Missouri Baptist University Athletics
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Football - Sat, Aug. 15, 2015

ST. LOUIS – Just one year ago, Missouri Baptist Football began its inaugural campaign at NCAA Division I, Southeast Missouri State. Now, with a year under its belt, the team will enter into its second season of competition with new blood on the roster and a fresh outlook for the coming campaign.

There are several changes from 2014 to now, especially when looking at the schedule. Just a year ago, Head Coach Jason Burianek put together what was likely the most difficult schedule in the NAIA. It featured three NCAA Division I and two NCAA Division II games along with two NAIA teams ranked in the Top 25. For an ordinary NAIA team to undergo that type of schedule is extremely difficult on a good day. For the first-year Spartans, it was a challenge that took the schedule to a new level.

"I think there were rumors in the (Missouri Baptist) Administration, that they wanted to lock me up in a Psych Ward after that schedule," said MBU Head Coach Jason Burianek. "There were times I thought about that myself."

2015, on the other hand, is a new season full of new possibilities and featuring the first Mid-States Football Association Mideast Division Schedule in team history. The Spartans will also have another nice advantage as six of its 10 games will be on home field.

"It's going to be a lot different," mentioned Burianek about the 2015 schedule in comparison to a year ago. "You still have to go on the road and play the team that is No. 1-ranked in the country. You gotta go and play Saint Francis (Ind.) who is a perennial Top 20 playoff team. We go on the road and play Siena Heights in like week two. They were Co-Champions and they are a new program, but they were Co-Champions in our league last year, so what it kind-of shows us is that there is opportunity out there to be much better, but it's not going to come easy."

Missouri Baptist incurred some losses of key personnel, most notably that of starting running back JP Lowery and cornerback Ryan Woodland. The team, however, will look to the veteran presence of several key returners to make waves this season.

In 2014, perhaps the most impressive performances were that of Maleek Ross. The Hazelwood West graduate recorded 6.5 sacks in his freshman campaign at defensive end. Now one of the leaders on a young defensive corps, Ross will look to emerge as one of the top pass rushers in the conference.

 "He's a fantastic defensive end," said Coach Jason Burianek of Ross. "If he was a little bit bigger, he probably wouldn't be at Missouri Baptist. He's a heck of a speed rusher."

Linebacker Tremont Davis became one of the bright spots on the Spartan defense a season ago and in 2015, the sophomore from Belleville, Ill., will look to build on his successes as a freshman. The Belleville West High School product was second on the team in tackles with 69, 29 of which were unassisted.

"It's really nice to have guys returning who are right up in the middle of your defense," mentioned Burianek of Davis. "Having Tremont Davis, Kevin Gude at linebackers and having Connor Bomstad in the secondary back, adds a lot of experience and leadership to our defense that has really helped out."

The Spartans will also return several key pieces on offense including a pair of senior skill players. DeMarco Billups will return as quarterback and Alexis Nunley will again figure into the wide receiver situation as the duo will look to regain a connection they shared throughout high school. The tandem became quite dangerous at Miller Career Academy and will again have an opportunity to find a spark.

Kalen Petty, perhaps the most athletically gifted tight end in all of NAIA football, was the main pass-catching threat for MBU a season ago and has an opportunity to do great things with a year of collegiate ball under his belt. The graduate of Gateway-STEM in St. Louis was a force, accounting for 364 yards of receiving and three touchdowns, which led the team.

"They are high," said Burianek of Petty's expectations this season. "We push Kalen hard every day. I mean if there is one guy that could potentially earn a spot at the next level down the road, it's Kalen Petty."

"We are on Kalen on just about a daily basis to push him to be great," Burianek continued. "I don't think All-Conference is something that is good enough for Kalen. He needs to be an All-American, maybe a two or three-time All-American, so he's got to push himself, and that's where we are on him."

Antoriyo Barton, who was a big part of the running attack a season ago, will enter the year as the starter. The 5'9" back out of Chicago was second on the team in rushing and averaged just over 33 yards per game. This season, higher expectations will be placed on the sophomore with several hungry newcomers waiting in the wings.

"Antoriyo is probably one of the favorite kids that I have ever coached," stated Burianek of the new lead back. "He just sees this opportunity and has taken full advantage of it. He does everything he can to make himself better every day."

Austin Schultz enters 2015 as the primary backup to Barton and has impressed Coach Burianek and the staff early in camp. In limited attempts last season, Schultz averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and a similar performance with more carries this season could transform the offense for the Spartans.

Depth was the name of the game in the offseason and Coach Burianek addressed several key needs. Alec Fister, a transfer from William Jewell, will be of great help to the offensive line. He has made his presence felt early in camp, along with McKendree University import, Ryan Rasnic. The 6'3", 285lb lineman should also add size to the line.

After national signing day in February, it was clear that the Spartans had high hopes for several incoming freshmen. Lou Isringhaus, one of the top small school running backs in the area out of Columbia High School (Ill.) represents part of that depth in the backfield that the team was searching for. With the loss of Lowery in the offseason, look for Isringhaus to get some playing time as a freshman.

Returning offensive lineman Sebastian Marton will move to the defensive side of the ball. The 6'4", 335lb force of nature now has some experience to go along with that large frame and may be a difference maker for MBU.

"Sebastian is a guy who wanted to play defense and we needed help on the interior," said Burianek. "He is a big, strong guy on the interior that takes, definitely, two guys to block, so that's what we want; take on a double team and let our linebackers go make plays."

Stephen Gorczyca will return on the offensive line while Ben Horn will move there from the defensive side, and will be looked upon as leaders early. The duo combined for 11 games for MBU last year and will be slated as starters in 2015.

"Stephen, on the offensive line, is kind-of that anchor on that offensive line," commented Burianek of Gorczyca. "We lost a lot of guys from last year's (offensive) line, and I think he is the only guy that is returning, so there is a lot of youth out there, a lot of inexperience. Stephen is the kind of guy that they can all rally around."

By looking at the roster, you can tell that gaining depth at the quarterback position was also a key this year. The 2015 roster includes nine players at the quarterback position, making playing time a battle in practice every day. While Billups will look to fend off the other eight, him, Jordan Norwine and Billy Ritchey share one distinct advantage… They have spent a year learning the offense.

"We went out to try to challenge those guys," said Burianek of his depth under center. "It's making their game better. We have got to develop a leadership. A guy that is going to put in that time and effort on a daily basis that wants to be the quarterback here at Missouri Baptist."

While knowledge of the offense will help, several of the quarterbacks have already impressed the staff. Jonathan McEntire and Jacob Hunt have shown some ability early and may have a chance at winning playing time this season.

Hunt, a freshman out of New Berlin, Ill., recorded 26 touchdown passes in his senior season. His play thus far in the preseason has opened some eyes of the coaches with his big arm.

"Jake Hunt, McEntire, another kid Jake Hill from Columbia… All these guys are really putting in a lot of time and effort, and pushing DeMarco, Jordan and Billy, and all we've seen is growth out of those guys as well."

The season officially gets started on August 29 at home against the Bethel (Tenn.) Wildcats. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. at CBC. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. on the home of Spartan Athletics, the Spartan Digital Network.