Baker eyes ‘next step’
Kansas City, Mo. By some reckoning, Mike Grossner should have been at least a little peeved.
Here was the Heart of America Athletic Conference preseason football poll, and there was Baker University sitting in seventh place.
Considering the Wildcats tied for fourth place in the HAAC last year with their first winning record in seven years (6-4) and that fifth-year coach Grossner has 16 returning starters - eight on offense, eight on defense - and, well, were the league coaches that unimpressed?
"I don't look at it as a slap," Grossner said during HAAC Media Day Wednesday at the Arrowhead Stadium Club. "Numbers 4 through 8 are interchangeable. But can you beat the top three? That's what we need to do. We need to take the next step."
The current HAAC elite are Lindenwood, Missouri Valley and MidAmerica Nazarene.
"Last year, we kind of broke through the door," Grossner said. "Now we've got to find a way to win against guys you aren't supposed to beat."
Baker came close against MANU last fall, bowing 34-30, but the 'Cats were thumped, 50-19, by Lindenwood and fell, 34-20, to Missouri Valley.
On paper, the Wildcats are solid and experienced, particularly at place-kicker, where Derek Doerfler, the reigning HAAC Player of the Year, returns for his senior year.
"We feel real lucky to have him back," Grossner said of the Lee's Summit, Mo., product who became a sensation last season by kicking eight field goals of over 50 yards, including a last-minute 62-yard that gave BU a 15-13 win over William Jewell.
Baker will open at Tennessee-Martin, an NCAA Football Subdivision school on Sept. 6 before beginning its 10-game HAAC gantlet on Sept. 13 against Culver-Stockton.