The Baker Orange

Football preview: offense

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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Here’s an in-depth look at the offense for the 2015 Wildcat football team.

QUARTERBACKS

Baker has been blessed with several candidates at quarterback. Head football coach Mike Grossner will have his pick from the litter with juniors Nick Marra and Adam Lomenick, sophomores Logan Brettell and James Valentine and any other challengers in fall camp. Going into the season Marra will likely be the starter in week one.

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“I love the kid. I love his heart,” Grossner said. “I think he’s one of the toughest sons of guns I’ve ever coached.”

Grossner was also a college quarterback. He was the starting quarterback in 1983 at Scottsdale Community College and was a two-time all conference quarterback at Bethany College.

“We’re similar that we played the same position, I think, with the same fire,” Grossner said of Marra. “He’s got a huddle presence that I love.”

Marra started the season in 2014 but suffered an injury in the first half of the first game against Ottawa. Marra would end up playing through the injury in six more games and started the final two games, nearly leading Baker to the playoffs on one leg.

“I want him to keep gaining the confidence of his teammates in the huddle, and I think he did last year playing hurt,” Grossner said. “Like him or not like him, you better respect him that he’s going to step into the huddle and lead you to the promised land.”

Marra is a pocket passer who threw for 13 touchdowns and 1,219 yards in his injury-shortened season.

“My knee feels great,” Marra said. “It feels strong, super strong. It’s been tough to get that quad muscle back but I feel better than ever right now.”

The strategy with using Marra can change week-by-week depending on how comfortable the junior quarterback feels.

“You want him to protect himself but you don’t want to take that element away from him of that fearless pocket presence, where ‘I’m going to stand in there and hold it for as long as need be and then deliver the ball,’” Grossner said. “Great quarterbacks do that. They don’t fear the rush. They don’t look at the rush, and they take the big hit and deliver the ball.”

As for the rest of the quarterbacks, Brettell has the second most experience. Brettell took over the main quarterback duties with Marra on the bench but also battled the injury bug. Brettell proved himself as a dual threat quarterback after rushing for 125 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 127 yards against MidAmerica Nazarene in the team’s first loss. Brettell will also be fighting for a spot as the team’s kicker.

RUNNING BACKS

The backfield loses two great running backs, Scott Meyer and Camren Torneden. Torneden led the Wildcats in rushing with 875 yards and 8 touchdowns and was the main punt returner in the past two seasons. Baker does return a promising back in junior Adonis Powell. After two seasons of being a second or third string back for Baker, Powell will likely be the opening day starter.

“Adonis is going to be great and he works really well in (our) system,” Marra said. “He’s a one-cut back and he can get to the line of scrimmage and make that cut.”

Senior fullback Alex Stebbins will be the lead blocker for the backs and will also carry the ball down near the goal line as he has 10 touchdowns in his career. Grossner also noted that Stebbins might be used as the second or third back or a tight end in certain packages.

“Everybody in the stadium knows third-and-one, fourth-and-one that Stebbins is getting the ball,” Grossner said. “And he gets it done.”

WIDE RECEIVERS

Grossner called his wide receivers the best and fastest that he’s ever had, even after losing receivers like Connor Stremel, Aundre Allen, Dylan Perry and Jeremy Immenschuh. Baker does return two receivers who have made big names for themselves in just one season each.

2013 all-conference receiver Clarence Clark returns after missing all but one quarter in 2014. Clark scored on a 54-yard touchdown during the season’s first possession. Clark left the game before halftime with a season-ending injury. Clark caught 40 passes for 840 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013 and will look to do the same in 2015.

Sophomore Ladai-Shawn Boose filled in for Clark last season as the team’s leading receiver with 529 yards and five touchdowns. Boose and senior tight end TJ Holtrop will be two of the most experienced in the receiving game. After minimal playing time last season, sophomore Cornell Brown will be thrown into the mix as well.

“We’ve got competition every day,” Grossner said. “You better bring your A-game and catch the ball or you aren’t going to be playing.”

Grossner plans to rotate approximately eight receivers throughout the season.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Baker’s offensive line was a mix of more than 10 linemen in 2014 due to injuries. Baker lost four solid offensive linemen: All-American Sheldon Jacks, Michael Lisher, Justin McCandless and Ryan Powe.

“I’m excited about the chemistry on the o-line,” Marra said. “They all get together really well. They all mesh really well. I think that’s a really big part of them having success this year.”

Sophomore center Kyle Wittman started in place of Lisher at the end of last season, due to Lisher’s season-ending injury, and proved he was worthy of a starting spot in 2015. After that the line could be a mix of any of the following: seniors Jesse Austin, Jess Westmoreland, Tanner Clark, Cale Nieder or juniors Greg Snell and Jared Fromm.

OUTLOOK

The offense will feature a mix of youth and experience. The team will have to rely on the veterans to help the young players through the first two or three games to pave the way for the remainder of the season.