Rich Wright has donned that fiery red hat for the better part of the last decade. Since 2011, the Northwest football coach has worn it for 123 games.
Most spectators at Northwest football games would never think anything of Wright’s routine, and most probably don’t ever notice how much it sticks out on the sidelines compared to the Bearcats’ usual green and white color scheme.
But the intention behind that red hat has never been to blend in. Actually, it’s the exact opposite.
“He was standing on a sideline at Wayne State. He had on a white hat; we had white jerseys on, and nobody could see him,” said Wright, who was reflecting on the legacy of the late Scott Bostwick. “His nephew was holding the cords. (Bostwick) looked at him, and he had a red Nike hat on. He plopped his hat off, grabbed his hat and put the red hat on.”
Despite its original purpose, when Northwest football hosts MIAA foe Central Oklahoma this Saturday for the Bearcats’ first game in Bearcat Stadium since Nov. 30, 2019, Wright won’t stand out as much as he usually does.
The players’ helmets will mirror Wright’s hat, featuring a red logo instead of the traditional green and white one.
Those traditions, both of which started in 2011 and haven’t stopped since, are to honor the coach who Wright grew emotional talking about at the Northwest Athletics Media Luncheon Tuesday afternoon.
“He was a big part of my life,” Wright said. “Always will be.”
Bostwick, who served as the defensive coordinator throughout the entirety of the 17-season Mel Tjeerdsma era, was tabbed as the program’s next head coach when Tjeerdsma elected to retire right before Christmas in 2010.
Despite being hired Dec. 31, 2010, he never got to officially be the head coach, dying of a heart attack June 5, 2011 — three months prior to the Bearcats’ first game that fall.
“When Scott got the head job, he and I were doing an interview, and they asked if I was going to wear the red hat, because the defensive coordinator wears a red hat,” Wright said. “He was like, ‘No, he’s going to find his own tradition, his own things to do.’ When he passed, I just felt like (wearing the red hat) was the right thing to do.”
And if there was one more thing Wright wanted to do for Bostwick — aside from continuing the chase to obtain a perfect defense — it was to assure the plan for his final soon-to-be tradition got carried out.
Bostwick, Wright has previously said, was “as stubborn as the day is long.” He was longing for the program to have black jerseys as an alternate to the usual green tops the Bearcats wear during home games. After extensive convincing to Northwest’s administration, Bostwick’s request was fulfilled, though the players were never aware of the plan.
On Sept. 24, 2011, the Saturday of Family Weekend and a few hours prior to Northwest football’s 70-17 beatdown of Fort Hays, the players entered the locker room with the green jerseys hanging in each locker. After they left for a team breakfast, the jerseys were switched out for the black ones that Bostwick purchased before he passed.
“That was kind of his last gift to our football team,” Wright said. “We’ve always worn black since, always have the red paws on — just symbolic.”
This Saturday, the Bearcats (2-0) are hoping to emulate the program’s 53-point win on Family Weekend from 2011. This time, though, it’ll be against the Bronchos (1-2).
The programs have split the last meetings, with Central upsetting Northwest in Edmond, Oklahoma, during the 2018 season and Northwest exacting revenge with a 59-10 win on Family Weekend in 2019.
The Bearcats hope to win their second straight against Central behind the country’s sixth-best scoring defense, along with sophomore quarterback Mike Hohensee — who started his first collegiate game in Week 3.
Despite, statistically, being one of the best defenses in Division II, Wright is expecting more.
“I wasn’t overly happy with our performance,” Wright said of the Bearcats’ 47-7 win against Central Missouri Sept. 18. “All of that stuff’s going to be addressed starting, well, yesterday.”
“My goal is for our kids to play to our level,” Wright said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not overly interested in statistics; I’m interested in what I see with my two eyes. The fact of the matter was that we could’ve really unleashed a dominating performance and didn’t.”
The Bronchos’ record isn’t necessarily reflective of their talents, Wright said. They were able to hand Missouri Western a 24-20 loss in Week 1 before losing their previous pair of games to Emporia State in Week 2 (31-21) and Missouri Southern in Week 3 (14-10).
“Nick (Bobeck) does a good job of bringing a football team that’s well prepared,” Wright said of Central’s coach. “They took a tough loss last week, and they’re going to look to rebound from that.”
For Northwest football, and the entirety of Maryville, this weekend will serve as more than a weekend in which families unite after sendings students off to college. When the Bearcats take the field, it’ll mark the first game in Bearcat Stadium in 665 days.
There aren’t too many things similar to the atmosphere in Bearcat Stadium, Wright said, and he’s expecting a packed house — one he hopes is thronged with spectators donning black shirts and red hats.