Northwest Missouri?State football kicks off practice

Charlie Slenker

Whistles blew. Helmets cracked. Adam Dorrel's yelling rose above all else.

It could mean only one thing.

It's time for some football.

Dorrel, offensive coordinator for the Northwest Missouri State football team, rivaled the energy of his players as the Bearcats took to the field for their first practice of 2008 Thursday morning. It was no small feat. After a summer of nothing but lifting and training, the players were more than a little anxious to get back on the gridiron — some a little more than others.

"I sat out spring ball with shoulder surgery and missed that," senior defensive end Sean Paddock said. "So, I've been kind of waiting for this since December 15 or whatever it was last year."

Coming off their third straight national championship appearance and picked to win their conference for the third straight year, the Bearcats have a lot to look forward too. Senior quarterback Joel Osborn, free of any quarterback controversy this season, was excited to take the reins of his team.

"It's great to be back out here," Osborn said. "It's been a long off season, but it's been a good one. We're just ready to get back out here and get started again."

Heading into his 15th season as Northwest's main man, coach Mel Tjeerdsma couldn't help but feel the contagiousness of the excitement around him.

"Just to be around this team and see the excitement they have and the desire to be out here and get going for another season, that makes it all a lot more fun," Tjeerdsma said.

The first day of practice didn't appear to be too strenuous with players wearing helmets, shorts, jerseys and no pads as they ran through plays. Still, a lot more got accomplished on the first day than simple play memorization.

The veteran players wasted no time letting their younger teammates know when they put on that Bearcat gear it's time to get to work.

"When the younger guys come in, we've basically got to tell them what the expectations are of everybody on this team, of them," Osborn said. "(We've) got to set an example of the Bearcat way."

That "Bearcat way" doesn't come without its consequences. Northwest's preparation and work ethic from coaches and players alike are second to none in Division II football. It's the reason the Bearcats are one of the most dominant teams in the past decade and a threat to every team, every Saturday.

Still, things aren't going to come easy in 2008. Northwest lost one of the most talented classes its ever seen in 2007, and a lot of players have big shoes to fill.

"We've got to have a sense of urgency right now," Paddock said. "We lost a lot of guys on both sides of the ball, whether they are starters or just role players. We've got to have guys step up.

"The only way to do that is to come out and have everyone give it their all."

Osborn knows as the team's starting quarterback he's got to lead by example.

"Being starting quarterback, you have to take control of things and show your teammates you can be trusted in whatever situation you're put in," Osborn said.

Making sure he never gets put in too many precarious situations are some of the Bearcats other leaders. Northwest's offensive line boasts the most experience collectively.

It's no surprise that three of the five are team captains this year.

Tjeerdsma said Reid Kirby, Matt Nelson, Jeremy Davis and the other 13 seniors started embracing their roles as leaders long before the first day of fall practice.

That kind of leadership is just something Tjeerdsma and the other coaches have come to expect from their older players these days.

"Our returning players did an awesome job this summer," Tjeerdsma said. "They were here all summer, just about all of them. We have 13 seniors. All of them are providing great leadership.

"That's just kind of a secondary thing right now. That's just a given that these guys are going to work hard and going to give us a great effort."

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