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A year later, Missouri State head coach seeing progress with his eye, program

FARGO--It's 775 miles and about a 12-hour drive from Fargo to Springfield, Mo., and last year, Missouri State head football coach Dave Steckel had to ride in a car with the immediate thought of a 55-0 beating by North Dakota State. Certainly, tou...

In his second season as Missouri State's head football coach, Dave Steckel has the Bears sporting a 3-1 record. Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Missouri assistant Dave Steckel during the 2015 Citrus Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Missouri wins 33-17 over Minnesota. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

FARGO-It's 775 miles and about a 12-hour drive from Fargo to Springfield, Mo., and last year, Missouri State head football coach Dave Steckel had to ride in a car with the immediate thought of a 55-0 beating by North Dakota State. Certainly, tough times indeed.

Eye surgery meant he couldn't fly with his Bears' players and assistant coaches and the Bison loss ended his first season at 1-10.

His thoughts in that car ride: "I have a lot of problems to fix," Steckel said this week. "I kept taking notes and writing on how to fix those problems and how to move this program forward."

It's already to the point now where the Bears are 3-1 heading into a Saturday home game against North Dakota State. Granted, it's been a light schedule opening with NAIA Southwestern College (Kan.) and winning at Ohio Valley Conference non-title contender Murray State (Ky.) 28-22. But the Bears also turned some heads last week winning at nationally-ranked Indiana State to open their Missouri Valley Football Conference season.

Steckel, however, isn't doing jumping jacks.

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"We won a couple of games, fantastic, we're getting stronger but I don't think we're there yet and we're getting faster but I don't think we're there yet," he said. "We've done a better job of coaching but I don't think we're there."

Steckel's eye ailment wasn't an easy fix, either. He underwent emergency retina surgery, something that took about six months to completely heal. He couldn't even lift his head for a time, including the weekend of the Bison game. He wore specialized glasses for awhile and he recalled the lights from the rafters of the Fargodome as "coming at me."

"My life is a blur," Steckel said. "I had a couple more surgeries. Now I'm back to no glasses, great vision and I thank god for my eye surgeons. The good lord took care of me, it wasn't easy at all."

The Steckel family has never been one to back down from adversity. The family, which includes his brother Les Steckel who went on to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, grew up in the shadow of steel and concrete mills in western Pennsylvania. Both he and Les are veterans of the Marine Corps with Dave serving for three years. Their father is a war veteran.

"Discipline was instilled in the family," Dave said.

When asked if the eye problem was the toughest time in his life, he immediately pointed to Marines boot camp.

"Ever been to Parris Island?" he said of the training ground on the coast of South Carolina.

Springfield, Mo., is a long way from Parris Island and despite the 3-1 start, Steckel carries the feeling that his program has a long way to go before challenging the top programs in the Missouri Valley Football Conference on a weekly basis.

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Eight starters are either freshmen or sophomores. The starting quarterback, Breck Ruddick, was suspended from the team indefinitely after allegations of animal cruelty on a dog.

That was a day before the Kansas State game, which ended 35-0 but it was also halted after two quarters because of severe weather.

The school completed a renovation to Plaster Field in 2014 that was funded by a $50 student fee per semester, a referendum that was passed by the students. The program has a new weight training facility. It seems everything else, however, continually needs to be upgraded, Steckel said.

"The whole program," he said. "Everything from the work ethic to recruiting, which we are completely responsible for. We have to keep increasing facilities and the budget. And we have to set the bar, making sure we graduate players, give them a first class education and improve the football program."

No. 1 North Dakota State at Missouri State

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Plaster Field, Springfield, Mo.

TV: KVLY, ESPN3. Radio: 107.9-FM

Related Topics: FCS FOOTBALL
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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