(From Northwest Athletics – Via SID Colin McDonough)
Second-year offensive line coach Mike Cunningham will rely on a trio of returning starters to keep the Northwest Missouri State Bearcat o-line clicking in 2018.
“For us to be successful, our group has to play well as a cohesive unit,” Cunningham said. “The offensive line has the most experience returning on the offensive side of the ball. We will have a younger quarterback, so we need to take the pressure of that position. For a team to be really good you need the guys up front, on both sides of the ball, to take care of business.”
Senior Zach Flott (Ralston, Neb.) has moved to right tackle and will anchor the right side of the line. Flott earned third-team All-MIAA honors in 2017.
“Zach is a tremendous leader and a hard worker,” Cunningham said. “He is a physical football player. He knows our system inside and out. There are a lot of guys in the locker room that look up to Zach because of his leadership.”
Senior Chase Thomas (Smithville, Mo.) will be the busiest man on the line as he handles the center duties in 2018.
“Chase will have the most on his plate,” Cunningham said. “He will take care of all the pre-snap assignments and will have to identify the fronts. He is a standout football player and understands what we are trying to do as an offense.”
Sophomore Tanner Owen (Kearney, Mo.) posted honorable mention All-MIAA status after starting at left tackle in 2017.
“The sky is the limit for Tanner,” Cunningham said. “He is an athletic, hard-working tough guy. He played through a lot of injuries last season.”
The Bearcats will look to replace a trio of guys that played a majority of the 2017 season, Cunningham said.
“Ryan Huff was a 12-game starter for us and we lose a lot of game experience with his graduation,” Cunningham said. “Landon Kubicek played every position for us except center. We are going to miss his versatility. Myles McIntyre was another solid player for us on the offensive line.”
Cunningham said there are a handful of guys in the mix to battle it out to replace those missing pieces heading into the 2018 campaign.
Sophomore Gabe Bautz (Waukesha, Wis.) had a really good spring and has tremendous potential, Cunningham said. Bautz earned a start in the last season’s NCAA Div. II playoff game at Ashland.
Senior Trey Kothe (Macon, Mo.) can play both the guard and tackle positions. Kothe saw action in nine games last season and in 13 contests during the 2016 national championship season.
Sophomore Austin Clarkson (Scottsbluff, Neb.) played in two games last season. Clarkson saw action at tackle in 2017 and was moved inside to guard in the spring.
Junior Ryan Spelhaug (Bettendorf, Iowa) has seen action in six games during his career, including five last season.
Junior Tim Otting (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) saw action in four contests last season but missed spring drills due to an injury.
Cunningham said when it comes to identifying talent and recruiting for the Bearcats it comes down to three critical areas.
“We want guys on the offensive line who are physical, tough and can move,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham, a native of Milford, Neb., is happy to be on the Northwest coaching staff and nearly attended school here were it not for a late offer as a prep athlete.
“I came to Northwest to coach because of the history, tradition and success of this program,” Cunningham said. “I nearly came here out of high school but got a Division I scholarship at New Mexico State. In the coaching ranks, I became familiar with (head coach) Rich Wright and this is a great spot for our family.”
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.