Kansas City, Mo Two straight losing seasons -- including last year's uncharacteristic 3-8 finish -- have wounded the proboscides of Baker University's veteran-laden football team.
That's how BU coach John Frangoulis described it anyway during Tuesday's Heart of America Conference Media Day at Kauffman Stadium.
"The biggest plus we have is we have lots of players who have been tested -- players who have had their noses rubbed in it and are anxious to get back to winning," Frangoulis said.
Frangoulis, who will begin his eighth year as head coach at the Baldwin school when preseason drills start Sunday, has more than 20 seniors as well as 14 starters back -- evenly divided between offense and defense.
"This group reminds me of the one we had three years ago that went 9-2," Frangoulis said. "That group didn't have the most talent in the conference. We won that year because of attitude and leadership."
One of the strengths of the 2000 BU team that defeated Campbellsville College in the KWTO Bowl in Bolivar, Mo., was Levi Schuck, an seasoned senior quarterback.
Once again, Frangoulis has an experienced senior quarterback in Martin Updike, who succeeded Schuck as the Wildcats' signal-caller in 2001.
Updike, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Muskogee, Okla., earned third-team all-league honors last season even though he finished eighth in the 11-team league in total offense and threw twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdown passes (seven).
"He'll be an All-American one game and be sub-par the next," Frangoulis said. "Sometimes he's his own worst enemy. He gets down on himself. He needs to eliminate that and go out and play."
Updike threw 336 times last season -- only one league QB threw more -- and completed a respectable 51 percent. However, Updike averaged only 9.1 yards per completion, primarily because the Wildcats' receivers, while sure-handed, lacked speed.
"Defensive backs were able to lock on our receivers because they weren't worried about getting beat deep," Frangoulis said. "Hopefully, we'll have some speed at receiver this year."
Frangoulis isn't naming names because he isn't sure who will report Sunday, but he says he has recruited six or seven junior-college players he expects to make an impact.
Among the juco transfers expected is Stacy Harris, a running back from California who may provide speed the 'Cats need in the backfield.
Baker ball carriers averaged only 2.8 yards per carry last season.
"You've got to have a running game," Frangoulis said. "You can't just open it up and throw it."
Frangoulis expects nearly 50 freshmen and juco transfers to show up for preseason practice. From that group, he hopes he'll be able to find enough swift players to juice the offense.
"We knew what we needed," Frangoulis said, "and I think we got better in some skill positions. Time will tell."
Baker's defense ranked in the middle of the conference pack in 2002. The Wildcats' deepest and best position is linebacker -- particularly seniors Karl Barron and Oliver Kurtz, a pair of seniors.
Barron, a 6-2, 235-pounder from Kansas City, Mo., Pius X was BU's second-leading tackler last season behind Eric Moore, who graduated.
"Our linebackers have speed comparable to what we had three years ago," Frangoulis said.
Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, Baker was one of the dominant teams in the Heart of America Conference. But the balance of power has shifted and Baker hasn't won or shared a league title since 1993.
In a preseason ballot of league coaches released Tuesday, Baker was picked to finish sixth in the league behind MidAmerica Nazarene, Benedictine, Evangel, Missouri Valley and William Jewell.
The Wildcats will open Sept. 6 against Evangel in Springfield, Mo. The home opener will be Sept. 13 against Central Methodist.