Aug. 3, 2006
2006 Preseason Practice Schedule and Outlook
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Northwest Missouri State football head coach Mel Tjeerdsma will begin his 13th season with the Bearcats as the team begins practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 9 a.m. The team will begin practicing in full pads on Sunday, Aug. 13. All practices are open to the public will take place at the west practice fields across the street from Bearcat Stadium.
An intrasquad scrimmage is set for 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, on the practice fields.
The Bearcats will open the 2006 season at home against the Mavericks of Minnesota State, Mankato. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m., on Sept. 2.
Preseason Practice Schedule (subject to change - please call the athletic media relations office for confirmation)
Aug. 9, Wed. - 9 a.m. (no pads)
Aug. 10, Thurs. - 9 a.m. (no pads)
Aug. 11, Fri. - 9 a.m. (shoulder pads)
Aug. 12, Sat. - 9 a.m. (shoulder pads)
Aug. 13, Sun. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 14, Mon. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
3 p.m. (shoulder pads)
Aug. 15, Tues. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 16, Wed. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
3 p.m. (shoulder pads)
Aug. 17, Thurs. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 18, Fri. - 9 a.m. (shoulder pads)
3 p.m. - intrasquad scrimmage at Bearcat Stadium
Aug. 19, Sat. - 3 p.m. (shoulder pads)
Aug. 21, Mon. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
3 p.m. (shoulder pads)
Aug. 22, Tues. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 23, Wed. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 24, Thurs. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 25, Fri. - 9 a.m. (full pads)
Aug. 26, Sat. - 9 a.m. (should pads)
BEARCATS LOOK TO CONTINUE NATIONAL PROMINENCE: 2006 OUTLOOK
After going to the NCAA Division II National Championship last season and making the playoffs for the eighth time in the last 10 years, what does the 2006 Northwest Missouri State team have for an encore?
"We want that national championship," said head coach Mel Tjeerdsma, who begins his 13th season with the most wins in school history at 118-35.
"After the 2004 season and the quarterfinal round loss, we made our goals to win the national championship for 2005. Now that we made it to that game last year but fell short, we want to win the whole thing. These guys are committed to do that."
Placing themselves on the national scene has been a constant for Northwest as it has been ranked in the American Football Coaches' Association (AFCA) poll for the last 29 straight weeks (entering 2006) including a No. 2 spot in the final 2005 Top 25. Since the 2000 season, Northwest is tied with North Dakota for the fourth-highest victory amount (60) in Division II and is seventh in win percentage (.800). See box below for a complete listing.
On the conference level, Northwest has won outright or shared seven of the last 10 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) Championships. However, there has been a two-year drought from the trophy being shipped to Maryville. Tjeerdsma explains that is another goal of his club.
"We haven't won a conference title since 2003 and an outright title since 2002. This group of seniors has not won an outright title and that is a huge goal for them."
The 11-4 season in 2005, which marked the eighth time in the last 10 seasons Northwest posted 10-plus wins, was perhaps viewed as a huge success by many but that National Championship loss lingers in the minds of many players and coaches.
"The disappointment of losing the final game was far outweighed by our effort," said Tjeerdsma. "Even though we ended the year with a loss, we still had a great season."
The Bearcats set a NCAA Division II record by winning four straight road games before falling to Grand Valley State in the 2005 title game. There was some doubt on whether Northwest would make the round of 24 teams in postseason action - Northwest slipped in with the No. 6 seed in the Southwest Region.
The Bearcats return 17 starters (including special teams) from the 2005 club including eight on defense and five on offense. Last year's defense ranked third in the MIAA in total defense while the offense was second in passing and fifth overall.
Following is a look at the 2006 team by position.
Usually the quarterback is one of the most highly contested positions, and in 2006, that will especially hold true for Northwest signal callers. This year's battle for the starting spot will be waged between two youngsters in junior Josh Mathews (St. Louis, Mo.) and sophomore Joel Osborn (Harlan, Iowa).
Mathews has a leg-up on experience based on his duties when he took over for Josh Lamberson, who fractured his hip mid-way through the 2004 season. Mathews started the final five games
in 2004 including two playoff contests. Overall, he tossed 11 TDs and passed for 1,263 yards with a
career-high 290 versus Pittsburg State in the playoffs. The Lafayette High School graduate tossed 10 touchdowns in his final five games.
A Harlan, Iowa native, Osborn was awarded the 2004 Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year. He saw action in the final regular season game against Southwest Baptist throwing his first career touchdown on his first career pass attempt. Coaches feel that Osborn has the work ethic to push Mathews for a starting position come Week 1.
"If I had to pick someone right now, I would say Josh based on his experience," said Tjeerdsma. "But, both guys have worked extremely hard in the offseason and both will play this season.
"But, I don't see us alternating. Ultimately, what is going to make us the best as a team is what we are going to go with. Both players are very capable of leading this football team."
Both Mathews and Osborn will be trying to fill the void of Lamberson, who is staying on staff as a graduate assistant coach in charge of the quarterbacks. Lamberson was a two-time All-MIAA selection and left Northwest as the all-time leader in total offense, completions and completion percentage as well as placing second in three other passing categories.
