Griffons led by a new cast of characters in 2016

The Missouri Western football team has not had a losing season in 11 years—but they also have not made the playoffs in four years. The Griffons finished last season with a 6-5 record and saw all five losses come by two scores or less. Head coach Jerry Partridge acknowledged that if a few plays had gone the other way, his team would have been right there in the mix for the playoffs. “The Pitt game, we just need one more play, and that is both sides of the ball,” Partridge said. “Same at Central Missouri, same for all five losses.” The Griffons relied heavily on their very talented defense for the 2015 season, but Partridge and his staff will have to find a way to replace their leading tackler and star cornerback Michael Jordan. “We lost four seniors on our defensive line and that is my biggest concern,” Partridge said. The young defensive line should get help from a talented secondary. “There is a lot of talent, but a lot of youth,” Partridge said. “Donte Watkins and Jonathan Owen are really, really good football players.” Both players were in the top five in total tackles on the team in 2015 and Owen finished second on the team with four interceptions. “We’re going to be pretty young at the corner spots, but we’re trying to teach them what we learned from Mike Jordan and Brown,” Owen said. Redshirt junior Cody Lindsay returns at linebacker for the Griffons. Lindsay led the team last season with seven and a half sacks. Lindsay hopes that the front seven can add enough pressure to help the young secondary. “We gotta help with a good pass rush, try and keep it aggressive, force a bad ball and help the back end of the defense,” Cody said. Leading the Missouri Western offense this season is quarterback Skyler Windmiller. Windmiller led the Griffons with nine touchdown passes last season and passed for 1,701 yards. Coach Partridge has seen a lot of improvement from his young quarterback. “His play over the offseason has really improved,” Partridge said. “It has just been hard for him to gain momentum over the last few seasons because of injuries.” Western will have to replace Raphael Spencer in the backfield—2015’s leading rusher. The team will not have to look far for his replacement, though. Partridge and his staff believe they have one of the most talented running backs in the conference in Josh Caldwell. “If we had given Josh the same amount of carries as Raphael, he would have given us the same amount of production,” Partridge said. “He’s as good a back as you’ll find in the conference.” Caldwell was second on the team in rushing last season, rushing for 660 yards and averaging six yards per carry. “You know losing Raphael would hurt any other team, but the guys we got behind him are just as good,” Windmiller said. The coaching staff has also seen a lot of good things out of running back Kendall Short. “Kendall is physically impressive, a slasher kinda guy and can be equally as talented,” Partridge said. The thinnest position on offense for the Griffons is the wide receiver position. With a lack of experience, Western will rely a lot on underclassmen and junior college transfers. The Griffons lost five of their six leading receivers from a year ago. Returning from that group is wide receiver DiJuan Ussery. Ussery had 23 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns in 2015. “We just want DiJuan to get better,” Partridge said. “There’s a good chance when he comes out onto the field he has more speed than anyone out there.” Windmiller is confident in the skill players starting this season. “We get out there and doesn’t matter who is out there, we’re doing the same thing year-in and year-out,” Windmiller said. The offensive line for Western will return three of the five starters from a year ago. The coaching staff has high praise for the three returning players—especially two-time All-MIAA lineman Travis Anderson. “What you want to happen with the offensive line happened,” Partridge said. “You sign high school kids and you hope they develop.” The Griffons could not ask for an easier start to the 2016 campaign. Their first two opponents combined for one win in 2015. After those two games Western will host Central Missouri and then travel to Central Oklahoma to face a team who had just seven wins a year ago. Some coaches may feel some added pressure, but after 19 seasons as the head coach at Missouri Western, Partridge says that the pressure he feels most—is the pressure he puts on himself. “I put the pressure on myself, I cannot stand to lose,” Partridge said. “The passion of my hatred for losing is far greater than the joy I get from winning.”

