Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

April 21, 2013

NSU needs to go from newbie to nuisance in MIAA

There was no red carpet rolled out. The reception was more akin to in-laws coming over to stay the weekend.

That’s how Northeastern State was greeted when it started playing in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association last fall.

There was no welcome wagon to greet the RiverHawks. No pleasantries exchanged. Instead, NSU was thrown to the wolves immediately, hosting the reigning national champion, Pittsburg State, at Doc Wadley Stadium.

NSU hung tough early on, but was humbled in the end with a 41-20 setback. Such was life in the MIAA for six weeks for the RiverHawks.

The roller coaster ride ensued, with NSU dropping six straight games, four of which were at least competitive in the fourth quarter. Same could not be said for NSU’s darkest hour: a 66-6 beatdown on Sept. 29 at the hands of Northwest Missouri State — on the MIAA Network, no less.

However, that gave way to a revival of sorts for the remainder of NSU’s 2012 season. The RiverHawks nearly upset No. 5 Missouri Western, and following that NSU closed out the campaign with four straight triumphs.

The green-and-white clad football team from northeast Oklahoma went from being the butt of most jokes to a bully of sorts by season’s end.

That’s what needs to continue to happen in 2013. The RiverHawks must become the predator, not revert back to the prey.

It won’t be easy. Pitt State, Washburn, Emporia State, Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western will still be pains in the backside. But each of those listed, nearly every one lost a key cog from last year’s team.

In Emporia, Kan., it was wide receiver Shjuan Richardson and tight end Adam Shiltz. Missouri Western could be hit hard by the absence of running back Michael Hill, defensive linemen David Bass and Ben Pister, and offensive lineman Macon Allan. Maryville, Mo.’s finest feel the effects of losing linebacker Collin Debuysere and defensive back Nate DeJong. Pitt State will virtually back from last year’s team, but it usually doesn’t matter in southeast Kansas — the Gorillas are always good.

Meanwhile, minus losing Michael Bowie — who played a near-perfect left tackle, NSU returns a team on the cusp of monumental success. Johnny Deaton has a yet another year under his belt at quarterback and should be the drill sergeant the RiverHawks need on offense. Joel Rockmore and Terrence Dixon could make up the best one-two punch at running back.

On Saturday, in NSU’s annual Green and White spring game, Dixon and Rockmore combined for 128 yards rushing. It may not sound overly impressive, but the tandem did it with Green loading the box with walk-on Corey Meadors playing quarterback. Thus, 128 yards doesn’t seem too shabby.

Also key to NSU’s offensive explosion will be Ethan James will move over from right tackle and fill Bowie’s void on the left side of the offensive front, and Ross Dvorak could be the league’s best center. And NSU has a group of wide receivers that the coaches are high on.

On the defensive unit, Victor Johnson will be the RiverHawks’ middle-of-the-field enforcer at his safety position. Same goes for linebackers, Langston Jones and Jack Gray. Vernon Jones will be NSU’s shut-down corner, and Marquin Watts isn’t far behind. Then, Faafetai Te’o and Kinley Choute will bolster a defensive line in need of some girth up front.

And the best part for NSU head coach Kenny Evans? Most of the players penciled in on the two-deep this season will still be around in 2014.

The future is bright. NSU could soon be the envy of the league. But that won’t happen until NSU sheds the punching-bag persona and opts to become a ruthless dictator.

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