Baker opens on road
There's a different air surrounding the Baker University football team this year, much like the atmosphere of a newly renovated Liston Stadium that absolutely sparkles.
Head coach John Frangoulis has experienced it and Saturday morning's intrasquad scrimmage on the new ocean of smooth green grass on fabled Liston's playing field.
"We have had a great camp," said Frangoulis, whose team will now set its sights squarely on Saturday's opening game at Evangel. "It's the most positive camp we've ever had. That's something you can build on. There haven't been any scraps, and that's something that always happens.
"I have really enjoyed the last 10 days with these players," he said. "We've got 107 players out and some 40 odd are new players."
But the newness isn't confined to just those items. After the offense had struggled for the past few years, new offensive coordinator ?????? was hired and he's established a different look for the Wildcats.
"It's a multiple-set offense," said Frangoulis. "We'll run some I (formation), off-set I, double tight ends and some one-back. We've got everything in with the new offense. It's more of a timing situation on offense than defense.
"You have two choices with a new offense throw it all at them at once or just put it in a step at a time. We have put everything in on offense. We threw it all at them. They're bright and picked it up. Now we'll have to evaluate where we're at with it and decide what to use in the first game."
It will be a good test for the Wildcats. Evangel won the Heart of America Athletic Conference title a year ago with a 10-0 conference mark and was 11-1 overall. Baker finished fourth at 5-5.
That's where the conference coaches think the race will turn out again this year. In the preseason coaches' poll, Evangel and Benedictine (which finished second last year with a 9-1 mark) were chosen to tie for the conference's top spot with 92 points apiece. MidAmerica Nazarene was picked third with 88 points. Baker, Missouri Valley and William Jewell all had 56 points to tie for the fourth-place position.
"They return most their team and are picked to win the league," Frangoulis said of Evangel, which the Wildcats will face at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Springfield, Mo. "Evangel and Baker has always been a good game. Surprisingly, we seem to beat them there and they beat us here."
As for the fourth-place choice in the conference, the seventh-year head coach thinks that's about where the Wildcats belong, although the preseason poll hasn't been too accurate in predicting how Baker will finish.
"I thought we'd be picked between fourth and sixth," he said. "That's where I would have picked us. We have never finished where they have picked us, though. It's a very balanced conference."
As for where his squad stands going into the season opener, Frangoulis knows the always-stingy Wildcat defense is ready and thinks the offense will get there.
"We look typical of where we should right now," he said. "This time of year the defense is still ahead of the offense. I'd be worried if it wasn't. We've had the same defense in place for seven years."
One of the question marks heading into the season was who would be at quarterback for the Wildcats. There's no doubt about that now.
"Martin Updike will start for us no question," said Frangoulis. "We had some bumps last year with him as a sophomore, but he improved because of that."
Baker's first home game will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 14 against Avila College. The lone home junior varsity game of the season for the Wildcats will be the next day, Sept. 15, at 2 p.m.