MARYVILLE, Mo. - When Northwest Missouri State goes toe-to-toe with Valdosta State today in the NCAA Division II national championship game, the Bearcats' offense hopes to knock out the Blazers.

Guard Tom Pestock could be the most qualified athlete to deliver that punch.

The 6-foot-6 1/2, 305-pound lineman isn't afraid to hit people. Heck, he isn't afraid to try hardly anything, including stepping into the ring with other heavyweights.

Pestock, a two-time Amateur Kansas-Missouri Golden Gloves regional champion, has a tough-guy mentality with a touch of recklessness that his position coach likes.

"I've never questioned Tom's toughness - nobody has," said Adam Dorrel, the Bearcats' offensive coordinator who doubles as offensive line coach. "I like having guys like him around, because they naturally buy into what I want - that tough-man mentality. It's not imitation; it's the real thing."

Pestock has been boxing for 4 1/2 years. Pestock had just concluded his promising senior year of wrestling at Shawnee Mission North a little early - quitting the team because of some outside conflicts - and he was working at a restaurant. A customer began to talk with him about boxing.

That customer proved to be John Brown, the man who trained Tommy Morrison years earlier when he won the world championship.

"I immediately jumped right into it," Pestock said. "I played a lot of physical sports in high school, and I was done with those, so it was something else to get into so I could unleash some

aggressiveness."

Brown's Lenexa, Kan.-based Ringside and Combat Sports helped Pestock begin an amateur career that has blossomed into a 6-1 record. His only loss was three years ago in the Ringside World Tournament.

Although Pestock twice has qualified for the National Golden Gloves Tournament by virtue of his Missouri-Kansas regional championships, he has never had the opportunity to compete at that level. The national tournament conflicts with spring football workouts.

That could change next year. Pestock will sit out spring ball next season to maintain his eligibility for his senior season, finally giving him the opportunity to pursue his off-the-gridiron dream.

Boxing gives Pestock another opportunity to stay in shape. And some techniques in the ring coincide with those on the field, he said.

"The footwork is all the same as being an offensive lineman, so it really helps me there," Pestock said. "The same rules apply: don't get your feet close together and all that."

Dorrel said he likes the idea of having his offensive linemen competing in physical, individual sports. He said it takes a special person to have the personal responsibility to accept the "him or me" challenge.

Dorrel has become a fan, watching with interest the fight videotapes Pestock brings back to the football offices.

"Tom's not scared to fail," Dorrel said. "He might get in there, and you might hit him in the mouth. But he's not going to just stand there. He's going to start punching back."

Pestock ranks as one of the team's characters. Offensive tackle Reid Kirby got sucked into the Lenexa native's antics last season when he promised to let the guard cut and style his hair if they advanced to the national championship game.

When Pestock was finished, Kirby sported a Mohawk, which he said "looked pretty horrible."

Pestock said he didn't have Kirby or any of his other amateur barbering clients lined up just yet, but the clippers were going with him to Florence, Ala.

Despite his enjoyment of the barbering arts, Pestock said he would rather earn a living with his fists than clippers, once his football-playing days are over.

Pestock said he wants to box professionally and also get involved in mixed martial arts, building on the limited knowledge of ju-jitsu he picked up from one of his Ringside trainers.

"Yeah, it'd be fun," Pestock said. "It would be a good life, because you don't have to sit in an office all day."

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