Bryant leads Wildcats’ all-conference awards
Mike Grossner and his Baker University Wildcat football team earned a handful of postseason honors from the Heart of America Athletic Conference.
The Wildcats, who finished their season 8-4, went to the national playoffs for the first time since 1993. Their success as a team led to them receiving 16 All-HAAC selections, including seven first-team players.
“Winning gets respect,” coach Mike Grossner said. “There’s a reason we’re winning. We’ve got good football players. I felt very flattered that we had seven first-team guys. They are all very deserving. The second- and third-team guys were also a big part of our success and maybe deserving of higher honors, but that’s how it goes in a tough conference.”
Leading the way for the Wildcats was tailback Richie Bryant. He was named the HAAC offensive player of the year for his breakout year. Bryant, a junior from Louisiana, Mo., was the conference’s leading rusher with 1,335 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns.
“I set goals at the beginning of the year and I reached all of those this season,” Bryant said. “It was just an honor to be selected offensive player of the year. Coach told me it was unanimous, so that’s giving me a lot of confidence.”
Grossner was hoping one of his two skill players would earn the honor this fall.
“I felt like we had two guys well deserving of that, Richie and Mack Brown,” Grossner said. “I’m just glad one of them got it. Richie led the country in touchdowns and scoring, which is a big honor.”
Bryant also set school records for points in a season (168) and overall touchdowns (28). He led the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in scoring this year. After the Wildcats’ first game, which was a blowout loss to the University of Tennessee-Martin, Bryant thought his season might be a special one.
“When we played Tennessee-Martin, I realized how good our offensive line was,” Bryant said. “The score didn’t show it, but we were running the ball on them with ease. I knew after that game that I was going to have a break-out year, because our line and receivers were blocking so well.”
Bryant is one of many Wildcats returning next fall. He is forgoing his senior year of track and field so he can play football next year. He said he hopes next year’s season will be as successful as this fall, but he knows he must improve in a couple of areas to achieve that goal.
“One of the things I want to do is get stronger next year,” Bryant said. “I want to work on my pass protection as well. I will say my inside running can get a little better, too.”
Another first-team All-HAAC player for Baker was quarterback Mack Brown. The junior from Liberty, Mo., threw for 2,811 yards in his 10 HAAC games and 3,185 overall. Brown also threw for 22 touchdowns this season.
In 2008, Brown set school records for passing yards in a game (433), season (3,185), pass completions in a game (33) and pass completions in a season (260). He will enter his senior season No. 1 on Baker’s career passing chart with 6,342 yards.
“He led the conference in passing in the conference games,” Grossner said. “He led it by about 20 yards per game. Some teams played an 11th game and we played Tennessee-Martin. He was very efficient that day, but he didn’t throw for a lot of yards. He led the conference in several categories this year.”
Other first-team selections were senior wide receiver Tyrell Spain, San Diego; senior offensive lineman Andy Bibb, Springdale, Ark.; junior defensive lineman Levi Calhoun, Oklahoma City; senior cornerback Eric Allen, San Diego; and sophomore safety Colton Miller; Largo, Fla.
Spain, a transfer from the University of Nebraska, caught 62 passes for 813 yards and a team-high 11 TDs.
Bibb was a four-year starter on the offensive line and a key blocker for the Wildcats, who averaged 411.6 yards total offense this fall.
Calhoun ranked fourth on the Wildcats with 88 tackles. He also forced two fumbles. Allen, a repeat first-team HAAC selection, had 40 tackles and three interceptions. Miller was Baker’s top tackler with 96 stops.
“We had the conference-leading rusher and passer,” Grossner said. “That was nice on the offensive side of the ball. You also have to have some guys catching it and we had several guys doing that. If you’re doing both of those things well, you’ve got to have some linemen in there.
“Defensively, most of the year, we were at the top of the conference,” he said. “All four of our secondary guys got some type of honor. Up front, there were a bunch of guys rotating in, but Levi Calhoun stood out. The strengths of our defense were up front and in the secondary.”
Baker junior offensive lineman Clint Benge, Lenexa, was a second-team all-HAAC pick.
Third-team all-HAAC selections for the Wildcats were defensive lineman Alphaeus Williams, St. Petersburg, Fla.; kicker Derek Doerfler, Lee’s Summit, Mo.; and wide receiver Brad Fawcett, Grapevine, Texas.
Offensive lineman Phil Collins, Shawnee; defensive back Herb Askew, Kingman, Ariz.; defensive back Rodney Harris, Olathe; defensive lineman Philip Weinmaster, Lawrence; and linebacker Spencer Curran, Kansas City, Kan.; received honorable mention.
“We’re still young,” Grossner said. “We have 80 returning players. The picture looks bright, but they have to work hard in the off season to continue the success. Ultimately, we want to be the national champion and the HAAC champion.”