Football back in action

After a 6-5 season, fans can watch Griffon football get back to action during their spring game on Friday. Although Western lost a large senior class at the end of the 2015 season, they have found new or developed talent to step into multiple positions. One of the biggest positions in question going into the 2016 season is the quarterback spot. Last year all three quarterbacks saw playing time as TJ LaFaver and Skyler Windmiller battled various injuries. This season, head coach Jerry Partridge feels confident in Windmiller’s ability to lead the team in the quarterback spot. “Windmiller has had a very good spring,” Partridge said. “ He’s thrown the ball accurately and has increased in mobility, which is a plus for us. He gets major velocity on there [the ball] and leadership wise he’s kind of taken the bull by the horns, which is something we need.” Windmiller, who totaled 1,701 yards and nine passing touchdowns in eight games will look to lead the offense, but will have help from redshirt sophomore Josh Caldwell at running back. Last year Caldwell totaled 647 yards on 107 carries and punched in six rushing touchdowns while backing up former running back Raphael Spencer. Partridge feels as if he has another star back in Caldwell. “We feel very strongly about our running back situation, Caldwell is going to be an excellent, excellent football player,” Partridge said. “ He’s physical, does everything, blocks, just a multi-faceted kid.” There may be new faces in the trenches as well while the Griffon coaching staff puts together a tough offensive line. One potential starter that has gained some attention is sophomore Hayden Eatinger, who Partridge thinks can improve the o-line. “He came in as a center, but he might be starting at tackle,” Partridge said. “ He has that nasty streak to him, he’s one of those guys that, when there’s a fight on the field usually Eatinger is the start of it, he’s kind of got that little brother who starts the fight but the big brother always gets blamed.” Even with the departure of Griffon great Mike Jordan, Partridge and the coaching staff are excited about their defensive backs. “The secondary is going to be very strong,” Partridge said. “Our safeties are probably second to none in the league.” Western’s spring game will kick off on Friday at 7 p.m. The Griffons dive into the regular season at home against the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers on Sept. 1.

Football focuses on defense in recruiting class

Head coach Jerry Partridge and his coaching staff searched high and low, near and far and were able to reel in 24 recruits from six different states. The Griffons went heavy on defense, with 17 of their 24 recruits playing on that side of the ball. “There are really some good, young, talented kids,” said Partridge. One of the best athletes coming with this year’s class is defensive lineman Evan Davis. Davis is from Cincinnati, Ohio and previously played at Iowa Central Community College. “The main thing I liked about Missouri Western was the community,” said Davis. Davis believes he has the ability to play a multitude of positions next year for the Griffons. “They say I’ll be playing in a stand-up position,” Davis said. “But, I am also willing to play a five technique.” In an interview with gogriffons.com, Partridge talked about the kind of athlete he was getting in Davis. “He is an immediate need athlete,” Partridge said. “He has length, big hands and room for growth. He will help our defensive line next year and is a plus pass rusher.” Western is also bringing in Davis’ teammate from Iowa Central, quarterback Corey Bertini. The recruiting trail took the Griffons to LaVista, Nebraska. There, they were able to get twins, Alex and Adam Atkinson to commit to Missouri Western. Alex averaged four tackles per game and was the 46th ranked defensive end in the state of Nebraska. Adam also averaged four tackles and totaled four sacks last season. Coming from the St. Louis area is linebacker Tyler Burrus. Burrus, standing at 6 feet and 200 pounds, finished his senior season with 46 tackles and an interception. Also signing with Missouri Western is his teammate, Kyle Berry. Coming from right here in St. Joseph is offensive tackle Jacob Olson. Olson played his high school football at Central. “This was a good o-line class,” said Partridge. “Three good tackle bodies.” The concern going into recruiting for Western was what kind of players would they get after having a down year in 2015. “It scared me a little bit because it was one of our lesser years on the field,” Partridge said. The coaching staff believes that the future is bright for these future Griffons. These 24 kids will be a part of a Griffons team that will be trying to find their way back into the playoffs and once again compete in the MIAA. “I’d say there are 10 that have the chance to be All-MIAA guys,” said Partridge.

