Northwest reached its lofty expectations in 2013 on the way to the program's second 15-0 season, and began the climb to that point once again this week.
The defending NCAA Division II national champs donned pads in practice for the first time on Saturday.
The 21 Bearcat seniors set the mantra this season as "Protect the Paw."
"I guarantee everybody has us highlighted on their schedule, and everyone wants to knock the defending national champs off," senior linebacker D.J. Gnader said. "Us 21 seniors have really been talking a lot about protecting that paw and protecting what we have here. We have a chance to do something very special this year."
The first hurdle for the Bearcats comes on September 4 -- opening night against Nebraska Kearney.