In his previous three seasons as an active player Kyle Zimmerman attempted all of 44 passes. The way he has performed in his first year as Northwest Missouri State’s starting quarterback he may have at least as many touchdown passes by the time the Bearcats’ season concludes.
To say the graduate student is making the most of his fifth and final season in Maryville would be a tremendous understatement. Zimmerman is third among Division II quarterbacks in pass efficiency and fourth in completion percentage (69.6) while throwing for 2,251 yards and 25 touchdowns.
What trumps all the gaudy numbers is that Zimmerman, after four years of mostly watching and learning, has led the defending national champs to an 8-0 mark and No. 1 ranking in Division II. His patience has paid off and this is his time.
“It has been a blast,” said Zimmerman, who expects to complete his MBA next fall. “I have had a lot of fun this season and I think the biggest thing is that I have been able to trust the guys around me. Coach (Adam Dorrel) preached to me in the off-season that there was a lot of great talent around me.”
It is not like Zimmerman entered this season as a strange face on the roster. After redshirting in 2012 he got into 28 games the past three seasons. Used mostly on designed runs he accumulated 622 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but only tallied 44 pass attempts.
While biding his time before he could assume the keys to the offense, Zimmerman was like a sponge absorbing lessons disseminated by the Bearcats’ previous two starting quarterbacks, Brady Bolles and Trevor Adams.
“I definitely waited behind two great quarterbacks and I learned a great deal of things about the game of football from those two guys,” he said. “They also taught me a lot of things about life, for which I am grateful.”
That is not say his wait was all smooth sailing. There were moments when Zimmerman, who ranks first or second among Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association quarterbacks in virtually every major category, felt like time might be passing him by. A strong support system helped him hang in there.
“It was tough because a lot of my buddies were starting to see the field at their positions and I was still trying to find my spot on the team or figure out how I can contribute,” said the native of Overland Park, Kan., which is about a 90-minute drive from campus. “I had a lot of people in my corner and they continued to preach being patient. They said that when my time comes it would all be worth it.”Preaching patience? Opposing defensive coordinators, not to mention defensive backs, have likely lost theirs. Through eight games and 250 pass attempts Zimmerman has yet to throw an interception. He is the only one among 150 qualifying D-II quarterbacks that have a zero in the “INT” column.
“It is a testament to the time that we put in during the off-season,” said Zimmerman, whose lone career pick was in 2014. “The O-line has done a phenomenal job picking up blitzes and knowing where to be. The same with the running backs in pass protection, getting in their check-down routes and stuff like that. With the receivers, the timing and chemistry we worked on so much during the summer has carried over into the season.”
Whether it is on the football field or in the classroom putting in the work has never been a problem for Zimmerman, who has earned multiple MIAA academic honors following a high school career in which he was a four-year all-conference scholar athlete.
“I think sometimes that stuff kind of goes unnoticed, but ultimately we are here to get our education,” he said. “Something I have always bought into is that no matter what I am doing I am always going to give my best. I put in that extra study time to make sure I do well on exams just like putting in extra film study with the receivers and the O-line. I try not to take shortcuts, which can be easy to do sometimes in college.”
Things seem to come easy for the Bearcats, who are seeking their 16th MIAA title in 21 years and a 13th straight playoff appearance. As far as another lengthy playoff run and a shot at making it three national championships in four years is concerned, well, one thing at a time.
On Saturday the Bearcats will attempt to extend their win streak to 24 games against homecoming opponent Pittsburg State (5-3) Saturday on ASN.
“The biggest thing right now is buying into going 1-0 each week,” said Zimmerman. “We don’t look ahead at the schedule. We take it one day at a time and allow the chips to fall into place wherever they may fall. The biggest thing is we strive to get better each and every day and if we do that everything will take care of itself.”