Spratt renovations on schedule

The Spratt Stadium renovation project broke ground May 6 of 2015 and the construction is on schedule to be completed in April of this year. With renovations going as planned, the athletic department hosted a "hard hat tour" of the building on December 17. Director of Athletics, Kurt McGuffin, led groups through the building and showed where some of the new amenities were being constructed. As part of the Centennial Capital Campaign, the university budgeted to include an additional 200 Gold Coat Club seats, up to 14 corporate suites, additional chair back seating for fans, an updated scoreboard and video boards and a rooftop press box. The stadium will also feature a Hall of Fame reception room, which can be rented out for weddings and events. McGuffin said the new renovations will bring some much-needed revenue to the university. "There's no other way you could probably raise this much money without doing something as impactful as building the stadium," McGuffin said. He said the money raised by the new stadium will not only pay off some of what the construction cost, but will help Western athletics. "Some of it will go towards some of the bond, the other will go towards the athletic department into the budget," McGuffin said. "When we expanded the conference, we've never seen budget increases, and you know as you look to what your competitors are doing, when you see some of your sports budgets down in the bottom of the league, you've got to find a way to increase that." McGuffin said his favorite parts of the new stadium, the closer field and large video scoreboard, are the amenities that everyone can enjoy. "Not everybody can get into the suite, not everybody can get in the club, not everybody can do, you know, some of those things. Moving the field and the video board, I think is really, really impactful," McGuffin said. Workers began construction on the most recent addition, a $2.6 million, seven story high video scoreboard on December 22. According to the athletic department, the board will be the largest in Division II football.  

