By BEN JOHNSON
Joel Rockmore hobbled his way to 13 rushing yards against Pittsburg State in Northeastern State’s season opener. He didn’t even play the next week against Missouri Southern.
“At the start of the season,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said midway through the RiverHawks’ season, “Rock’ wasn’t cleared because of a medical condition.”
Rockmore, though, exploded onto the scene in Week 3 with 176 yards and a touchdown on 15 rushes against Washburn.
There wasn’t much stopping him from that point on.
NSU’s sophomore tailback from Lake Worth, Texas, finished the season with 1,024 yards and 10 touchdowns on 186 carries. Rockmore finished second in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in rushing yards per game with 113.8 yards in nine contests.
Yet, Rockmore was banished to the All-MIAA Second Team when the league released its postseason honors and awards — voted on by the 15 head coaches in the league — on Tuesday.
“You would definitely think he’d make the first team,” Evans said of Rockmore, who became NSU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Brandon Ishem accomplished the feat in 2005. “But when you have 15 different people voting — and some didn’t even play against you and some and some are just going by what they heard — it’s a little political at that point. I’m proud that he made it. In my mind, he’s a First Teamer, and I wouldn’t trade him for the other guys.”
Receiving more votes and landing in the two running back spots on the All-MIAA First Team was Missouri Western’s Michael Hill and Central Oklahoma’s Josh Birmingham. Hill led all rushers — and it wasn’t even close — in the MIAA with 1,809 yards on 245 carries (164.5 yards per game).
Birmingham, despite cracking the 1,000-yard rushing mark and finishing third in the league in rushing yards (1,073), was fourth in the MIAA in rushing yards per game (107.3). He was also fourth in the MIAA in all-purpose yards — adding 271 receiving yards and 424 kick-return yards — which helped him slip past Rockmore, who was fifth in that category.
Joining Rockmore on the All-MIAA second team were fellow NSU teammates, Michael Bowie (offensive line) and Langston Jones (linebacker). The RiverHawks also had six players receiver honorable mention nods: Johnny Deaton (quarterback), Jermaine Sherman (wide receiver), Ethan James (offensive line), Victor Johnson (safety), Vernon Jones (cornerback) and Drew Patton (kicker).
“I think there were more guys that were deserving, but it was tough to make All-Conference,” Evans said. “It was a little tougher to make it this year. There were some First Team guys from last year that didn’t make it this year.”
The top honors in the league were mostly garnered by Missouri Western, which won the league title by beating Northwest Missouri State last week. The Griffons’ Jerry Partridge was the league’s Coach of the Year, and Michael Jordan was the MIAA’s Freshman of the Year. Hill was named the Offensive Player of the Year.
Missouri Southern’s defensive lineman, Brandon Williams, was named the MIAA’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording 8 1/2 sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for loss this year. Pittsburg State’s John Brown was named the league’s top special teams player after leading the MIAA in punt-return average (15.4 yards) while compiling 430 kick-return yards.
Brown also picked up First Team honors at wide receiver. He was joined by former Muskogee standout, Shjuan Richardson, who led the league with 107.5 yards receiving per game at Emporia State.