MARYVILLE, Mo. — Collin Bevins is patching together his dinged up body one more time for duty in the 2013 football season.
The Iowa State transfer has had a challenging start to his career in the defensive line for Northwest Missouri State, overcoming four separate injuries since the start of fall drills.
The latest was a sprained ankle in the second quarter of the Bearcats’ 27-13 victory over Grand Valley State in an NCAA Division II semifinal last Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.
When contacted Monday, the redshirt freshman was confident about his status for the championship game this week against Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) in Florence, Ala.
“I’ll be fine to play Saturday,” said Bevins, who moved from defensive end to defensive tackle during the season after starting tackle Zach Williams suffered a torn ACL in his knee in week five.
For Bevins, the ankle was just the latest in a series of physical setbacks this season, after sitting out the 2012 season as a redshirt at Iowa State. He strained his UCL in his elbow during the preseason scrimmage, and had that injury braced for several weeks while slowly working his way back onto the field.
Then came a foot injury, a strained MCL in his knee during the playoffs and finally the ankle last week. From the tone of his voice Monday, it might take a broken leg to keep him out of competing for a national championship.
“Oh yeah, this is what you play for here,” Bevins said. “I knew it was a winning program and could compete for (championships).”
On Saturday, in the dark and cold of Bearcat stadium after the victory, Bevins and redshirting freshman defensive end Keaton Hulett got a first-hand look at a Northwest tradition as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama” blared over the stadium’s speakers.
Both goalposts came down in a frenzied celebration.
“Coach Wright was talking about it all week,” Bevins said, referring to wide receivers coach Kendal Wright. “It’s tradition here if we win the semifinal at home, they tear down the goal posts. This was the first time since 2009.”
Dane Wardenburg of Creston was an offensive tackle on that Bearcat championship team. Now, Bevins wants to make another Creston/O-M mark on a Division II title run.
The Bearcats will bid for the fourth national championship in the program’s history. It’s Northwest’s eighth title game appearance, the first under coach Adam Dorrel, who was Wardenburg’s offensive line coach at Northwest.
Lenoir-Rhyne will be making its title game debut.
Northwest takes a 14-0 record to Alabama for the 11 a.m. game Saturday at Braly Stadium.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. Ticket ($25 each) and travel information is available at http://www.nwmissouri.edu/media/
Bevins and Hulett aren’t the only ones with Creston ties performing on championship weekend. Freshman Adam Bochart is a drummer in the Bearcat marching band that will appear at the game and perform along with the cheerleaders at the free tailgate party beginning 9 a.m. Saturday in the parking lot north of Braly Municipal Stadium.
There is also a postgame celebration for Bearcat fans, admission $20, immediately after the game at Florence/Lauderdale Coliseum, 702 E. Veterans Dr. It includes a catered buffet meal, trophy presentation and remarks from Bearcat coaches and players.
This will be the last of 28 straight Division II championship games in Florence. Next year the Division II title game moves to Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Unlike last week’s game, which featured a number of big passing plays — including a 43-yard touchdown from Trevor Adams to Reuben Thomas in the fourth quarter when Grand Valley State had closed it to 20-13 — the title game could be a bruising battle in the trenches.
Stopping the run — Grand Valley netted just 55 yards rushing — will be the key to Northwest’s success against the option-oriented Bears (13-1). In its 42-14 victory over West Chester (Pa.) in the other semifinal contest, Lenoir-Rhyne didn’t throw a pass, rushing for 451 yards in rainy, muddy conditions.
“That doesn’t change our game,” Bevins said. “We play the run, and react to the pass. It will be very similar to the Missouri Southern game for us. We’ll get back in our groove from that one.”
Northwest defeated Missouri Southern 43-7 in its homecoming game Oct. 26.
And, the good news for the players and student fans alike, finals for first-semester classes concluded last week, so there is no school work to worry about in preparation for the big game.
“We’ll have our normal practice Tuesday, then a Wednesday morning practice before we leave,” Bevins said. “We fly down there Wednesday afternoon.”
After playing last week’s game in windy, 20-degree conditions, Alabama will feel nice for final workouts, he said.
“It’s supposed to be sunny and in the 50s,” Bevins said.