No. 5 BU football team set for 2016 season


Khadijah Lane

Baker dual threat wide receiver and kicker Clarence Clark returns for the 2016 season. Clark was a first-team All-Heart South receiver last season after catching 68 passes for 1,113 yards and 16 touchdown.

The Baker football team begins its 2016 campaign as the No. 5 team in the NAIA after winning the Heart of America Athletic Conference South Division in 2015 and reaching the second round of the playoffs. The Wildcats have many tools back and look to continue their surge toward the top of the NAIA in 2016.

The Wildcats finished the regular season 10-1, with their only loss at Benedictine in their fifth game. Baker then blew out the Point University Skyhawks in the opening round of the playoffs with a 68-21 at home. Baker then lost to Southern Oregon, the defending national champions, at home on a cold, slushy day at Liston Stadium to end its season.

“We faced a really good playoff team, who almost went on to be the national champions,” senior Josh Kock said at Heart Media Day. “We learned a lot by seeing how the farther we get in the playoffs, the better the teams are going to get.”

Head coach Mike Grossner’s Wildcats have been picked to repeat as champions in the South Division. He believes that his team hasn’t lost a beat from 2015 to 2016.

“I like this football team,” Grossner said. “The only question mark is up front, and we’ve answered that.”

The Wildcats return junior quarterback Logan Brettell after a solid ophomore season behind last year’s starter Nick Marra. Brettell completed 74 percent of his passes and threw for 1,143 yards with 10 touchdowns through the air and two on the ground. Brettell powered Baker through the back half of the schedule with Marra missing three starts due to injury.

Brettell started both playoff games for the Wildcats and was the opening round game’s MVP after throwing for 419 yards and six touchdowns against Point. Brettell feels comfortable stepping into the starting role in 2016.

“Being behind Nick really helped me last year,” Brettell said at Heart Media Day. “Nick (Marra) and I are very different psychologically and very different athletically, as far as what we bring to the table. I gained a lot of experience without even stepping on the field, just being behind him.”

Brettell says that he enjoys the challenge of replacing the first-team All-South quarterback Marra.

“I’m a very physically and mentally tough person but I think proving that on the field and letting this team see that is really good for them, because it helps rub off on them,” Brettell said.

Brettell will also have his same receivers back from 2015 with first-team All-Heart South receiver junior Clarence Clark, second team All-Heart South senior receiver Damon Nolan, senior Quanzee Johnson and senior Ladai Shawn Boose. The four combined for 30 touchdowns, 193 receptions and 2,589 yards.

The backfield will feature junior Cornell Brown, who spent most of 2015 as a receiver but still rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Brown was also second on the team in receiving yards (600) and receptions (53). Senior Adonis Powell will also be in the backfield after leading the team in yards in 2015 with 889 and six touchdowns.

The offense will run behind juniors Kyle Wittman and Knute Holden, seniors Levi Blaylock and Marc Saffle and freshmen Daniel Ofa and Jared Harvey. Grossner’s only concerns are about the line, because of the linemen the Wildcats lost in the offseason. But he hopes his recruiting class will help fill that hole.

“If you want to be consistent you have to recruit players,” Grossner said. “Remember, we signed 57 guys. We replaced half of our team in this class.”

The Wildcats scored 40 points per game in 2015 and were No. 6 nationally in pass offense. With the weapons the Wildcats return, it’s not crazy to think the Wildcats will reset a majority of 2015’s passing records.

The Wildcats return nine starters defensively, losing defensive tackle Myron Tipton and the 2015 Co-Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Tucker Pauley. The player with whom Pauley shared his title, junior Josh Kock, also returns to be a staple on the defensive line.

“I like to lead by example,” Kock said at Heart Media Day. “If the guys see me doing something, I’d like for them to do the same things that I’m doing.”

Kock made 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2015. He’ll be joined up front by senior Nick Becker (31 tackles, 4.5 sacks), senior Nick Shondell (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and senior Jacob Thomas (16 tackles, 2 sacks).

The linebackers return strong as well with the team’s two leading tacklers, seniors Kharon Brown and Akim Francis. The two combined for 180 tackles, including 21 behind the line of scrimmage. Baker also adds sophomore Mikeice Adams, a junior college transfer from Dean College.

The secondary is full of returners in seniors Avery Parker and Darrian Winston and junior Hayden Jenkins. Those three had 12 total interceptions and were big contributors to the team’s plus-28 turnover margin on the season. Sophomore Nate McLaurin, a transfer from Glendale Community College, will be another corner for the Wildcats as well as Winston’s freshman brother Darrius.

The Wildcats’ defense was eighth in scoring defense per game, allowing 17.5 points per game. Baker allowed more than 25 points in only two games and held opponents to less than 20 in seven games, including two shutouts.

The Wildcats open the season with No. 6 Grand View at 1 p.m. on Aug. 27 at Liston Stadium. Last season Baker won 20-15 at Grand View in the season opener and had to make two late game interceptions to help seal the win.

“It’s a huge game so your motivation level is high through your offseason and through your summer knowing who you open up with,” Grossner said. “Your preparation has got to be spot on.”

The Wildcats then host Culver-Stockton on Sept. 3 and go on the road to No. 23 William Penn in the third week. In week five, Baker hosts Benedictine and looks to avenge its only regular season loss in 2015.

The Wildcats only play one game at home in October but then they will play both games in November at home. Baker hosts Evangel on senior day in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN3.