Baldwin City The spectators will be dressed in black, but the buzz tonight at Baker University’s Liston Stadium won’t in any other way call to mind a funeral.
In a fortunate piece of scheduling that delivers a college football game between two of the NAIA’s top 10 teams, kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m., right about the time it takes to shut down the computer after watching Kansas University’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff against favored Northern Illinois (which can be watched online on ESPN3) and make the drive south from Lawrence.
No. 5 Missouri Valley, which has the size advantage, faces No. 9 Baker, which steadily has grown as a football program under ninth-year coach Mike Grossner. Slow, steady growth tends to equate to having staying power.
You won’t hear Grossner whine about what he inherited. He made substantial changes and has rewarded the hope of a Baker fan base pumped for tonight’s big game. The numbers tell the story. In his first four seasons at Baker, Grossner went 17-26. In the 41⁄2 seasons since, Grossner has a 33-13 mark.
The most underrated aspect of recruiting lies in a staff’s ability to evaluate talent.
“I only have one rule in recruiting,” defensive coordinator Jason Thoren said. “Would I pick him in the back yard?”
Where else in the country but at Liston Stadium can a football fan see in the same backfield a player who started his college career at USC and another who played eight-man football in high school? Senior Jesse Schultz of Baldwin City played his high school football for Veritas Christian. Dillon Baxter started a game as a freshman for USC.
Grossner’s success at Baker proves that coaching stability has its advantages. Grossner already had coached several players from Mission Bay High in the San Diego area. He was at a Mission Bay practice when he, half-kidding, told Baxter, “If things don’t work out at USC, keep us in mind.”
Grossner also recruits Arizona, tapping contacts he made as a junior-college head coach there, but like all coaches, he starts at campus and works his way out. In addition to the nine Free State and three Lawrence High players on the 125-man roster (out of 900 students), the Wildcats have players from Baldwin High (Jesse Austin), De Soto High (Logan DeGraeve, Ryan Hicks), Eudora High (Jarrod Kaup, Greg Snell), Perry-Lecompton High (Jeremy Immenschuh, Caleb Wege) and Wellsville High (Jesse Campbell, Jesse LaMay).
Grossner enjoys his job so much that he turned down an opportunity to work for an NFL franchise.
“I felt I had unfinished business here,” Grossner said. “When I took this job, I wanted to get some big things done down here.”
He’s well on his way.