Football cracks top 15 in preason poll

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Football cracks top 15 in preason poll

Story by Chad Mullens

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Mike Grossner is entering his 10th season as head coach of the Baker University football team, but it will perhaps be his first with such high expectations.

If the Wildcats want to build on their eight-win campaign in 2012, they are on the right track. The team is ranked No. 15 in the NAIA preseason coaches poll. The team finished third in the Heart of America Conference standings last year behind Missouri Valley College and MidAmerica Nazarene University, and the Wildcats are placed behind the same two schools in the conference preseason poll.

“On paper, I feel good … but we’ll see how it pans out this season,” Grossner said during a HAAC press conference.

There will be several familiar faces taking the field for the Baker this season, including starting quarterback Jake Morse. The senior has thrown more than 4,400 yards and 36 touchdowns in his career and was named a preseason All-American in 2012. Morse fought a knee injury in 2012 but is cleared to lead the nationally-ranked Wildcats for his final season.

“Last year was very frustrating,” Morse said during HAAC Media Day. “… It was tough, but that’s part of it. You’ve got to fight through adversity, and I’ve learned from that experience and it’s made me a better quarterback.”

Another key offensive player returning from last season is senior running back Dillon Baxter. The former USC Trojan led the team with 869 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games. Baxter came on strong the last three games of the season, including a 188-yard effort against Graceland University. Grossner said Baxter gained 25 pounds over the offseason to handle a bigger payload for the coming campaign.

On the defensive end, much excitement surrounds junior defensive end Andre Jolly. He led the entire NAIA in sacks with 16 in 2012, which earned him All-America honors. Grossner also raved about the secondary, including Mike Stevenson and Josh Fairley, who combined for six interception in 2012.

If the Wildcats can improve on their -3 turnover margin, largely caused by fumbles, and handle their quality opponents, this could prove to be a fruitful season.

The Wildcats will wait until September to kick off their season in the County Line Clash. Baker is scheduled to host No. 18 Ottawa University at 6 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Liston Stadium.