A man in a maroon polo shirt sits at a table and speaks into a microphone
New Missouri State football coach Ryan Beard said connecting his program with the community is an important goal in making the Bears the Ozarks’ college football team. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)


The on-field results at Hammons Field did not go Missouri State’s way on Tuesday night as Missouri dominated the in-state baseball rivalry. But there was a marketing victory taking place before the game for the Bears.

The football Bears earned their first win of 2023. Coach Ryan Beard and his Missouri State football team greeted fans entering the stadium with enthusiastic handshakes, high-fives and hugs while passing out schedule posters and info about Saturday’s Maroon and White scrimmage.

Once the baseball game began, the football team cheered on the baseball team — even though there was little to cheer about as Mizzou took a lopsided victory. Still, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Big kudos to Beard, Missouri State’s new head coach, for getting his team out in public to generate some enthusiasm and make a genuine effort to build fan support.

“This is awesome. You see the guys smiling, you see the fans coming in, hugging our players,” Beard said. “We don’t want to just be in the community, we want to be a part of the community. We want our guys to be out at the grocery store on Sunday and have a young kid come up and give them a high five and a hug. 

“We want to pour our hearts out for the community and do what we need to do to get the support in our stadium.”

Making Missouri State the Ozarks’ college football team

Winning is the greatest marketing tool of all and the Bears turned a sharp corner under Bobby Petrino, going to the FCS playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 30 years. Unfortunately, those came during the impact of COVID-19 (spring season of 2021 and fall 2021) which wasn’t the best of times to get new fans to a sporting event.

Last fall began with great expectations but wound up as a step back with a 5-6 record. Petrino departed in December and Beard was promoted from defensive coordinator to boss Bear. He’s aware that it’s a results-oriented business, but his outgoing personality and desire to market his program is a breath of fresh air. 

Beard wants to make Missouri State the Ozarks’ college football team and got off to a strong start in that regard over the winter, by signing most of the area’s top high school talent.

“We’ve tried to do that and it starts with recruiting,” Beard said. “Any player that can play at this level, we want to keep home. That would do nothing but have a trickle effect with the community, and we need to keep doing stuff like this. It can’t just be lip service. You have to actually put up, when you say things we’re going to do, do it.”

Crowd gets to see players without helmets on

Football is different from other sports in that the players wear helmets and fans rarely get to see the faces of the star players. The last couple of seasons, Jason Shelley emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in program history. Ty Scott was a dynamic receiver. Montrae Braswell is a potential future NFL player as cornerback and kick returner.

But how many fans could identify any of the trio if they saw only their faces? Probably not many. Beard wants fans, of all ages, to know the next crop of Missouri State football standouts.

s enter a baseball stadium before a game
Missouri State’s football team greeted fans entering Hammons Field on Tuesday, prior to the baseball team’s home game against Missouri. (Photo: Lyndal Scranton)

“Baseball and basketball have the advantage because people can see their smiling faces and they can look into their eyes,” Beard said. “This is how we have to engage the public because we don’t have helmets on right now. They can see their eyes and can see their personalities and how individual they are. It’s great.”

This year’s spring game is about more than football

Saturday’s Maroon and White game at Plaster Stadium is another chance to connect with the public. While the end-of-spring practice event has been held with little fanfare the last couple of years — largely due to COVID-19 restrictions — this year’s will be about more than football.

It’s billed as a Fan Fest, geared toward families with activities starting on the field at 1 p.m. There will be cornhole and other games, a dunk tank and players will be available for autographs.

Outside the stadium gates, in Bearfest Village, there will be free food and soft drinks along with music. Fans also are permitted to bring their own food and beverages. No power hookups will be available. 

“We want to surround our players with the community, young or old … let people who maybe have never set foot on our field come hang out with us and listen to music, come and eat some food, relax and have a great day,” Beard said. “Then we’re gonna show them the work we’ve put in this spring, split into white and maroon teams, and go at it for a few quarters.”

A four-quarter modified scrimmage will take place starting at 4 p.m. There will be giveaways and season ticket info will be available. The Bears open the five-game home schedule on Sept. 23 against Utah Tech following road games at Kansas and UT Martin.

Current roster includes 75 returning players

Beard said he’s pleased with the work ethic his team has shown this spring. There are 83 players on the spring roster, 75 of whom return from 2022. That includes 10 starters. 

“The guys play hard and come to work every day ready to roll,” he said. “Obviously, we still have a ton of work to do. To neglect that would be silly. But we’re on the right track. We’ve built some depth at some positions. These guys are excited to play some football Saturday and show the fans what they can do.”

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton