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Northwest Missouri Football Ushers in New Era After National Title Win

Ian Echlin
Northwest Missouri State celebrates its national title moments after the game ended.

The Northwest Missouri State football team won its second straight NCAA Division II championship on Saturday, but the shine from that trophy wore off when the university announced just a few hours later that football coach Adam Dorrel was leaving. He accepted an offer to coach at Abilene Christian University in Texas.

Richard Wright, the newly-named coach, has hardly had time to think about the big shoes he’ll fill. In six years, Adam Dorrel took the Bearcats football team to a level the university had never seen before.

Though fewer in numbers than a year ago because of the freezing weather, fans filed in at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday to see if Northwest Missouri could keep the nation’s longest current winning streak going. The victory marked 30 straight wins and a repeat of the NCAA Division II championship.

Among the fans was Eric Driskell, the Blue Valley High School coach. He was there to see his former quarterback, Kyle Zimmerman, start his last game as a senior at Northwest Missouri. 

Dorrel, the Bearcats coach, praised Zimmerman for his patience in awaiting his opportunity to start at quarterback. Dorrel asked Zimmerman to hang on for four years before giving him his chance this season.

“He never wavered in his belief in Northwest Missouri State,” said Dorrel. “He never talked that dirty word of transferring.”

That perseverance is one of several qualities ingrained into the players, according to Bearcats receiver Jordan Grove.

“The life lessons you learn playing for Coach Dorrel, doing the little things. Going that extra yard for your teammates. He instills that selflessness into the players. I think that helps us really bond and sets us up for success in the future,” said Grove.

Dorrel has persevered, too. Under coach Mel Tjeerdsma, who led the Bearcats to their first three national championships, Dorrel was a graduate assistant in 1999. That year marked the first time the Bearcats repeated as national champions.

“I coached tight ends. I knew nothing about running routes. I was fresh off playing O-line,” said Dorrel who chuckled.

Yet Dorrel made his way up the coaching ladder. He unexpectedly was thrust into his first head coaching opportunity six years ago when Scott Bostwick died of a heart attack only a few months after he was named to succeed Tjeerdsma. Dorrel built a team tough enough to deal with any circumstance.

But as a Maryville native, Dorrel said dealing with the weather is right up there, “It’s either windy or really windy. It’s either cold after Thanksgiving or really cold, so you have to build your team like that.”

The Bearcats withstood blizzard conditions on a frozen field to beat North Alabama, 29-3. They won because of a reminder Dorrel gets across through a locker room sign.

“The last thing you see when you walk out of our locker room above our door says ‘Through these doors pass the toughest, hardest working, best-conditioned student athletes in college football,’” said Dorrel.

It has translated into three national championships in the last four years. Those are high expectations for any coach, especially a first-time coach like Richard Wright. While watching a replay of the title game, Wright got a reminder of the shoes he’s stepping in from within his own family.

“I’m sitting there watching the national championship. Just enjoying my time,” said Wright during his introductory news conference on Monday. “My daughter made me aware that if we won 11 more game in a row that we would have the all-time record for wins.”

The ballroom in the Northwest Missouri student union broke out in laughter after that remark.

Wright knows it’s an albatross, but as an assistant coach under Dorrel he saw how the program dealt with expectations.

Tjeerdsma is athletics director at Northwest, so he made the call on Wright. Though the decision was announced the same day the Bearcats won the national title, Tjeerdsma said he knew who would take over.

“When I think about Coach Wright, the No. 1 thing that I think about—I’ve told people this from all over the country and I’ve had people that know what I’m talking about when they know about football. Number 1, Rich Wright is a teacher,” said Tjeerdsma when introducing Wright on Monday.

Tjeersdma added that Wright meets several other qualities. He’s organized, detail-oriented and a motivator.

It’s Wright’s first job as a head coach and one he says he has dreamed about since he got his start in the coaching business in 1995.

The same way as Adam Dorrel did, a graduate assistant at Northwest Missouri State. 

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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