Jordan prepares to take aim at NFL dream

Zack Papenberg
[caption id="attachment_26264" align="alignnone" width="300"]Zack Papenberg Mike Jordan[/caption] For many college students with only one semester to go before graduation, the dreaded ‘senioritis’ is kicking in right about now. You don’t want to do anything you’ve been grinding now your whole college career and now you just want to finish out with a nice, laid-back, easy semester before embarking on a career. For most, that is an option and one many will take advantage of. Not for Mike Jordan though. The former standout Griffon defensive back does have his eyes squarely focused on his career, however, and that career is a roster spot on one of the 32 National Football League franchises. To accomplish such a lofty goal, Jordan will spend his final semester as a Missouri Western student — he has an internship which he plans on completing in the spring to finish up his Sport Management degree — working harder than he ever has. While the classes will be beginning again for Jordan and all other Griffon students on Tuesday, Jan. 19, Jordan will be in St. Petersburg, Fla., practicing in front of NFL scouts and preparing for the biggest job interview of his career. The East-West Shrine Game — to which Jordan has accepted an invitation to play in — is held on Saturday, Jan. 23 in St. Petersburg and is on of the premier collegiate all-star games for draft eligible players. “It is a big deal,” Jordan said. “Everybody knows that it is a well-known game. It has been around for over 90 years. It definitely has its credentials and everyone knows about it. Statistically speaking there are a lot of scouts there.” Jordan also received an invitation to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl,, but turned that opportunity down because it fell on the same day as the Shrine Bowl. The opportunity to show what he can do against other potential draftees is huge for any Division-II player. Jordan is one of only two Division-II players to receive an invite to the game. The other is Grand Valley State defensive end Matthew Judon. “It is humbling,” Jordan said. “To be recognized on such a big stage is just a testament to your hard work and I’ve definitely over my 5 years (at Western) have worked my tail off.” The Griffons have had two former players appear in the East-West Shrine Game with Greg Zuerlein in 2012 and David Bass in 2013. Both of those players are still playing in the NFL and Bass, along with former Griffon and NFL running back Mike Hill, specifically has become a very important mentor for Jordan during his pre-draft process. “Both (David) and Mike have helped me in terms of decision-making and just telling me not to rush my decisions and telling me that the decision I’m making is the right one for me and I’m not making it based on what anyone else says or how someone else feels. “They mainly tell me to be comfortable in what I do and I feel like thats a big deal to have those guys who have been through the process. They look at me as a little brother so of course they are willing to help me as much as they can.” Bass and Hill were seniors while Jordan was a freshman on the Griffons 2012 national quarterfinalist team. In addition to Bass and Hill, who was also a senior on that 2012 Griffon team, Jordan does not have to look far to find another sounding board for how this process works. His brother Reggie Jordan continued his career after graduating from Western in 2013 with a brief stint in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “(Reggie) has been a huge help,” Mike said. “I’ve talked to him on multiple occasions about the whole process and what to expect and look for. “That is my best friend, he is like my right-hand man so whatever he says I listen to him because he’s been through it.” After Jacksonville, Reggie spent some time playing professionally in the Canadian Football League. The Griffon coaching staff also has had a huge impact on him, especially his position coach Regi Trotter. “Coach Trotter is my main guy as far as somebody I can go talk to,” Jordan said. “He’s definitely that guy that if I need to call somebody for advice or ask him how I should handle something, he’s always there for just like he has been at any time in my career.” For Mike, there is a lot of key decisions that must come before he even sets foot on a Shrine Game practice field. “Right now it is pretty hectic with finishing up school and finals, deciding on an agent, deciding where I’m going to train and how I’m going to train,” Jordan said. “It is a lot to think about right now, but its a long process and an exciting process.” He must first decide on where he will be training for the Shrine Bowl and other pre-draft activities. Shortly after he finishes up his fall semester classes, Jordan will head to a training facility where he will likely be joined by other draft hopefuls as they prepare for their future. For now though, Jordan prefers to train in solitude in the Griffon Indoor Sports Complex weight room, where under the supervision of Griffon Strength and Conditioning Coach Greg Carbin he has spent so much of his time as a Griffon. Jordan heads down to the GISC three times a week and is mainly focused on cardiovascular work and maintaining his body after just wrapping up his senior season. “He’s been going hard since last January,” Carbin said. “He is two weeks removed from football season now, so he’s been going hard for awhile now. So now its just time for him to get his bod back.” After choosing a training location, Jordan will turn his attention to selecting an agent to represent him. “It is a lot like the recruiting process,” Jordan said. “You have to sit the guys down and figure out who has the best interest for you and who you have the best vibe with and comfortability and who your parents like. It is a process, but its fun though.” Also later this month, he hopes to receive an invitation to the NFL’s Scouting Combine. If granted the opportunity to participate in the combine, Jordan would be able to go through drills and have his measurables compared to the elite prospects in the 2016 draft class. The combine is a week-long event running for February 23-29. All this work leads to the NFL Draft which is held April 28 through May 1 in Chicago, Illinois where Jordan hopes to be selected by an NFL franchise. “That would be an amazing feeling,” Jordan said. “That is the goal. To hear my name called in the draft would be surreal and that is what I am working for.” Why the Shrine Game? Mike Jordan had a couple of options when it came down to selecting which collegiate all-star game to attend. He wound up choosing the East-West Shrine Game, in large part due to the impact that the game has for the community. “It is a great opportunity to give back,” Jordan said. “Doing my research, (the players) go to the Shriners Hospital and those kids are really (sick) so from what I have heard they really enjoy us being there and they look up to the football players… So of course I would love that opportunity to give back to the youth.” The slogan for the Shrine Game is: ‘More than just a game.’ That message is driven home by the way the game supports children in need. The Shriners Hospitals for Children list their mission as “to provide advanced care for children with specialized medical needs, in a compassionate, family-centered environment.” The Shriners Hospitals have 22 locations in North America. During the week of the game, players and coaches visit the local Shriners Hospital to meet with the patients.