Nebraska-Omaha football team getting new respect

Matthew Clark

Nebraska-Omaha head football coach Pat Behrns was a little uncomfortable when the other MIAA football coaches tabbed the Mavericks to finish second in the conference on Monday.

“I’m not sure that I like this at all,” Behrns said jokingly.

However, there was one coach in the league that is overwhelmed that UNO is making its first appearance as a full member of the MIAA.

“I think that it is great,” said Northwest Missouri head coach Mel Tjeerdsma. “Unfortunately, we can’t find a way to beat them.”

The Bearcats, who were picked to repeat as league champs, lost to the Mavericks last season. But Behrns said that UNO has no expectations coming into a league already rife with football talent.

“There is no mistaking that we are coming into the strongest conference in the nation in Division II,” Behrns said.

Make no mistake, after a 32-year run in the North Central Conference, Nebraska-Omaha will make a large impact in the MIAA. The Mavericks, who finished 10-1 overall and 8-0 in the NCC, return most of their offensive power, led by senior quarterback Zach Miller who averaged 141.2 yards passing last year with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Miller also averaged over 70 yards on the ground with 10 rushing touchdowns.

UNO was fourth in the nation in rushing with tailback Brian McNeil returning for his senior season. McNeil averaged 140 yards rushing per game with 16 touchdowns.

“We think that we have an awful good corp. back on both sides of the ball,” Behrns said. “I think that the main concern, as it is every year, if we stay healthy throughout the year then we can compete.”

MIAA Commissioner Jim Johnson said that by adding UNO to the conference has long-lasting effects.

“What people really look at is the athletic success they have had and that speaks for itself across the board,” Johnson said. “That really speaks for itself and the look of our conference in every sport they compete in.

“It is an opponent that will not just be an addition to your schedule but it will probably look at how you prepare for a season strategically,” Johnson said. “They don’t sponsor a sport that does not have an opportunity to win a national championship and they do a great job.”

Behrns said that there was an air of intimidation when it came to playing in the MIAA.

“You look at all the teams and the media and it is a little intimidating,” Behrns said. “We are going to have to be ready for this because this is very high-level of competition on a week-to-week basis.”

Defensively, the Mavericks boast senior outside linebacker Jeff Souder and his 8 tackles per game and 13.5 tackles for loss average from a year ago.

“We are going to have to be at our best every week and that is what is exciting about it,” Behrns said.

Behrns was even unsteady about being picked second by league coaches.

“I guess the only other thing that would be worse would be if we were picked first,” Behrns said. “It is a little bit humbling to us to know that we have that kind of respect down here with our program to come down here and be picked second.”

But, being picked second in a poll does not bring a guarantee with it.

“It is nice and all but there is still a lot of football to be played,” Behrns said.

Matthew Clark can be reached at or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140