KANSAS CITY, Kan- The 2017 season was nothing short of disappointing for the Northwest Missouri State football program.
The Bearcats now prepare for the 2018 season. It is the first time they are not the defending MIAA Champions in four years.
During the MIAA Football Media Day at Children’s Mercy Park on Tuesday, coach Rich Wright mentioned his team has a renewed chip on their shoulders.
“There has kind of been a renewed sense of intensity and urgency around our football program,” coach Wright said. “I think our kids really committed to getting ourselves back in the mix.”
Northwest lost in the first round of the playoffs at Ashland University last season.
Senior linebacker Nick Hess said seeing the previous senior class come up short of the usual Northwest standard provides motivation.
“I think we’re just hungry now,” Hess said. “We saw how those were in there last game and we don’t want to feel like that when it’s your time to be a senior.”
Hess and fellow senior linebacker Ben Althoff will lead a Bearcat defense that ranked number one in the nation in points and yards allowed.
Perhaps the biggest piece returning for the Northwest defense is first-team All-MIAA senior defensive end Austen Eskew, who will have to lead an inexperienced defensive line this season.
Coach Wright, who works closing with the defensive line, said that what the unit lacks in big names this season, they make up for in depth.
“We don’t have probably the marquee four we’ve had in the past,” coach Wright said. “I like our depth and I like our insanity.”
The Bearcats also return their two starters in the secondary with senior cornerback Anthony Lane and senior safety Jake Richards.
The quarterback battle between freshman Braden Wright and sophomore Jadyn Kowalski will play a role to the improvement of an offense that struggled at crucial points of last season.
Coach Wright did stress how the offensive line and the running game will be just as important with getting more production on that side of the ball.
“I think it goes hand in hand with our quarterback situation, and it's going to be important for us to run the football,” coach Wright said.
Coach Wright attributed improvement to the offensive line with coach Mike Cunningham having more time with the unit.
“Communication is so important for an offensive line and to have a uniform message coming into an offseason has been important,” coach Wright said. “The piece that I’ve been encouraged to see has been the physicality. To me you win football games in the midwest for national championships upfront.”
Third-team all-MIAA selection senior tackle Zach Flott is one of three players returning to offensive line this season. Sophomore Tanner Owen and senior Chase Thomas are the other two.
Flott said he expects his unit to be ready when the season comes around.
“Every guy we have playing on the offensive line this year played last year,” Flott said. “I think we’re gelling really well as the summer is ending and I expect that to continue into fall camp and into the season.”
Northwest was named number one in the MIAA media and coaches preseason poll.
However, coach Wright said he would have rather had his team be able to add on to the motivation they have had since their first round exist.
“Would I have preferred to be third or fourth,” coach Wright said. “You bet your you know what.”
The Bearcats officially kick off the season as it hosts Missouri Western 7 p.m. Aug. 30 at Mel Tjeerdsdma Field.