Very few players on No. 7 Northwest Missouri State's roster, if any, have had as much frustration to deal with this year as senior safety Clarke Snodgrass.
After spending an entire off-season preparing for his final year at Northwest, Snodgrass suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of fall camp that caused him to miss the rest of camp and the first five games, taking away nearly half of his senior season.
"That was one of the tougher things I've had to go through since I've been here," said Snodgrass, a former walk-on from the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield. "Any year would be tough going through that, but when it's your senior year...I dedicated my entire spring and summer to this, and I got through relatively injury-free. And the first day of camp to get injured is just frustrating."
At least for now, the frustrating times appear to be behind Snodgrass.
His hamstring returned to full strength last week, allowing him to make his first appearance of the season in Northwest's 70-7 win against Central Oklahoma.
Slated as one of the team's two starting safeties entering the year, Snodgrass expects to make his first start Saturday against No. 1 Pittsburg State in the Fall Classic at Arrowhead Stadium.
"It's incredibly exciting," said Snodgrass. "If I had to choose it to be against a team and at a certain place, that would be it—Arrowhead against Pitt. It couldn't be any better."
A back-up and spot starter each of the past two years, Snodgrass will take over the safety spot manned by converted corner Travis Manning for the first six games.
He and Manning shared reps alongside Nate DeJong last week and estimates playing 30-40 snaps.
Snodgrass recorded three tackles and was able to shake off the rust evident from missing all that time.
"The game was a big step for me getting my legs and getting the game speed," said Snodgrass. "I haven't made a tackle since spring ball. I haven't been in any contact drills this year so that was a big deal just to get out there and feel the game flow and all that stuff."
One of just two seniors in the secondary, Snodgrass says he injured his hamstring on a non-contact drill in practice and felt it pop.
The injury, his first since a concussion in 2010, kept him out the next four weeks, overlapping into the season.
Snodgrass returned to practice before the Central Missouri game and intended to make his season debut in Warrensburg before a setback derailed those plans and kept him on the shelf even longer.
Sndograss said another setback occurred before the Northeastern State game in week five.
"I sat down with my trainers and my coaches and we had a pretty good discussion about what to do the whole time," said Snodgrass. "I've been trying to shorten this timetable about getting back and doing various kind of rehabs and therapies and not taking time off. It finally got to a point that they just had to shut me down for a week-and-a-half."
One of the other topics broached during a meeting with the Northwest coaches was whether to scrap Snodgrass' senior year and have him take a medical redshirt.
He quickly decided not to go down that road.
"It got to a point where (coach) was like we might have to sit down and have this conversation," said Snodgrass. "It's really important for me to finish out with my class and I think we have a special thing we can do this year, so I want to be part of that."
With his hamstring finally cooperating, Snodgrass is ready to salvage what remains of his senior year.
His return adds even more depth to an improved secondary and allows Manning to move back to his natural position at corner.
The Bearcats rank second in the MIAA in pass defense (186.3 ypg) and have picked off 11 passes, tied for the most in the MIAA.
Northwest's secondary will receive its most stringent test of the year from the Gorillas who rank third in the MIAA in pass offense.
Shaw taking over No. 1 role
After two quiet games to open the season, Northwest senior receiver Tyler Shaw has become the consistent go-to threat the Bearcats hoped he would be.
Over the last four games, Shaw has seven touchdowns reception—second-most in the MIAA—and has exceeded his career-high in receiving yards twice.
Shaw began to make his presence felt at Nebraska-Kearney, catching two long second half touchdown passes that broke open a 37-13 win.
He followed that with a five-catch, 73-yard, one touchdown effort against Northeastern State.
On Saturday at Central Oklahoma, Shaw got deep for two 61-yard touchdown passes in the opening quarter and hauled in a 43-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He finished with a new career-high 175 yards receiving on just four catches.
Shaw currently leads the Bearcats with 27 catches for 529 yards.
Back-to-back near flawless performances and four straight wins by an average of 46.3 points have caused Northwest Missouri State's statistics to spike across the board.
Offensively, the Bearcats now rank first in the MIAA and seventh in the nation with a scoring average of 45.9 points per game.
Along with that, Northwest has moved up to third in the MIAA in rush offense (201.2 ypg), fourth in pass offense (262.3 ypg) and fourth in total offense (554.2 ypg).
Defensively, the Bearcats are up to fourth in the nation and rank first among MIAA teams in scoring defense at 11.7 points per game allowed.
The Bearcats also have the second best run defense and the second best pass defense in the MIAA.
Their turnover margin, now at plus-8, ranks eighth nationally and first in the MIAA.
Rainy Fall Classic
For the second straight meeting between Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State, weather could have an impact on the game.
An early forecast calls for potential thunderstorms throughout the day and a 60 percent chance of rain Saturday in the Kansas City area.
The Bearcats and Gorillas played through a torrential rain storm in last year's playoff quarterfinal game won by the Gorillas 41-16.
Northwest has yet to be involved in a bad-weather game this season.
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Oct. 9, 2012 @ 10:17 pm
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