As Northwest Missouri State’s starting quarterback for much of the past three seasons, Trevor Adams has guided the Bearcats into the postseason and entering this year owned a winning record in playoff games.
But the standard is different at Northwest. Adams hadn’t taken the Bearcats to the NCAA final.
“When I came here, they were going to championship games every year,” Adams said. “They expected to win.”
Because Adams’ previous teams didn’t make the final, he heard the doubts ... and the critics.
Was he the right man for the job?
“He plays the position that’s going to be scrutinized at any school, but especially here because we’ve had so many good ones,” Bearcats coach Adam Dorrel said.
But Northwest didn’t doubt Adams, and his confidence never wavered. The payoff is Saturday as the Bearcats meet Lenoir-Rhyne for the Division II national title. Kickoff is 11 a.m.
Northwest, appearing in its eighth final and bidding for its fourth title since 1998, is led by Adams, a fifth-year senior.
He’s having his best season with 27 touchdown passes and six interceptions while averaging 214 yards per game, making him the highest-rated passer in Division II. Adams was named MIAA’s offensive player of the year even though he doesn’t take every snap. Brady Bolles, the team’s third-leading rusher, sees plenty of action.
Last week’s semifinal triumph over Grand Valley State displayed the position’s strength. Adams and Bolles alternated on the Bearcats’ first touchdown drive, which was capped by Bolles’ scoring run.
Later in the game, Adams threw a pair of touchdown passes to Reuben Thomas, the second a 43-yard strike over the defense to clinch the 27-13 triumph.
As students and fans stormed the field and goalposts came down, Adams celebrated with his teammates, but it never felt like the weight of the world was lifted.
“When football defines who you are, then you will live and die by people’s comments and criticisms of your performance,” Adams said. “For me it’s been about realizing my identity is not in football. It’s something I love to do and blessed to be able to do it.”
Faith keeps him grounded.
“God has given me everything for a purpose,” Adams said. “I take comfort and peace in that. That’s how I persevered through the tough times.”
Plus, Adams put in the sweat. He became the starter three games into the 2011 season and started all but two games last year. Northwest didn’t win the MIAA either year but made the playoffs.
He and others in the program, especially the 12-member senior class, arrived this season determined to take the next step.
“He wanted to be the best, he wanted to be the hardest worker,” said wide receiver Jason Jozaites. “It reminded me of the Drew Brees’ attitude when he’d work out and train.”
Brees’ work ethic has helped shape him into one of the NFL’s best. But he was once seen as too short to make it in the NFL, then damaged goods after a shoulder injury in San Diego. A few years later, Brees won a Super Bowl with the Saints.
But a more direct comparison to Adams is Mike Winchell. Ring a bell? Winchell was the quarterback of the 1988 Permian High Panthers from Odessa, Texas, the subject of the book and movie, “Friday Night Lights.”
Adams was Permian’s quarterback in 2008, setting the school record for passing yards in a season, and remembered when the excitement surrounding the movie, starring Billy Bob Thornton as the coach, was released some four years earlier.
“If you weren’t playing football then, you were trying out the next season,” Adams said.
“I get called Winchell a lot around here.”
The movie “Hollywood-ized” the program, Adams said, but it generally portrayed a community loyal to its football team, a sense that Adams got on his recruiting visit to Northwest.
He’ll leave as one of the most accomplished student-athletes in the school’s history, having been named a National Scholar-Athlete by the National Football Foundation. Adams was one of 16 semifinalists from 171 candidates in all divisions and received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. He owns a 3.94 GPA in biology and psychology.
The academic recognition took Adams to New York for a presentation earlier this month. If the Bearcats are successful Saturday, there will be another ceremony, one that would put an exclamation point on his career.
But not define him.