The running back spot should be one area of no concern. Enter in the fray junior Xavier Omon (Beatrice, Neb.), a two-time All-MIAA selection who is just 317 yards from breaking the all-time rushing record (all games) at Northwest (he stands with 3,218 yards). Take a look at the numbers. In 27 career games, Omon has gone over the 100-yard barrier 15 times including over 200 on three occasions. He has been the main reason for the rushing offense to average 159.0 yards per game in his two years - the two years prior to Omon's arrival (2002-03), Northwest averaged 110.4 yards.
Omon bettered his record-setting effort as a freshman by hitting for a school-high 1,643 yards on 309 attempts last year. Winning and the success of Omon's efforts go hand-in-hand. Northwest is 12-3 when Omon goes for 100 rushing yards in his career. The career playoff record-holder in rushing yards (856) and rushing touchdowns (9) became just the third running back at Northwest since 1965 to post consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns.
"Omon became the workhorse for us last year," said Tjeerdsma. "He really thrived in the playoffs, and when we gave him more carries, he responded. I am not afraid of using him a lot."
Redshirt freshman LaRon Council (Kansas City, Mo.) and sophomore Brant Gregg (Maryville, Mo.) are strong rushers behind Omon and "will provide very good backups," stated Tjeerdsma. Council got people's attention by a strong effort at the Spring Game while Gregg was the team's third leading rusher last season as he appeared in five games.
"I think that our running game will enhance the passing game with some play action," said Tjeerdsma. "We have the ability to throw the ball and I want to keep teams honest."
A youthful set of receivers, based on their class, is not so raw after having played significant roles last season. Junior E.J. Falkner (Omaha, Neb.) and sophomores Rapheal Robinson (Kansas City, Mo.) and Kendall Wright (Sulphur Springs, Tex.) all improved dramatically as the season progressed.
In addition to being the primary kick returner, Falkner went for 486 yards on 37 catches in 2005. Falkner had a personal-high 83 yards in the playoff win against Washburn and a career-high seven catches in the Semifinal victory at North Alabama.
In the playoffs, Robinson became a consistent target with four catches and 46 yards in the Angelo State win. His most memorable catch, his first career touchdown on the final play of the game against North Alabama, sent Northwest to the National Championship.
"Robinson will really help us out as he plays more," said Tjeerdsma. The 6-2, 200 lb., Robinson posted 14 of his 17 catches after the sixth game including seven in the playoffs.
Wright, a shifty 5-11, 170 lb., athlete doubles as the punt returner. He was third on the team with 518 receiving yards on 39 catches and five touchdowns. His 269 punt return yards puts him ninth on the Northwest single-season list.
Junior Mike Peterson (Atlantic, Iowa) comes off a strong second-half of the 2005 season. After having a broken jaw and not seeing action in the first two games, Peterson tallied two 100-yard games in his final three including a career-best 150 yards in the National Championship. He is the top returning pass catcher with 614 yards on 48 catches (12.8 avg.) and six touchdowns from a year ago. The Honorable Mention All-MIAA selection has two more years of football.
Sophomore Sydney Brisbane (Maryville, Mo.), senior transfer Ryan Clift Millersville University (Penn.) and junior Jon Goss (Kearney, Mo.) at tight end could contribute immediately in the passing game.
"A question mark is who will evolve as the leader," said Tjeerdsma. "These receivers have talent but the consistency has to be there."
Just two starters are welcomed back in senior Joe Holtzclaw (Sedalia, Mo.) and sophomore Reid Kirby (Gladstone, Mo.). Holtzclaw held the starting right tackle spot all 15 games and goes into 2006 with 28 straight starts. Kirby filled in at left tackle in Week 4 and started the remaining 12 contests.
Other returning lineman looking to fill starting spots are sophomore Drew Butler (Topeka, Kan.), senior Gabe Frank (St. Louis, Mo.), junior Tom Pestock (Lenexa, Kan.) and sophomore Adam Schroeder (Omaha, Neb.).
Butler and Frank appeared in eight games combined in a reserve role while Schroeder was the starting right guard in the final two games due to an injury to Eric Hoyt. Pestock returns to the offensive side after seeing some time on the defensive line posting seven tackles last season.
Four transfers will add depth: junior Adam Barr from Butte (Calif.) CC, junior Kyle Dunn from North Iowa Area CC, sophomore Jeremy Davis from the University of Houston and junior Steve Stroh from Moorpark (Calif.) College.
"The offensive line is our obvious question mark," said Tjeerdsma. "We have just two starters back and we need some young guys to develop."
The line anchors a strong defensive unit who coach Tjeerdsma considers "to be one of the better defenses at Northwest that we have had." And that is saying a lot considering the defense has been ranked amongst the top in the conference in several key categories.
Senior captains Kyle Kaiser (Elkhorn, Neb.) and Ryan Waters (Independence, Mo.) bring experience and all-conference-type ability. Kaiser, the starting defensive tackle for the last 28 games, was an Honorable Mention All-MIAA pick last year after totaling 74 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Waters enters his senior year 5.0 sacks away from the top mark at Northwest of 21.5 - he had 11.0 last year and was a Second Team honoree at defensive end.
