The Oklahoman

NW Okla. State mantra: Bigger, stronger, faster

- Berry Tramel

ALVA — Matt Walter’s background is in strength and conditioni­ng.

Walter, who was a fullback on Northweste­rn Oklahoma State’s national championsh­ip team (NAIA) of 1999, has been a strength and conditioni­ng coach at New Mexico State, Southeaste­rn Louisiana, Louisiana Tech and Emporia State. Walter also was offensive coordinato­r at the latter, a point from which he jumped back to his alma mater, as head coach.

So Walter is all about physical improvemen­t. Which is why he wasn’t enamored with the COVID-induced options of small-college football, which allowed for spring competitio­n. We continue our series of Oklahoma’s small-college football previews by heading out to Alva.

Walter’s Rangers staged a joint practice with Fort Hays State but otherwise focused on conditioni­ng.

“The best thing for us was to get bigger, faster, stronger,” Walter said.

Spring games had a risk/reward element.

“I know a lot of people did it, but just talking to ‘em, there were lots of injuries,” Walter said.

Northweste­rn is counting on a bevy of off-seasons to better compete in the NCAA Division II Great American Conference.

The off-season before the pandemic’s arrival in March 2020. Summer 2020, when the university in Alva opened back up. Fall of 2020, when the Rangers practiced some but not full time. Then back to a virtually regular schedule.

It’s an interestin­g response to the mixed-up football calendar.

“They’ve had a long, long, long offseason,” Walter said. “It’s done us well physically. Still, not having competitio­n, you wonder how they’ll react.”

We start finding out Thursday night, when Northweste­rn hosts Southern Arkansas.

The Rangers have been consistent, though not necessaril­y successful, in recent years.

Their record in the GAC from 2015-19 was 3-8, 4-7, 5-6, 5-7, 4-7. For the Oklahoma schools in the Oklahoma/Arkansas conference, that’s not bad.

“Every year we seem to sneak up on somebody,” Walter said.

“We obviously think we can beat anybody in the league. We’ve got to be more consistent.

“But handling that (COVID) adversity, our guys have done a great job with that. Mentally, we’re ready to compete. Win some of those close games that maybe we had let slip away.”

The Rangers will be led by quarterbac­k Tanner Clarkson, who started late in the 2019 season; defensive tackle Brian Holliday; and linebacker James Ellis.

“Those two (defenders) have played a lot. Had a lot of experience. They have really stepped up. Tanner started our last two games. We think he’s ready to take that next step as QB1.”

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