MARYVILLE, Mo. — The routine was as regular as the sun rising in the east each morning. Northwest Missouri State fifth-year senior Edward Richey spent part of his carefree summer days in a room, watching film with underclassmen.

Richey, along with other juniors and seniors in the secondary, explained, gave advice and prepared the younger players for what was in store when practice started for the 2017 season.

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They also spent time in the weight room, ran in the hot July sun and did 7-on-7 drills with no coaches around. The annual summer ritual is one of the building blocks to Northwest winning three of the last four national championships and six overall since 1998.

"I was trying to help them understand the defense as much as I could and pass down as much knowledge that they don't hear from the coaches, and get a player's perspective," Richey said.

The difference for Richey now from when he arrived in 2013 after enjoying a perfect 13-0 state championship season at Kirkwood High School in Missouri, is Richey is now a leader instead of a young follower, soaking up information from the seniors.

Through the years, Richey's position has changed. He played safety as a sophomore. He went to cornerback last year. He is back at safety to start this season.

Richey is so passionate about helping Northwest achieve success on the field that he is willing to play anywhere the coaches ask him.

"If they wanted me to play linebacker," Richey said, "I would put on 10 pounds and do it."

A selfless attitude like that is what coaches crave from their players because they know it rubs off on the whole team.

"He has evolved into his leadership role," Northwest secondary coach Brandon Clayton said. "That is where I give him the biggest credit. This summer he met with the guys and helped our young guys out, basically being their coach during the summer. That is the most significant difference, and that is going to pay dividends.

"We need him to continue it throughout the season. We need him to be our voice in the secondary and be our leader."

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In the last two seasons, Richey has appeared in all 15 games and earned All-MIAA third team. He had a season-high six tackles in the second round of the NCAA playoff game against Emporia State. During the regular season, he forced two fumbles.

"That kid loves football," Clayton said. "It is the best thing about him. He is a smart football player. He studies the game. I am fortunate enough to have him in the secondary."

Richey and the rest of the Bearcats aren't concerned about what they accomplished in the past. They are not bringing up they are defending national champions when they talk about this season.

"Our older guys are acting like we haven't done anything here in this program," Richey said. "It is just exciting to see that chip on everyone's shoulders this year."

Richey sees the same fire from the freshmen and sophomores.

"These dudes are hungry," Richey said. "Everybody here is willing to come out and compete every day, no matter what the circumstances are. They know we have one job and that is to get better than the day before. I love it. Our young guys are trying to get better every day."

The process of growing from follower to a leader over the course of five seasons is one that Richey knows will pay off once he graduates from Northwest.

"The type of people they like to build here is to prepare you for life after football," Richey said. "So many things correlate with what they do here like being responsible. It is more to prepare you to be a man once you get out of the program. Our coaches and support staff do a great job at that.

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"The leadership role I have now, I am confident that once I take the pads off for good, I will be able to step into any job and be a leader in that aspect in my life."

Richey is on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in corporate recreation. He knows that will be a bigger day for his family than himself.

"They have done so much to get me here and into this situation," Richey said. "I am trying to pull it out for them. Not many of them have been able to do what I've been doing for the last 4 ½ years. To be able to put a smile on their faces, knowing how proud I make them, that is what that day is all about."

Even though time flies when you are having fun or hit middle age, May is still nine months down the road. Richey's mind is focused on August. The Bearcats are in the midst of training camp that culminates with their season opener Aug. 31 at home against Emporia State. Bearcat Stadium will be rocking. The last two years, Northwest beat Emporia State in the postseason.

Also, the season-opener will be the highest profile game in all of Division II in the opening week. Northwest begins the season ranked No. 1 in Division II, while Emporia State is No. 4.

"I am blessed right now," Richey said. "The opportunity to not only to be playing football but playing football at this university is a blessing. I don't take it for granted."