Baker football fortunes hinge on old, new
The induction of the late Charlie Richard into the College Football Hall of Fame and the hiring of Mike Grossner as head coach have been the hot topics for Baker University football fans, but several explosive players can be expected to grab the spotlight in September.
All-American running back Jon Reeves, a senior from Palestine, Texas, will get a lot of attention and possibly some records. He set a record for rushing attempts last season and has set a goal of 2,000 yards this season, which would also be a Baker record.
Reeves' speed and power are quickly noticeable on the field, but Grossner also likes Reeves' intangibles.
"I'm most impressed with his attitude and his leadership," Grossner said. "He knows this is his last hurrah and he wants to go out with a big bang."
Helping Reeves reach his goal will be all-conference fullback Gerrad Speer and all-conference center Chance Nichols, both seniors.
Grossner is expecting a five-man battle for the starting quarterback position. Whoever lines up behind center will have two big targets in senior wide receivers Keenan Ganz and Ryan Pitts. Ganz has been characterized as the receiving corps' "steady Eddie" by Grossner and has led the Wildcats in receptions for the past two years and made all-conference last season. Pitts was sidelined with an injury for much of the season but caught 10 passes in two games.
"Ryan is a threat anywhere on the field," Grossner said.
Another contributor on offense will be freshman Micah Mason of Baldwin City, who has shown an "unbelievable work ethic," according to Grossner. Mason is expected to play running back but could also see time at outside linebacker, where he stood out in the Kansas Shrine Bowl.
Joining Mason as a possible two-way player will be senior Luke Thompson of Olathe. Thompson was a force at defensive end in 2003 when he led the team in tackles and sacks and also returned two fumbles for touchdowns. Grossner said Thompson might also be utilized offensively in dual tight end sets.
Blake Pearson's confidence and presence in the huddle vaulted him into the starting quarterback role in the middle of last year over a three-year starter. This year, he will be on the other side of the ball as a strong safety.
"Blake is definitely a good leader," Thompson said. "He leads by example and by voice. He's disciplined, and he does his job on every play."
During his first meeting with players, Grossner emphasized that the Wildcats would get more yards out of its special teams. A big asset will be senior Karl Halamicek, a first-team all-conference punter who averaged 39 yards per kick in 2003 while battling a leg injury. Grossner has also signed place kicker Hans Broers of Baldwin City. Grossner intends to devote extra practice time to special teams.
"There are a lot of hidden yards in the special teams game," Grossner said. "It can be a huge difference maker in a game between two evenly matched teams."
Grossner's arrival at Baker has energized more than just the team.
"The city of Baldwin is excited," said Speer, who stayed for the summer and worked at Rodrock Chiropractic. "They want to see Baker football do well. It's cool for me to see the city get behind us."