(From Northwest Missouri State Athletics – SID Colin McDonough)
Northwest Missouri State has been known for its defensive prowess under the direction of head coach Rich Wright and the 2018 season looks to stay on that similar path.
Last season the Bearcats ranked first in the nation in scoring defense (9.3 ppg), total defense (212.8 yards/game), blocked punts (7) and third down conversion defense (19.9 percent). Northwest limited the opposition to 62.0 yards per game on the ground, which ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Northwest graduated three starters on the defensive line from last year’s squad. Ben Spaeth played in 11 games and racked up 37 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and three quarterback sacks. Spaeth recovered two fumbles. Caleb Mather saw action in 11 games and tied for the team lead in tackles-for-loss with 10. Mather was credited with 31 tackles and 4.5 quarterback sacks. Mather also accounted for three blocked kicks. Bobby Gruenloh played in nine games and recorded 25 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 quarterback sacks. The trio of seniors combined to tally 26 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks.
|NCAA National Rankings||Total Defense – Yards/Game||Rushing Defense – Yards/Game||Passing Defense – Yards/Game||Scoring Defense – Points/Game|
|2017||#1 – 212.8||#2 – 62.0||#8 – 150.8||#1 – 9.3|
|2016||#1 – 240.9||#1 – 67.7||#16 – 173.2||#1 – 12.0|
|2015||#1 – 224.0||#1 – 59.3||#20 – 164.7||#1 – 12.3|
|2014||#1 – 213.1||#2 – 70.5||#4 – 142.6||#5 – 14.8|
A big reason for that Northwest has ranked so high in the nation over the past four seasons has been a stellar defensive line.
“Our staff has done a good job of developing people and players,” Northwest head football coach Rich Wright said. “We have a lot of five-year kids and they know they won’t play in those first two years because they need to develop. Not only mentally, but physically and our job as coaches is to get them ready from both of those standpoints.”
The process has worked well for Wright as it has produced seven players that have made their way to the National Football League after playing on the Bearcat defensive line. Collin Bevins (Cleveland Browns), Harold Brantley (Cincinnati Bengals), Travis Chappelear (Dallas Cowboys), Matt Longacre (Los Angeles Rams), Dave Tollefson (New York Giants, Oakland Raiders), Cass Weitl (Washington Redskins), Steve Williams (Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots).
The Bearcats return first-team All-MIAA pick Austin Eskew (Lawson, Mo.) to the defensive front in 2018. Eskew led the Bearcats in sacks (6) and tackles-for-loss (10) last season.
“Austin is a great kid,” Wright said. “He is relentless. He has a motor that goes hard all the time. He is also explosive and possesses tremendous athleticism. One other thing about Austin is that he’s a converted tight end so he’s really still learning the position.”
Wright indicated returnees junior Mike Ehlke (Little Chute, Wis.), junior Zach Pierce (Gladbrook, Iowa), junior Spencer Phillips (Glenwood, Iowa), sophomore Sam Roberts (Waynesville, Mo.) and junior Myles Scott (Tampa, Fla.) will be in the mix keep the tradition of excellence alive on the defensive line. Wright also said Iowa Central transfer Jacob Giese (West Branch, Iowa) can look to see time on the line.
Wright said having everyone on the same wavelength is critical for the success of the team in 2018.
“We want everyone pulling the rope in the same direction,” Wright said. “From the head coach to the last walk on – do your job and know your role. Do what you do to the best of your ability.”
Wright said he wants this program to continue to achieve at the highest level and some of that comes down to identifying the right fit for Northwest.
“We want to recruit multi-sport athletes that like to compete,” Wright said. “It is crucial for athletes to step out of their comfort zone and compete in areas where they don’t always excel. We want high character kids. I want to talk to the custodian, the lunch lady and the librarian and see if they truly are high character kids away from the competition field. We want we-driven, not me-driven student-athletes. We want players that want to win and are passionate about football. We want kids that truly love the game of football.”
Wright said support for Northwest athletics comes from all over and is the underlying reason the Bearcats compete at a championship level year-in and year-out.
“The fans here are amazing,” Wright said. “We get to deal with the best kids in America. We get to work with great administration and support staff. You need to have administrative support because that gives you the chance to be successful.”
Northwest will open the 2018 football season at home on Thurs., Aug. 30, at 7 p.m. against Missouri Western. For ticket information call 660-562-1212 or visit www.bearcatsports.com/tickets.