At the other defensive tackle position, junior Dallas Flynn (Blair, Neb.) returns after a breakout season in which he finished with 49 tackles including 6.5 sacks.
Looking to find some playing time is sophomore Ramsey Atieh (St. Joseph, Mo.), senior Joah Beagley (Springfield, Mo.), junior transfer Terry Bilbro from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, junior transfer Dominic Foli from Moorpark (Calif.) College, sophomore Brett Harding (Kansas City, Mo.) and junior transfer TJ Kaatmann from Northern Illinois.
After going into last season with many doubts at the linebacker position, the 2006 campaign has a strong crop thanks to the team's top two leading tacklers returning in junior Jared Erspamer (Omaha, Neb.) and senior captain Ben Harness (Jefferson City, Mo.). Both combined for 163 tackles and 16.5 tackles-for-a-loss while starting all 15 games.
The other outside position has several competing including sophomore Zach Chambers (Treynor, Iowa), sophomore transfer Daniel Gabris from Western Illinois, junior Tommy Miller (Shawnee, Kan.) and senior transfer Thomas Smith from the University of Northern Colorado.
Chambers totaled 12 tackles in 13 games last year while Miller had 34 tackles including three for-a-loss in 15 games. Miller improved as the season progressed averaging 5.0 tackles in his final five games at linebacker.
"This year we have great depth all along the defense," said Tjeerdsma. "That creates competition and I don't think many guys are comfortable with coming back as a starter because of all the depth."
The defensive backfield lost only one regular to graduation and with five seniors and several others in the mix for four positions, the theme of "depth" is evident.
"We will have lots of seniors playing and all will play an integral part to carry our football team," said Tjeerdsma."
Sophomore Brandon Clayton (St. Louis, Mo.) was the starter at right cornerback for the first six games before having a season-ending knee injury. Clayton had 12 tackles and one interception before his setback. Seniors Diezeas Calbert (Omaha, Neb.) and Darcell Clark (Springfield, Mo.) stepped in to cover the remaining games with Calbert starting two others at left cornerback. Calbert led all corners and safeties with 68 total stops while Clark posted 36 tackles and two picks.
Senior Quinten Womack (San Diego, Calif.) earned Second Team All-MIAA accolades at left cornerback after going for 51 tackles, three interceptions and a team-high eight passes defended. Womack picked off two passes versus Missouri Southern (Sept. 24), one of which he returned 87 yards for a touchdown. The two interceptions in one game was the first for a Bearcat in three seasons.
Senior Tyler Martin (Bendena, Kan.), senior Brandon Pratt (St. Joseph, Mo.) and junior Chris Termini (Gladstone, Mo.) are the leading candidates for the two safety positions. Martin filled in for 15 games where he had 40 tackles and two forced fumbles. Pratt started the final 13 games at free safety totaling 64 tackles and two interceptions. Termini collected 29 tackles including 2.5 for-a-loss.
Junior Derek Garrett (Maryville, Mo.) and sophomore transfer Chris LeFlore from the University of Nebraska add competition. Garrett appeared in six games and had 12 total tackles.
Going into the 2005 season, the special teams play was the biggest question mark because all the players were going to be fresh. What a difference a year makes having Falkner, sophomore placekicker Tommy Frevert (Lee's Summit, Mo.), sophomore long snapper Cody Lanus (Liberty, Mo.) and Wright returning.
In the kick return game, Falkner went for 541 yards (23.5 avg.) last season, which was the third-highest mark at Northwest. His highlight came in the Fall Classic at Arrowhead IV when he had five returns for 170 yards (34.0 avg.). As a true freshman, Frevert delivered under pressure including a game-winning 39-yard field goal in overtime against Minnesota State (Aug. 25). His 53 PAT's puts him sixth on the school's single season chart and he ranked second in the league in field goal accuracy (57.9). His 42-yarder against Missouri Western (Sept. 17) was a career-high.
Lanus was the regular snapper on punts, PAT's and field goals. Wright nearly put together 1,000 all-purpose yards with 269 of those coming on the punt return. His 12.8 average (21 attempts) placed him 28th in the NCAA. Wright consistently handed Northwest great field position including the Angelo State contest (Nov. 12). He twice had punt returns over 20 yards including a season-best 32-yarder as Northwest scored touchdowns after both of those returns.
According to Tjeerdsma, the punter will be decided in fall workouts. Tjeerdsma feels it will be a newcomer who will win the spot. Northwest turned to three different punters during the course of last season. At times, Lamberson would take the snap at the quarterback position in a deep shotgun and would "pooch" kick. Gabe Lickteig was the leading punter in attempts (39) and average (38.7) but did not return for 2006.
"I feel good about what Frevert did as a true freshman," said Tjeerdsma. "He performed extremely well and gained a lot of confidence. Lanus is a solid snapper and Wright and Falkner are both very good in the return game."
For more information, please contact:
Phillip Dowden, Media Relations/Sports Information
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