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Championship trip serves as homecoming for three Baker players

Florida+natives+Nazayah+Brown%2C+Akim+Francis+and+Mikeice+Adams+have+played+key+roles+for+the+Wildcats+this+year.
Florida natives Nazayah Brown, Akim Francis and Mikeice Adams have played key roles for the Wildcats this year.

Florida natives Nazayah Brown, Akim Francis and Mikeice Adams have played key roles for the Wildcats this year.

Florida natives Nazayah Brown, Akim Francis and Mikeice Adams have played key roles for the Wildcats this year.

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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When Baker punched its ticket to the NAIA-FCS national championship game in Daytona Beach, Florida, it was a chance for most of the players to take a trip to a new place with an ocean view. For linebackers Akim Francis and Mikeice Adams and running back Naz Brown, it was a chance to return to their home state of Florida.

“This is the first time since high school that I’ve played football in Florida,” Francis said. “So it’s been about five years since I’ve played here.”

Francis, Adams and Brown are all three from Kissimmee, which is a little more than an hour’s drive from Daytona Beach, in south Orlando. All three graduated from Osceola High School in Kissimmee, with Francis graduating in 2012, Adams in 2014 and Brown in 2016. Francis started the pipeline to central Florida by recruiting both Adams and Brown to come to Baldwin City.

“They talked to me after graduation and told me this was a good school to come to and that they were ready to make a run,” Brown said. “They said they needed my help so I came.”

Francis was a first-team All-Heart South performer this season at linebacker. He led Baker in tackles with 107. He also had two sacks and two interceptions in Baker’s opening-round playoff victory over Sterling. This is Francis’ second season at Baker after transferring from Hutchinson Community College.

Naz Brown started the season as Baker’s second running back behind All-American Cornell Brown but slid into the third-string spot with the return of Adonis Powell in the second half of the season. Naz Brown is second on the team with 80 carries and third on the team with 377 yards rushing.

Adams was an honorable mention All-Heart South linebacker this season with 68 tackles and two interceptions in his first season since transferring from Dean College.

Throughout the season, these three knew that the national title game would bring them back to Florida. In the Wildcats’ semifinal game against Eastern Oregon, the game that booked their ticket to Daytona Beach, Francis and Adams combined for 22 tackles.

“That’s what my goal was, to play in front of my family and friends one more time,” Francis said. “This is my senior year, and I get to play one more game in Florida.”

Adams shared a similar incentive.

“It’s great to play back in front of your hometown and your friends and family,” Adams said. “We’ve been thinking about it pretty heavy. It just feels good to be back.”

Brown played in Daytona Municipal Stadium, the home for Saturday’s championship game, when he was in seventh grade in his little league championship game.

“For most of the team, that’s what they were pushing for, to make sure that we get back home,” Adams said. “That was a goal they set for us.”

Adams is also expecting around 200 friends and family members from Kissimmee to make the drive up I-4 for Saturday’s title game. For all three, this is a chance for their past coaches and teammates to come watch them play on a big stage.

“It’s going to be a good crowd with family, friends, nieces, nephews and a lot of coaches,” Francis said. “My little league coaches and high school coaches, mainly.”

On Wednesday, the Baker defense visited Turie T. Small Elementary School in Daytona Beach to talk with the kids about how football has helped them accomplish a lot of goals in their lives. Francis helped lead Baker’s defense in the school assembly and talked about his upbringing in Florida and playing in the same little league as some of the kids in the audience.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was playing little league here,” Francis said. “Well, I guess it was a long time ago.”

Walking onto the plane at Kansas City International Airport on Tuesday, the players could see their breath in the below freezing temperatures. The best part about coming back home to Florida for Francis, Adams and Brown is the weather. The high for Saturday should be around 80 degrees in Daytona Beach, while snow is in the forecast in Baldwin City.

“The weather is great,” Adams said. “It’s finally time to get out of the cold.”

The three Florida natives are excited to come home and be back in the Sunshine State, but they’re also focused on the biggest game of their season and one of the biggest in Baker history.

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