QB choice vital for Baker success
Kansas City, Mo. -- Brian Sheppard posted an unenviable completion percentage last fall as Baker University's quarterback.
"He threw the ball and somebody caught it ... whether on our team or their team," BU coach Mike Grossner quipped Monday. "When he's on, he's good. When he's off, he's bad."
Speaking at the Heart of America Athletic Conference's annual football media day at Kauffman Stadium, BU's second-year coach vowed he wouldn't stay as long with Sheppard this year as he did last year.
"The other guys weren't ready, so I stayed with him," Grossner said. "Even though he threw interceptions, I knew deep down he could also throw four touchdown passes."
Sheppard, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound son of New Orleans Saints' and former Kansas University aide Mike Sheppard, did throw 17 touchdown passes during his first season with the Wildcats after transferring from a small Louisiana college.
But he also threw 26 passes that were caught by opponents -- by far the most in the HAAC.
"He understands he threw too many interceptions," Grossner said, "but he's pretty resilient. It rubs off his shoulders pretty quick."
Nevertheless, Grossner says he won't hesitate to go to Kendall Bradley, a 6-5, 230-pound sophomore from Rogersville, Mo., if Sheppard falters.
"Both of them are ready to play," Grossner said.
With Ryan Pitts, last year's leading receiver, returning, Baker's aerial attack should remain potent, and even better if Sheppard becomes more efficient.
Still, Grossner must replace the Wildcats' most potent offensive weapon over the last three years in graduated tailback John Reeves. If Sheppard wasn't throwing last fall, Reeves was running.
Between them, Sheppard and Reeves were involved in nearly 90 percent of the offensive plays. Reeves carried the ball 252 times for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 27 swing passes for 251 yards and three TDs.
Reeves' likely replacement is Micah Mason, a former Baldwin High standout who spent his freshman season as Reeves' caddy, carrying just 22 times for 65 yards and no TDs.
"It was tough on him last year after being a high school star," Grossner said of the 6-0, 226-pound Mason. "But he understands his time has come."
Mason, voted a team captain, isn't likely to be the workhorse Reeves was, however, because Grossner also plans to use Seth Williams, a 5-11, 200-pound junior from Grain Valley, Mo., at tailback.
"Mason is a horse," Grossner said. "He's a north-south runner with a little bit of juke in him. Seth is a north-south runner, too, and he'll try to run right through you."
Opponents tried to run right through Baker's defense last season and, for the most part, they succeeded. The 'Cats surrendered a league-high 20 rushing touchdowns and were particularly vulnerable in the last four games -- all defeats -- when they were plundered for an average of 36.5 points per game.
"It was quite an eye-opener," Grossner said. "We were 4 and 2 and feeling pretty good about ourselves, then in the last four games we went into a skid."
Grossner's most notable defensive change was to shift Bruce Rogers, last year's leading tackler, from linebacker to free safety. Undersized at linebacker, the 5-11, 205-pound Rogers figures to be more effective stopping the run in his new position.
"I'll know he'll hit you," the BU coach said about Rogers, a senior from Palestine, Texas, "but I don't know if he can back-peddle and cover."
Jeremiah Gress, a 5-10, 210-pound Free State High product, will play middle linebacker.
"I think we're a year away defensively," Grossner said, "so the offense is going to have to carry the load."
That includes place-kicking, where the Wildcats were woeful last season. Baker attempted only three field goals in '04. One was successful.
"We were atrocious," Grossner said. "We didn't make a field goal until our last game."
The BU coach hopes he has solved that problem by recruiting William Burwell, a sophomore transfer from Florida State.