The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats, Division II football’s National Champion from a year ago will begin their title defense Thursday at Bearcat Stadium in Maryville against Texas A & M-Kingsville at 6pm.

Mel Tjeerdsma on the Pressbox Podcast

A half hour prior to the game, the team and head coach Mel Tjeerdsma will be honored. The Coach of the Year Award will be presented to Tjeerdsma by the award’s title sponsor and members of the 2009 senior class will return to the field to present the 2009 national championship trophy. The seniors will then escort the trophy to the Loch-O’Rourke Family Center where it will join the 1998 and 1999 championship trophies on display.

Members of Northwest’s 2010 UCA national championship cheerleading squad will present their trophy prior to Thursday’s game. The squad, led by head coach Jason Sack, won the program’s first title back in January.

After the presentations, the top-ranked Bearcat football team will host the 14th-ranked Javelinas in the season opener for both programs. Northwest has won 30 of its last 31 home games but has dropped its last three season openers. Texas A&M-Kingsville finished 9-3 last season and was one of 24 NCAA playoff participants.