MARYVILLE, MO—Every college football fan knows the importance of the offensive and defensive lines. For the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats, a third line is just as important: the assembly line.

Several Bearcats are working at Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp.’s nearby engine assembly plant in Maryville.

In May, Bearcat football players Bryce Krone and Tyson Strohbeen applied to work at Kawasaki through its staff agency, Randstad. Drawn to the company for its competitive pay and flexible work schedules, the pair started their 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday shifts and then—with Randstad’s referral bonus as an incentive—began recruiting other student-athletes to join them.

“We’re able to come in at 10 after weights and then work ’til 5, so it just kind of drew me with how flexible it is, and they are willing to work with us,” says Krone, a junior recreation and park management major from Bonner Springs, KS. “I didn’t mind it was in a factory. A lot of people said it was hard, but I was like, ‘It can’t be too hard.’ So I just went with it.”

Within a few weeks, nearly 40 of them were hired: enough to man an assembly line of their own, working on small engines measuring up to 24 hp. With the Bearcat flag hanging overhead, the assembly line moves at a steady pace, carrying engines that need to be locked to their frames and packaged. The student-athletes inspect them for defects and check for gas or oil leaks.

They finish, on average, about 250 engines during their seven-hour shift.

“This is a dedicated, disciplined group of individuals who are building live product for Kawasaki, while working around their athletic schedules,” says Tim Melvin, human resources manager at Kawasaki and a Northwest alumnus.

The student-athletes and their supervisors agree the work is helping them build skills they can employ throughout their lives and careers.

“They are participating in real-world experiences, being held accountable to the same policies and procedures as other employees,” Melvin says. “With part-time employment a growing portion of today’s workforce, this is a program with additional opportunities, not only for athletic scholars, but potentially for other Northwest students wishing to experience real-world activities in support of their educational targets and goals.”

As they prepare for their upcoming seasons, the student-athletes, who also include men’s basketball players Spencer Schomers and Christian Stanislaw, are building camaraderie as teammates that they hope translates to better performance on the playing field, too.

“It’s good working with your teammates because if somebody on the line messes up, you automatically look down to see who it is,” Krone says. “We kind of joke around with each other at that, but without every one of us, the line wouldn’t move. We work towards that.”

Northwest and Kawasaki partner to offer the Kawasaki POWERing Bearcats Program, which provides part-time employment opportunities to Northwest students as well as an invitation to interact with leadership and participate in unique engagement events.

To participate in the program, students must work a minimum of 20 hours a week at the assembly plant. Work schedules are set in four-hour blocks to accommodate course scheduling, and Kawasaki offers 401k contributions from the first day of employment.

Kawasaki’s starting wage is $18.71, which means a student working 20 hours a week could earn $374 a week and about $18,710 in gross pay during a year. Kawasaki also offers an additional $1.25 per hour for second or third shift work and a potential for increased pay based on job performance.

In addition to offering valuable work experiences to students, Kawasaki supports the university by funding two scholarships and sponsoring the Visiting Writers Series. The manufacturer established the Kawasaki Powering Dreams Scholarship in 2016 for students who succeed just below the highest level of academic achievement and have financial need, and it established the Kawasaki Kids: Powering Your Potential Scholarship in 2019 to assist dependents of Kawasaki employees.