CEDAR FALLS — Mark Farley has created a family-style atmosphere around the University of Northern Iowa football program.
Over his 16 seasons as head coach of the Panthers, many players — including those from his own family — have suited up for the school and displayed the same kind of passion and commitment that Farley shows.
No one, though, has done it like Cal Twait.
The former Manson Northwest Webster all-stater begins his senior season this coming fall as the anchor to an experienced offensive line.
“Cal is as loyal to the university of Northern Iowa as any player I’ve ever had here,” Farley said. “He is as committed and invested as anyone. He has weathered through injuries and adversity.
“For him, I know this season is important both personally and for our football team.”
Twait has grown into a 6-foot-5, 305-pound beast in the trenches. He helped Northern Iowa to a 8-5 record last year, starting eight games at left tackle while battling injuries.
The Panthers ran for over 1,900 yards behind Twait and had over 3,000 more in the air. UNI scored on 47 of 51 red zone attempts, which led FCS in 2017.
“(Twait) is a person that will lead the charge,” Farley said. “He played as a freshman, has good size and is now a senior.”
Twait has started 26 games over his past three seasons with the Panthers. He was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer Team in 2015 and was recently named preseason all-league second team for this coming season.
Northern Iowa will begin the season ranked 13th in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25 after finishing 17th last year. They will face five ranked teams from FCS, including UNI-Dome dates with No. 1 North Dakota State (Oct. 6), third-ranked South Dakota State (Oct. 20) and No. 21 Illinois State (Nov. 3).
North Dakota State, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, is the defending national champions. The league has five ranked teams in all in the preseason poll.
“As a whole, (the offensive line) looks physically better (than last year),” Farley said. “We have more experience at some of those positions where you need experience. We are a bit older and are starting to see more development.
“And we are starting to show up more visibly and physically.”
Along with Twait, Briley Moore, Marcus Weymiller and Isaiah Weston were all named to the preseason all-conference teams from the UNI offense.
The Panthers travel to Montana on Saturday, Sept. 1 before taking on the Hawkeyes on Sept. 15 inside Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. They play their first home game on Saturday. Sept. 22 vs. Hampton.