The Baker Orange

BU becoming Wide Receiver U

Story by Jim

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One great wide receiver can change a team’s offensive strategy entirely, and a championship team needs at least one receiver capable of changing a game in one play. Baker has five high-impact receivers, not only on the same team, but on the field at the same time in every five-wide situation.

Baker’s offense has five guys each of whom might be the best wide receiver on any other team in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. But instead they’ve all come to the same school and have put together a championship-caliber team.

“It’s definitely the best group I’ve been around, hands down,” junior quarterback Nick Marra said. “In high school there were some decent guys, junior college we had one or two guys but with this group of wideouts, I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it, I don’t even have to think about who I’m throwing to because they’re all good athletes and you just get the ball to them in space and they make plays.”

Junior Ladai Shawn Boose, sophomore Clarence Clark, sophomore Cornell Brown and junior transfers Damon Nolan and Quanzee Johnson make up this main group of wide receivers. Through six games all five have at least one touchdown or at least 200 yards of receiving. Clark and Boose are both in the top 10 in the Heart in receiving yards.

“We knew that was our strength when we recruited those guys,” head coach Mike Grossner said. “As an offensive coordinator you’ve now got to utilize your strengths, and I think our offensive staff has done a great job of recognizing that and not force- feeding other stuff when we’ve got the collection.”

This group has helped its quarterback Nick Marra rise to the top of the rankings in nearly every NAIA passing category. Through six games Marra has thrown 18 touchdowns and 1,739 yards while completing 62 percent of his passes, with 1,583 of those yards have been with these five receivers.

“He’s got that demeanor about him that he understands he’s got a good crew and that he’s got to get the ball to all of them,” Grossner said.

After several severe injuries while at Baker, Marra’s confidence continues to grow with every game he plays.

“This year is the first year that I’ve been able to play here healthy and I’m so happy that I’m healthy because with those receivers they make it so easy,” Marra said. “I’m confident that if I put the ball near them that they’re going to come down with it.”

Of Marra’s 132 completions this season, 117 have come from these five receivers.

“He knows that he has five people that can go out there and catch the ball,” sophomore receiver Clarence Clark said. “I think his quick release is probably the best thing about him, just because he can read from one through five and then get the ball out.”

Marra has thrown for 300 yards or more in three of the six games and came within one yard of hitting the 300-yard mark for the fourth time in Baker’s 35-10 victory over Graceland last Saturday.

“He’s just as confident, if not more confident than we are,” sophomore receiver Cornell Brown said. “So that helps us just knowing he’s going to put the ball where he needs to put it and when he needs to put it.”

The junior quarterback leads the NAIA in passing yards, is second in touchdowns and tied the school record for passing touchdowns in a single game with six against Culver-Stockton College in week two.

Marra loves to use as many different guys in his passing game as possible.

“It doesn’t allow defenses to key in on an individual or key on two guys,” Marra said. “We have so much depth out there that people can’t key on anybody.”

Ryan Pitts, an assistant coach on Baker’s staff and a former Baker receiver, agrees with using as many receivers as possible to confuse defenses.

“I would prefer four or fives guys touching the ball evenly because it’s tougher to cover that many, as opposed to having one guy with 11 catches, one guy with two and another guy with one,” Pitts said. “If the ball is distributed evenly across the field, it causes havoc for a defensive coordinator.”

Clark is the group’s big play threat. The sophomore has caught 30 passes for 508 yards and six touchdowns, all being team-highs.

“It’s the little things with him,” Marra said. “He makes a quarterback really comfortable because he’s going to be in the right place, he’s going to run the right route, he’s going to do the right thing, and he’s going to do it full speed every single time.”

With Clark missing all of 2014, it opened the door for Boose to take over the top spot on the receiver depth chart. With both guys back in 2015, Clark hasn’t felt any added pressure.

“Ladai (Shawn Boose) has a great attitude about the situation and I have a great attitude about the situation,” Clark said. “It’s just kind of fun to know that, say I’m not having the best day, that Ladai can go out there and ball out. Maybe if him and I are off then Cornell can go off. We just have a lot of threats that can move the ball and catch the ball.”

Boose is the team’s No. 2 receiver in 2015. The junior caught 35 passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns in 2014, all of those team-highs. Even with all of the extra competition Boose is on pace to crush last season’s numbers.

“He was the guy last year so his confidence is already there, he already knows he can do it,” Brown said. “Then when you add all of us around him it opens him up more so when he’s going to do his thing, he’s going to do his thing.”

Boose has made 29 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns through six games in 2015.

“He’s that guy that’s going to go up and get the ball,” Marra said. “He’s not the fastest guy. Clarence has got a little more speed, but Ladai has got ball skills.”

Brown has been the most multi-purpose receiver for Baker. He’s been used as a running back, punt returner and on special teams.

“He’s a versatile kid, in terms of, we can put him in the backfield and run stuff and we can put him out at receiver and get him going in different ways,” Marra said. “He gives our five wides package a lot of flexibility.”

Nolan transferred in from Palomar College in San Marcos, California, after playing for Murrieta Valley High School in southern California.

“Damon is probably the quickest guy that I’ve ever played with, and you know Quanzee’s just a receiver that’s going to catch the ball, he’s going to get the sticks, he’s going to make the clutch catches,” Clark said.

Nolan opened up the 2015 season with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown at Grand View. Since then he’s caught 23 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

“Damon’s another guy that can be the fastest kid on the field if Clarence isn’t on the field, or maybe they’re tied,” Brown said.

Johnson’s coming-out party was at Culver-Stockton, where the transfer from Northwest Missouri State caught five passes and a touchdown. On the season he has 17 catches for 211 yards.

Johnson played his high school football for the Bishop Miege Stags in Kansas City. Johnson was a two-time all-conference running back and cornerback as well as being a first team all-state defensive back. Johnson caught passes and took his handoffs throughout high school from the Kansas Jayhawks’ opening day starting quarterback, Montel Cozart.

“Quanzee’s played at a big level,” Brown said. “He played at D-2 at Northwest Missouri State, so he definitely knows what he’s doing, too.”

With every opposing defenses’ focus on those five guys, it may open the door for other parts of the offense, like the running game.

“There’s still a ton of things that we can clean up, and that’s the scary thing for me,” Marra said. “Right now, we’re still not doing a lot of things right. Once we clean those things up, we have a lot of room to grow still.”

Baker plays five more games in the regular season, all matched up with teams from the South Division. At No. 6 and 5-1, Baker is a team that’s capable of winning a Heart title as well as an NAIA championship.

“We’re really really confident,” Brown said. “We all have speed and we all worked hard this summer. We all knew that we were going to be together and we were going to have a good chance this season.”

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