Friday, Oct. 16
Two Freshmen Have Northwest No. 1
Bryan Boettcher, Northwest Director of Media Relations and Sports Information
Tyler Shaw and Jordan Simmons grew up on opposite sides of the state, but now they've arrived in Maryville and are two of the reasons the Bearcats' statistically have the best kick return team in the nation heading into week eight of the college football season.
Northwest's defense has been so good that the Bearcats' 17 returns this season are the fourth-fewest in Division II. That hasn't rusted a unit that averages 28.2 yards per return, nearly a full yard better than second-place West Alabama in the national ranks. Northwest's average field position this year has been its own 38-yard line.
Neither player has enough returns to individually qualify for national ranks, but that doesn't make Shaw's 35.8 average on kickoffs any less impressive (would rank third). Simmons is averaging 24.8 per kickoff and nearly 15 yards per punt return (would rank 12th).
The decision to put two freshmen in charge of special teams wasn't a tough one for head coach Mel Tjeerdsma.
"It was evident that both have what you're looking for in return people," said Tjeerdsma. "They're track guys, they're the fastest on our team, they're fairly elusive and they're football players."
It also shouldn't come as a shock that both players had two eyes glued on long-time return man Kendall Wright for nearly all of their redshirt seasons.
"I sat back, took notes and watched how Kendall did things," said Simmons. "He was really impressive in practice."
"He didn't try to do too much either," added Shaw. "He let the game come to him."
Talk to Simmons and Shaw long enough and Kendall won't be the only name you'll hear praised. In a two-minute span, the duo dropped high admiration for LaRon Council, Abe Qaoud and even Jake Soy, just one year their elder. A chat about the blocking schemes and week-in and week-out preparation by special teams coach Richard Wright followed.
Shaw did a little bit of everything at Liberty High School in St. Louis and was an all-state choice as a return specialist his senior season. Simmons returned kickoffs while earning all-state honors as a running back at Lee's Summit North High School in Kansas City. He never returned punts.
"I didn't really expect to be a punt returner here," said Simmons. "Coach T gave me a shot during spring ball and I kind of liked it."
Special teams aren't the only spots Simmons and Shaw have been featured in their first seasons. With 113 yards, Simmons is Northwest's third-leading rusher. He's also averaged 19.4 yards on nine catches. Shaw's 24 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns all rank second behind Soy in the receiving corps.
"We both knew we were going to get some playing time this season and we were hoping just to contribute a little bit," said Shaw. "Even when you contribute a little on this team, it feels like a lot."
As freshmen, there's plenty of room for improvement and both noted points of emphasis running through their heads. Shaw has been working on running better routes and gaining a better grasp of Northwest's offensive concepts. At 5-9, 185, Simmons realizes he needs to hit the weights.
"I've watched LC (LaRon Council) and when you pick up blitzes, you can't be a little guy back there," said Simmons.
You can catch Shaw, Simmons and the rest of the Bearcats in action Saturday as Northwest goes for its seventh straight win against Emporia State. Game time from Welch Stadium in Emporia, Kan., is 1 p.m.
For more information, please contact:
Phillip Dowden, Media Relations/Sports Information
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