The opener was a disaster — a 56-0 blasting at Tennessee-Martin, an NCAA Football Sub-Division school.
The finale was a bummer — a 65-27 stumble at Morningside in the NAIA playoffs.
The inside of that sandwich, however, was mighty tasty for Baker University’s football team.
“Throw the first game and the last game out of our memories,” BU coach Mike Grossner said, “and there’s no doubt we made great progress.”
Baker was 8-2 during that stretch, all against Heart of America Athletic Conference foes, and both losses were close — 25-21 to Lindenwood and 42-41 to MidAmerica Nazarene in double overtime.
Baker’s 8-3 overall regular-season record was good enough for a No. 13 national ranking and the Wildcats’ first foray into the NAIA playoffs in 15 years.
“Making the playoffs was a great step for us,” Grossner said.
Based on Baker’s large group of returnees — particularly among skill players — next year is brimming with potential.
Tailback Richie Bryant, the NAIA leader in touchdowns with 28, will be back for his senior year. So will quarterback Mack Brown, who threw for a school record 3,185 yards and 22 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
Also returning for his final college season will be place-kicker Derek Doerfler, the HAAC player of the year in 2007 who displayed a strong leg again this fall, but battled inconsistency.
Still another returnee will be possession receiver Brad Fawcett, who had a team-high 64 grabs. However, speed receiver Tyrell Spain, who had 11 touchdowns among his 62 grabs, completed his eligibility.
“If we can add one big-time receiver,” Grossner said, “we’ll be fine.”
Guard Andy Bibb is the only major loss on the offensive line.
On defense, the crucial losses are cornerback Eric Allen, safety Herb Askew and tackle Philip Weinmaster, a Free State High grad. Allen and Weinmaster were four-year starters.
The key secondary returnees are cornerback Rodney Harris, who had a team-high five interceptions, and safety Colton Miller, the team leader in tackles with 96.
“We need to find a safety and a corner,” Grossner said.
Spencer Curran, who led BU in tackles as a junior and accumulated 93 stops this season, leaves a hole at linebacker, but Grossner believes freshman Adam Steele will step up next season.
“He was our best player on special teams,” Grossner said of Steele, a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder out of Blue Valley West.
Grossner also has a handful of veteran linebackers, including Free State High products Ryder Werts and Danny Pike. BU also boasts returning starters Levi Calhoun and Kyle Weinmaster, Philip’s younger brother, on the defensive line.