a veteran as a junior," Bolles said. "He's a great target to have out there even though teams are double-teaming him. But every single game he finds ways to get open and make plays. He's just a huge asset for our team."
When it comes to Northwest football and success on the field, Soy and Bolles have a singular goal: win.
The offensive numbers for Soy haven't been as prolific as last year when he led the nation with 1,556 receiving yards and 27 touchdown receptions. He was just the second player in Division II history to catch that many touchdowns.
But a year ago, Soy began the season as just a guy in a Northwest uniform. He wasn't a feared threat. After all, he only caught 10 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown in his redshirt freshman season.
A rib injury just before the start of the season limited his effectiveness as a freshman. Instead of getting discouraged, Soy worked harder.
"Being from Iowa and around athletes from where I'm from, we really pride ourselves on working hard," Soy said. "We don't always have the most athletic ability, but we work hard. For myself, that has been enough to get me where I am today. It's my work ethic."
Coach Mel Tjeerdsma said the work Soy put in in the weight room between his freshman and sophomore seasons is a big reason why he performed so well last year.
"He went from being a guy who was OK physically to being a very physical football player," Tjeerdsma said. "That was a whole difference. He would probably tell you that, too.
"He made a commitment to getting bigger and stronger and it made a tremendous difference as a total football player."
It was even more important for Soy to be physically ready this season. The unknown tag was long gone.
Now, opposing defensive backs looked at him on tape and wanted to be the one to shut Soy down.
"I came on the scene unnoticed, which was really nice," Soy said. "This year I haven't had that luxury. I've always noticed I have a safety over top of me. Our double-move routes are tough to get open. At times it can get frustrating, but you have to remain patient and trust you are going to make a play when you get the opportunity to."
Oh, the D-backs also talk to Soy when he comes up to the line of scrimmage. They try to get into his head.
"I get it all the time that I don't have great speed," he said. "I just laugh. It usually fades away towards the end of the game. That's their big comment. I let my actions on the field speak. I'm not a big talker.
"But they definitely try to get into your head more. They talk to you a lot more. They know who you are before you come into the game and they make sure they don't care who you are. It makes it more fun. It makes it real competitive."
Soy has that rare combination of an easy-going personality and burning, competitive fire. He's quick with a smile, wants to do his best, but is also realistic about his abilities.
He downplays his basketball skills.
Tjeerdsma, though, said the first time he saw Soy in competition was on the basketball court.
"After I watched him play basketball I was sold on him," Tjeerdsma said. "He could jump. He dunked the ball with ease. He had big hands and was real athletic.
"He was pretty good. He will tell you he was great like all these guys."
Actually, Soy is modest about his round ball abilities. He said he made first-team all-conference and all-academic teams his junior and senior year. He averaged a double-double his senior year, dropping in 20 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
But he readily admits he's not the best basketball player on the football team.
"Oh no, not by a long shot," Soy said.
Soy, though, has a toughness that makes him a player you would want on your football team or your pick-up basketball team.
In the last game of the season against Pittsburg State, Soy suffered a leg injury in the first half. He hobbled back on the field in the second half and played the following week against Missouri Western in the first round of the playoffs.
"A week ago against Missouri Western, just being on the field I thought was tremendous," Tjeerdsma said. "His presence on the field means a lot to us."
Bolles will certainly attest to that and it goes beyond having a receiver with some of the best hands in college football at any level.
"He's definitely a positive influence," Bolles said. "Whenever something is going wrong, he's one of the guys encouraging everybody. He never gets down on anybody. He's one of those people who others respond very well to because he has such a strong work ethic."
Soy is ready for the next chapter in what has been a wild playoff ride for the Bearcats. In both games, the Bearcats have overcome double-digit deficits in the second half to win.
"It's kind of weird how the games play out," Soy said. "Throughout the whole thing, whether we are down or not, we stay calm. We've been there so many times that some way or another we will pull it out.
"The game against Central will probably be harder hitting than the first time. It is going to be a real challenging game for us, but we look forward to it."
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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