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Kibby, Panthers excited about receiving official schedule

Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, left, shakes hands with Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley, right, after Iowa State won 29-26 in triple overtime of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Ames. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

CEDAR FALLS — There is absolutely nothing Zac Kibby would rather do right now than strap on his shoulder pads and compete alongside his brothers on the Northern Iowa football team.

The Panthers released their schedule for the season recently, as they begin play with the other FCS programs in February following the decision to shift the 2020 season to spring 2021 because of the novel coronavirus.

Northern Iowa hosts Illinois State on February 20 here inside the UNI-Dome as the first of eight games to be played in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The Panthers are one of the favorites to not only compete for the league title, but after earning a No. 3 ranking in the preseason, the national crown. The FCS playoffs start April 24.

“The biggest motivator for me is that come spring time, the Missouri Valley and all of FCS should have the spotlight,” said Kibby, a former all-stater at Bishop Garrigan. “With all the Power 5 schools playing now, I like to tell myself that we will get some more TV time and exposure. It’s going to be cold in the spring and people are going to want o get out of the house and what better way than to take your family to the Dome for some football where it’s 75 degrees all year long.

“We have a great home schedule.”

Coming off a 10-5 season that included a trip to the quarterfinals, UNI will host Missouri State on March 6 before returning playing three consecutive weekends on the road. They return home for back-to-back dates with defending national champion North Dakota State on April 10 and South Dakota State the following Saturday to close the regular season.

The Panthers also travel to South Dakota on February 6 along with Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and Youngstown State in March.

“North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Illinois State are all Top-15 teams we get to play at home this year,” Kibby said. “Those are always big games no matter what, but who knows, maybe we could land (ESPN) College Gameday or something. Whether that’s what happens or not I don’t know.

“But in uncertain times like these, I just try and find the positives and hang my hat on those.”

Kibby, a redshirt senior, played in all 15 games last year, recording 14 tackles and a fumble recovery from his spot in the secondary. He also handled punting duties for the Panthers, averaging over 39 yards on 67 kicks with 10 landing inside the 20 and eight going for over 50 yards.

“It’s exciting and motivating to have our schedule out,” he said. “It’s been hard watching other teams playing on Saturday and not being able to. It makes it even worse that once a week, we all get notifications whether it be on Facebook or other social media reminding us of pictures from a year before and seeing us at games or on road trips.

“We have adjusted and we just roll with what we are dealt. Even to this day, our weekly schedule and the rules seem to be always changing. It’s not ideal, but we have no other choice but to deal with it.”

The current UNI roster also features former Fort Dodge Senior High all-state wide receiver Tysen Kershaw, who is a freshman, Manson Northwest Webster and Iowa Central graduate Tim Butcher, and ex-Tritons Jackson Martens and Spencer Cuvelier

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