Northwest Missouri State, the defending NCAA Division II champions, will have its spring game on April 12 as an early tuneup for training camp, when Vashon Wolverines star defensive end Kenny Harrell will become part of the Bearcats program.
Missouri Western University, for which Gateway Jaguars star defensive lineman Jabari Wayne has signed for next season, will have its spring game on April 19.
Meanwhile, the University of North Dakota, which has signed Soldan defensive standout in lineman Demon Taylor, will have its spring game on April 26. Apparently the college football calendar of activities rarely end. For that reason Public High League football stars like Harrell and Wayne, who will be incoming freshmen on their respective teams in summer training camp have to be more conditioned than ever before because the incumbents have already been through spring drills.
Harrell, a 6-foot-4, 205 defensive end star from Vashon, realizes he will have to come into training camp in topnotch condition, given the nature of college football's year-round activities these days.
"Yes I know I have to be in extra good condition," says Harrell. "I know I'm going up against guys on another level. Right now I'm running track this spring to stay in shape and my coach is a personal trainer, so I'm really staying in shape."
The same holds true for Wayne, in terms of staying in shape this spring. But the 6-foot-4, 260-pound standout, is playing a football-related sport.
"I'm playing for Kirkwood (South St. Louis County) in a rugby league," notes Wayne. "I know it could be some (injury) risks but I'm not really worried about getting hurt."
By the same token, Wayne doesn't feel as though he will be significantly behind the returning players as a result as his not being eligible to compete in spring practice.
"I don't feel like I'll be at a disadvantage even though I'll be coming in a freshman," saysWayne. "I'll just come into camp and work my hardest and compete as well as the other players."
Because his high school team, the Jaguars didn't have someone logging statistics on a play-by-play or daily game basis last fall, Wayne's numbers like those of all his teammates, are incomplete. As a junior, he was credited with 43 tackles and eight sacks, although some of those game stats. were missing as well.
However, Missouri Western head coach Jerry Partridge saw enough of his production, skill, size and potential to extend him a scholarship to the Griffons program, which is located in St. Joseph's near Kansas City.
"Wayne is a great athlete with a man's body," says the Griffons head coach, who's team posted an 8-3 mark last year.
Wayne's high school coach, Jason Dulick, moreover, acknowledges how immeasurably versatile he was at Gateway, which gives him an even upside because of his physical dimensions.
"Jabari (Wayne) has great size and strength," raves Dulick. "College coaches love the potential that Jabari has. Jabari played a number of different positions for us. He played fullback, offensive tackle, defensive end, defensive tackle and some linebacker for us."
Fortunately for the Jagaurs, they had such an imposing utility player who was needed all over the field in a 3-8 campaign in which the club had to endure a litany of early-season injuries and play with a lot of inexperienced athletes.
"Even though we had a disappointing season there is always going to be room for improving," explains Wayne. "We were a young team with a lot of inexperienced players. Also with me coming from a PHL school, I'm going to show all the recruiters that the PHL produces great players like myself.
Wayne admits the coaches like his physical presence.
"My body size is what the coaches love about me and my size," said Wayne. "With my body size and athletic ability, I feel I can be a lot better."
Of course you don't have to go back that far to find the last great Gateway Jaguars defensive lineman to star on the collegiate level: That would be former University of Missouri standout Sheldon Richardson,who went on to capture the American Football Conference's defensive rookie of the year award last season for the New York Jets.
' "Success doesn't come easy"' is what Sheldon once told me and that's what Gateway football is all about," notes Wayne. "It's about reaching your max potential. With Sheldon's success in the back of my mind, he makes me thrive to try to become of the best."
But while Wayne and Harrell will have to wait until the pads come on in August to compete against returning and new players, four of Wayne's Gateway teammates the last few seasons, will start training camp pretty much on par with everybody else. None of their teammates will have a leg up on them, at least in terms of Missouri Baptist game experience.
. That's because Missouri Baptist, a West St. Louis County school, is ushering in an era of football for the first time. To that end, the program signed three linemen and an all-purpose back/ receiver: linemen Mark Cooley (6-2,250), Nehemiah Ford (6-2, 285) and Booker Thomas (5-10,255) and skill-position star Zach McBride (5-10, 165).
Dulick says the coaches there, which includes former Gateway head coach Charles Coe as an offensive assistant, are getting some talented, hard-working performers. As noted, McBride's numbers appear modest on the surface, but only because the school didn't have someone charting play-by-play statistics. Nevertheless McBride rushed for at least 506 yards and accumulated 430 receiving yards while scoring 12 touchdowns.
"Zach was our best athlete on the team," says Dulick. "Zach was our go-to guy and we tried to find ways to get the ball in his hands.Zach has nice size and good hands and will be a good fit at Missouri Baptist. He was our playmaker all season."
When healthy, the aforementioned linemen who will be joining McBride at Missouri Baptist were also extremely productive, which was much more prevalent the season before when they blocked for two 1,000-yard plus rushers in Michael Ball and Corbin Mason, both of whom graduated that season. Dulick said Cooley was the leader of the group.
"Mark served as our captain this year and has excellent leadership qualities," says Dulick. "Mark also has great size and strength. Mark is a four-year varsity player and used his experience to lead the team this year."
On Ford Dulick says range and flexibility made him a quality lineman.
"He was probably our most versatile athlete," notes Dulick. "Nehemiah has the whole package: size, strength and speed. He also missed the first two games of the season but came on strong in the end."
But while some linemen had versatility and agility, Dulick says Thomas was simply the most overpowering and dedicated of the interior crew.
"Booker was probably our strongest player," says the coach. "Booker was very dedicated and lived in the weight room in the offseason. Booker has quickness and speed and could pull on trap blocks and had the strength to drive his man off the ball. The defensive line coach at Missouri Baptist loves Booker's size and strength and thinks he could be a good fit with the program."
Presumably University of North Dakota head coach Kyle' Bubba' Schweigert also believes that Soldan's lineman Demon Taylor (6-4, 280) is a good fit for that program, after signing the Taylor, who had 79 tackles, six sacks and four fumble recoveries. So how did a North Dakota coach have interest in a St. Louis player, given the long distances in between. It turns out Schweigert had been in the Missouri-Illinois region the last 10 years.
"The coach was recruiting Taylor when he was coaching at SIU (Carbondale)", explains Vernon Whitley, Soldan's athletic director. "So when he got the job at North Dakota, he kept recruiting him."
Schweigert was defensive coordinator for the Salukis the last decade and coached three All-Americans during that time in the process. Whitley said the distance doesn't worry Taylor as much as the weather.
"I think he was more worried about the cold weather and the snow than how far away it is," jokes Whitley of Grand Forks, North Dakota.
In fact that's probably why the spring game at North Dakota is scheduled for late April. After all, when the team continued spring drills this week, there was still plenty of snow piled to the side of the field. Temperatures are finally expected to hit the 50s today, which should melt more of the snow.
But whether it's North Dakota, Northwest Missouri or Missouri Western, among others, football scrimmages and activities have become the new rite of spring.