MIAA athletes make NFL impact

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From 2000 to 2015 there have been 76 MIAA athletes that have continued their football careers in the NFL and of those 76 players, 21 have been drafted.

The MIAA has long been known as one of the most competitive and talented conferences in Division II football and has been a constant source of NFL talent since the year 2000.

Over the past 15 years, Division II has had the opportunity to witness the triumphs of the high-caliber programs that play throughout the MIAA.

The successes include hundreds of wins by way of last-second scores, dramatic overtime victories and pure domination of opponents.

Perhaps the most important MIAA achievements during the last 15 years are its eight National Championship appearances. These appearances have included championship victories from Northwest Missouri State University in 2009 and 2013, to go along with their 1998 and 1999 championships and four other trips to the championship game, as well as from Pittsburg State University who was crowned champion in 2011.

After bringing many achievements to the MIAA, the talented athletes that have brought the conference prestige through the last 15 years have also found their way to the biggest stage in football; the National Football League.

Commissioner of the MIAA Dr. Bob Boerigter agrees that the 76 players display the quality of the conference.

“Its sends a message as to the kind of players we have here,” Boerigter said. “Administrators want to spend more time talking about the number of people who are graduating, cause that’s what we’re all about, but on the other hand we are really excited any time one of our student athletes gets the opportunity to continue their career.”

Those athletes have come from all 12 football programs in the conference, with the most coming from Northwest Missouri, with 20 players, and the University of Central Missouri, with 12 players.

Although some of the athletes only had brief stints in the league, there have been many who have gone on to have successful careers.

Former University of Central Oklahoma Broncho Keith Traylor was drafted in the third round by the Denver Broncos in 1991 as a linebacker, but would eventually transition to defensive line. Traylor was in the NFL for 17 years and was a three-time Superbowl champion, twice with the Denver Broncos and once with the New England Patriots, before his career ended in 2007.

Another MIAA great who is currently playing on Sundays is former Missouri Western State University kicker Greg Zuerlein. In 2012, after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the sixth round, Zuerlein immediately began making an impact. In his three years with the league, Zuerlein has broken multiple Rams franchise records, including the most 50-plus-yard field goals in a season and most consecutive field goals by a rookie. League history has also been claimed by Zuerlein, including the longest field goal by a rookie. He is also the first player in history to kick a 50- and 60-plus-yard field goal in the same game.

Brian Moorman, former Pittsburg State punter, has also successfully represented the MIAA in the NFL. Moorman was able to play in multiple Pro Bowls during his 15-year career and was named to the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s before he retired in 2014.

These success stories and more come from players who were overlooked by Division I programs because of slower development. Boerigter gives praise to the conference’s coaches for finding those players and patiently grooming them into impact athletes.

“Our coaches do a good job at finding the players that the Division I guys began to recruit at a real young age, but were just slow to develop in terms of their maturity,” Boerigter said. “We have late bloomers all the time in football, kids who have matured and have gotten into their bodies, and all of a sudden you find out that they are exceptionally gifted.”

Many of the players who joined Division II programs and are now living out their NFL dreams feel like it is their duty to embody their conference and more, including Missouri Western alum and current Washington Redskins running back Mike Hill.

“I represent the MIAA and everywhere I’ve been so far, it’s part of my name and it is definitely something that motivates me,” Hill said. “Also, the guys I’ve played with [in college] that are just as good as the players that I have been on the field with in the league that didn’t have the chance to play, I’m playing for them too.”

Players who have been overlooked by Division I programs, picked up by the MIAA and molded in to elite athletes will continue to pique the interest of the NFL, explains Northwest Missouri athletic director and former football coach Mel Tjeerdsma.

“The NFL finds people wherever they’re at. They do a great job at finding talent, and the scouting system has gotten more thorough,” Tjeerdsma said. “The fact that there have been more players that have made the NFL from Division II just opens that up because they don’t want to miss anybody.”

The MIAA may increase its prestige as many of the conference’s athletes prepare for the NFL draft, including Nebraska-Kearney’s former offensive tackle Cole Manhart, who is projected as a late round pick.

As the MIAA continues to find that diamond in the rough, the production of NFL athletes and overall quality of the conference could be on the rise.

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