The rings are handed out, and “2014” is hanging on the press box commemorating the national championship. With the annual spring game now in the rearview mirror, a broad outline of what is to be expected in the fall has come in full view, because it’s never too early to talk football in Maryville.
Brady Bolles will take over under center for the defending national champs, and with big-game experience against Pittsburg State and Missouri Southern, the junior quarterback is set up for success.
His legs were his prime weapon last season, but he showed off his arm occasionally on play-actions and bootlegs. Obviously, he will have to expand his arsenal to keep the Bearcats in national title contention.
At running back, Phil Jackson II waited—with zen-like patience—during the regular season and began to show flashes of No. 1 running back potential in the playoffs. His touches were limited at the spring game—21 yards on four carries—but he did score the game’s first touchdown.
If Jackson picks up from where he left off last year, he could be an 800-yard rusher for Northwest, with Robert Burton III as a solid backup.
At wide receiver, the Bearcats will return Bryce Young, Justin Fulks, Reuben Thomas and Jason Jozaites to the mix with the only departure being Clint Utter.
Thomas did not participate in the spring game and was not on the sidelines for reasons unknown, but if he does return, he is an elite weapon in the slot.
Young looked great in the spring game—making double moves and sharp route running—much like last season. Fulks will be the x-factor in the offense after a season spent mainly on the bench due to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, much like Jordan Simmons did in his tenure.
Man, last year’s defense was good…really good, and don’t expect much drop-off this season, despite losing two NFL-bound corners.
Brandon and Brian Dixon were the cream of the crop in the secondary, and any time a team loses two players of that caliber, production will decline. It got to the point last season where people just didn’t throw to Brandon’s side of the field, instead opting for the third option with Brian covering the No. 2 wideout.
The talent is still there in the secondary with Tyshaan Alleyne and Bryce Enyard at corner. Both being the two best athletes on the field, they have the ability to make the defensive backfield a no-fly zone.
With Travis Manning at corner/safety, and more than likely Kevin Burg and Jared Fox at safety, the defense will resemble the 2012 secondary that led the nation with 28 picks.
They probably won’t pick off 28 passes, and offenses will test the inexperienced secondary, but not for too long.
The key to causing a lot of interceptions is a front seven that makes quarterbacks not want to go out on the field, and that’s what defensive coordinator Rich Wright has returning.
Led by Matt Longacre, the Division II Defensive Player of the Year, the D-line and linebackers are an offense’s nightmare.
Longacre is going to acquire double and triple teams throughout the year—deservingly so— and that will free up Brandon Yost and Colin Bevins to live in the backfield.
Just a sophomore, Bevins has the potential to be a multiple time All-American before his time in Maryville is finished. He has the type of talent and the physique to make it happen.
If there was an award for Hype Man of the Year, linebacker DJ Gnader would have added it to his trophy case, but since there isn’t, he will have to settle with All-Region and All-MIAA awards.
Gnader uses his speed to shut down the run sideline to sideline, while Eric Reimer uses brute strength to blow up blocking schemes.
Playing against this defense day in and day out, Bolles will have the pleasure of going against it every day in practice. If Bolles can produce against this defense in practice, then the rest of the MIAA could be in trouble.
Kyle Goodburn will return to take over the punting duties, and Simon Mathiesen will be in for extra points and field goals.
Mathiesen, aka “the Great Dane,” showed off his leg strength at the spring game, knocking in kicks from 37, 44 and 50 yards. Mathiesen is a weapon, and a good kicker could be the difference between going home early and a second ring.
Goodburn is one of the biggest game changers on the field, although some games he doesn’t even get a rep. He backs up the offense to the goal line with accuracy and has the boom to get it away from its.
One of Northwest’s biggest assets last season was its ability to block field goals and punts.
This is where the Dixons will be missed the most because if they didn’t get a hand on it, they were really, really close.
But with the athleticism returning on both sides of the ball, Northwest very well could be back to Dikembe Mutombo-ing kicks.
If the Bearcats are able to stay injury free and have no off-the-field incidents, they are primed for another title run.
While the spring game was just a taste, it left fans salivating on what they should expect come fall.