MARYVILLE, Mo. — Football preseason practices started for the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats on Sunday, and they hit Bearcat Stadium again Monday.

Head coach Rich Wright, who has been a part of the Northwest program since 2004, said he knows the expectations are high for the Bearcats because those expectations have always been high.

Sophomore quarterback Braden Wright had a successful first year after redshirting his true freshman season. The Elkhorn, Nebraska, native earned MIAA Freshman of the Year honors last year. He averaged nearly 200 passing yards per game. Wright said his goal for the upcoming season is to just keep getting better.

“Every aspect of your game, you can improve on constantly,” Braden said, “but, if I had to pick one thing to drill every day it would definitely be getting that cohesion down with my teammates, but that happens going into year two of me playing — that’s naturally going to happen.”

The Bearcats have made 15 straight appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs. While they haven’t won it all since back-to-back titles in 2015-16, Braden said the goal every year is to make it back and win the championship.

“The goal’s got to be to get better every day, but our overall goal is to win a national championship,” Braden said. “We went over it as a team — what we have to do to get there, what can stop us from getting there. It’s not just a goal that we’re saying, it’s a goal that we have it laid out exactly what we need to do.”

Rich Wright also said the team’s summer work was paying off early. Since coaches aren’t allowed to work with the teams during the summer, Rich said leadership across the team has grown and has made a difference — especially the leadership from a second-year quarterback.

“Because they’ve had to interact with each other and kind of run things on their own, it’s really enhanced our leadership,” Rich said. “(Braden) is more of a leader. It’s difficult when you’ve never played a college snap to come in and do that.”

The Bearcats return 63 letterwinners to the 2019 team and will kick off the season at Missouri Western at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.

Amanda Sullivan can be reached

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