By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Bobby Gruenloh chose tradition.
Even when the scholarship offers from Division I programs started rolling in, the Palmyra senior didn't see them as being better programs than Division II Northwest Missouri State.
So Gruenloh signed his national letter of intent on signing day Wednesday to continue his career with the Bearcats. He was one of two area Missouri players to sign with a Division II football program Wednesday, as Hannibal's Dalton Powell signed with Truman State (Mo.).
Northwest competes in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association, regarded as one of the nation's most elite Division II leagues.
The Bearcats have had 18 straight winning seasons. They won Division II national titles in 1998, 1999 and 2009 and finished second in four straight seasons from 2005-08. That success came under legendary coach Mel Tjeerdsma, who retired after the 2010 season. Current coach Adam Dorrel went 21-6 in his first two seasons.
"They've been good for 16-plus years," Gruenloh said.
Gruenloh compiled 124 total tackles last season for Palmyra, including 51 tackles for a loss. He played also played tight end for the Panthers. Gruenloh was a Class 2 first-team all-state selection as a defensive lineman, which is where the Bearcats intend to use him.
Gruenloh said he also had scholarship offers from Division I Football Championship Subdivision schools Western Illinois and Illinois State and interest from Southeast Missouri State. ISU made the FCS playoffs in 2012 and WIU qualified in 2010. Northwest, though, has the annual tradition of winning.
"They've been good for so long, Northwest has, that it played a big part in my decision," Gruenloh said.
Academics played the biggest part in Powell's decision. The chance to play football was simply the icing on the cake.
"What I was looking for in a college was one with great academic prowess, and Truman really fits that bill, both in overall academics and in the major I intend on studying, which is accounting," said Powell, a quarterback. "That really drew me to it at first.
"I didn't really wrap my head around the prospect of playing football until more toward the end of my football season, and I went on a visit up there, and they said they watched my film and they liked it. Once football came in play, it was really a no-brainer."
Truman will be joining the Great Lakes Valley Conference next season after being a charter member of the MIAA since 1912.
The Bulldogs are coached by Gregg Nesbitt, who has a 12-21 record in three seasons. Nesbitt is a Hannibal native, which Powell figures helped his cause.
"(Hannibal) coach (Mark) St. Clair has really good relationship with Coach Nesbitt, so I think that did help me get recruited up there," Powell said.
Powell completed 54.8 percent of his passes last fall and threw for 915 yards. He also compiled 560 yards rushing.
A few area athletes also signed Wednesday to compete at the NAIA level.
Quincy High School's Clay Finklea inked with Taylor (Ind.). An All-Western Big Six Conference selection, Finklea was a standout offensive and defensive lineman for the Blue Devils. He helped pave the way for QHS to gain more than 2,500 yards rushing last fall.
Pleasant Hill's Braden Damon inked with Central Methodist (Mo.). A two-way lineman for the Wolves, Damon ranked second on the team last fall with 72 total tackles.
CMU also nabbed Mark Twain running back Tyler Steinkamp. He rushed for 1,481 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall.