The Baker Orange

2014 Football Preview

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The Wildcats finished as HAAC champions as well as number five nationally last fall with a record of 8-1 in the conference and 11-2 overall. After their only regular season loss at Benedictine in week three, the Wildcats rattled off nine wins in a row to seal a conference championship and earn a win over Sterling in the opening round of the NAIA playoffs.

This season the Wildcats return plenty of starters and may be favorites to win the conference again. Baker starts the season with two tough games – on the road at Ottawa and at home for a rematch against Sterling.

“One game at a time,” head coach Mike Grossner said. “We’ll take a look at these first three games and figure out where we’re at.”

The schedule also includes three crucial games in the middle of the season: at Peru State in week five, against Benedictine at Arrowhead Stadium in week six, and at MidAmerica Nazarene in week eight. The season concludes with Missouri Valley here in Baldwin City in a game that could determine the conference championship.

RETURNERS

In the backfield, Baker will have senior tailbacks Camren Torneden and Scott Meyer, sophomore Adonis Powell and junior fullback Alex Stebbins. The four combined for 1,402 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. Blocking ahead of these backs will be five returning offensive linemen, including All-American guard senior Sheldon Jacks.

“We know what these guys can do,” Grossner said.

Also returning will be All-American sophomore receiver Clarence Clark, who was a speedy weapon in the Baker passing game last season. It’s also hard to forget Clark’s golden right foot. He was successful on 17 of his 26 field goals; including a 59-yard game-tying kick against Missouri Valley and the game-winning 52-yard field goal in overtime of the same game.

Also returning at receiver will be junior T.J. Holtrop. The duo of Clark and Holtrop combined for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. With additional receivers junior Dylan Perry, senior Aundre Allen and junior Jeremy Immenschuh, Baker quarterbacks will have five returning targets to catch passes.

“At receiver we have 10-15 guys that can bring something to the table,” Grossner said.

On the defensive line the Wildcats are stacked in 2014. Junior Myron Tipton, who has recorded 39 tackles in two seasons, will be the veteran. The duo of sophomores Adam Novak and Nick Becker caught the attention of every other team in the league, racking up 88 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2013. Adding back 2012 All-American Andre Jolly, who returns after injuries abruptly ended his 2013 season, to this mix, then this could be the best defensive line in the country.

“Linebacker is the key,” Grossner said. “Our top three are good.”

Junior middle linebacker Tucker Pauley led the team in tackles with 89 and was the biggest force in the middle of the defense last season. Behind him will be two senior defensive backs in Duane Sims, and Mike Stevenson, as well as juniors Gunnar McKenna, one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the HAAC, and Avery Parker.

DEPARTURES

Last season’s senior class was highlighted by running back Dillon Baxter. The transfer from the University of Southern California spent two seasons as the Wildcats feature tailback. Baxter rushed for 1,901 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per carry and reached the end zone 13 times in his Baker career.

The Wildcats also lose quarterback Jake Morse. In 2013, Morse started 12 of the 13 games. In his four seasons, he threw for 7,176 yards along with 69 touchdown passes.

Baker will also lose three key defensive starters. Up front they lose Austin Hamm, who was fourth on the team in tackles with 60 along with 11.5 tackles for losses and a team-leading six sacks.

Baker will also lose second and third-leading tacklers Darrick Smith and Emmerson Clarke. In 2013, the two combined for 141 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 13 interceptions, including Smith’s four-interception game at Culver Stockton.

OUTLOOK

The 2014 Wildcats will be a strong rushing team and possibly the best defense, on paper, in all of the NAIA. The key will have to be the passing game. By September we will know the outcome of a competition for the starting quarterback spot among juniors Nick Marra and Jake Heller, sophomore Adam Lomenick and other possible challengers. Also with 33 freshmen coming in, it will be interesting to see if any of them can make an immediate impact like Clark, Novak and Becker did last season.

A successful season for the 2014 Baker Wildcats would be finishing atop the conference as well as making their playoff run past the second round. Also staying in the top 10 as well as fighting for the top spot in the NAIA national polls needs to be a goal to make sure a playoff position is locked up come November.

“I like what we have ahead of us,” Grossner said. “I think we have a good mental make up with our football team.”

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