By L.K. Elliott
“Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” That’s a winning Northwest Missouri State Bearcat football philosophy Kyle Meyer has carried off the field and into his new life in his old hometown.
After five years playing college football in Maryville, during which time the Bearcats won the NCAA Division II National Championship three times (the last time dubbed the “snow bowl” in Kansas City, Kan., with wind chills of seven degrees below zero), Kyle will tell you any team can put 11 guys on a field and run a play. But in football and in life, he says successful teams are those on which all players work hard to give their “one-eleven” to every detail of their field position until the whistle blows, practice after practice, play after play after play, no matter what the scoreboard says.
“Life doesn’t care what your excuses are,” Meyer says. “Everyone has hard times. But when you start coming up with excuses, you start letting yourself down.”
This fall, Meyer is bringing what he learned from the game he loves back to home field as an assistant football coach at Versailles Middle School.
“Playing and coaching are completely different, and I love seeing the kids grow and get better, not necessarily by the stats but as young men. It’s just fun.”
More than 40 players came out for the middle school program this year. Meyer said they’re learning to enjoy the game, building skill, speed and athleticism, and really coming after the ball.
He believes quitting before you cross the line becomes a learned trait. So he offers players the chance to go beyond themselves to run that crucial extra mile for their team. “When kids do some little thing wrong, I ask them, ‘Do you want to be successful or just go through the motions?’ ”
“The thing about football is how much of a team sport it is. One person can’t really change a game; it’s about an entire culture that has to come together and play.”
His first time on a football field in 7th and 8th grade, Meyer played running back and linebacker for the first and last times. That’s when football was about having fun, being with your friends and enjoying the game.
When former football coach Glen Lemmon drew him back to the game in 11th and 12th grade, Meyer says football was about close-knit camaraderie, greater competition and working hard to get and stay in shape. Camp and two-a-days were grueling. Finding time to weight train was hard. Meyer still remembers the three days a week Aaron Wenger and Brad Oshel picked him up at 5 a.m. to lift weights before school.
He played the line both years; the Tigers were 6-4 his junior year, then 4-6 the next. His senior year, Versailles and Osage were both 3-0 going into what was predicted to be a close match. The Indians won the game, 41-7. Meyer says many of the players let that loss get them down; they might have been merely going through the motions after that.
“It’s hard not to let unexpected loss or repeated loss deflate you,” Meyer says. If he went back in time to give that team a pep talk, he might ask them, “Can we look back and say we’re growing and improving? Are we winning or losing together? If we are, then what else can we ask for?”
Meyer’s redshirt year for the Bearcats was humbling – all hard work and no “play.” The next two years, he played center, followed by right tackle his junior year. He spent his senior season playing right guard, his favorite position, “because you get to pull on power and hit one-on-one.”
College football was a physically demanding job. “You clock in and out. If you don’t perform, you don’t play. If you didn’t run the play perfectly, it’s noticed, and you have to fix it. There will always be something to fix.” He still feels a bit beat up even though he’s been off the field for 10 months now.
Add the academic element and, “you have to schedule every minute of your life.”
When Meyer found 17 credit hours worth of homework too much to handle after practice, he adapted. Going to bed at 8 p.m. to get up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. the next morning and hit the books. “You can’t really get distracted by anything at that time of morning.”
One of three married players on the team, Kyle says his wife, London, was “phenomenal, working full-time so I could chase my dream.”
Originally, Kyle planned to become a teacher. But his interest in ways to gain an athletic edge led him to explore nutrition. “Nutrition benefits a lot of people. It’s a real need in our society.”
Meyer’s battered Bearcat helmet and three shiny championship rings have a place on a shelf in his new office at the Morgan County Health Center where he serves as community nutritionist. So far that brand-new position has involved helping food pantry patrons make the most of their take-home, teaching local kids about best food choices for their growing bodies, and boosting local diabetes prevention, beginning with a grant he recently submitted.
But you won’t find him taking time to preen and polish those mementos. Whenever Bearcat teammates talked about their high school glory days, citing personal stats or all-star status, Meyer said teammates would break up the brag-fest with what became a favorite phrase. “Ah, shut the yearbook!”
“As soon as you start celebrating your past, you stop doing much toward your future,” Meyer said. “I’ve enjoyed past accomplishments, learned from them. But my focus now is on the next thing.”