Rocky Mountain College’s recent run of success in football has the Battlin’ Bears in position this fall to make some serious history.
In what will be the 66th campaign for Rocky football, the Bears will have a chance to fashion a third consecutive winning season, which would be a first for the Frontier Conference school.
Quarterback Bryce Baker, who will be a fifth-year senior, is all in.
“My good friends — this group of seniors that we have now — a lot of us are fifth-year guys, so we’ve really seen it turn around,” he said of the rising program. “It’s a good feeling to leave something better than you found it.”
While the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Fernley, Nev., will definitely have a say in Rocky’s team success this fall, Baker’s crazy numbers achieved over the past three seasons also have him chasing school history.
The 22-year-old Baker, heading into his fourth year as a starter for the fast-paced Bears, has thrown for 7,849 yards and 64 touchdowns during his remarkable Rocky career. He has also rushed for an additional 661 yards and 20 touchdowns.
That gives the all-Frontier quarterback 8,510 yards of total offense, with a hand in 84 TDs, over the past three seasons.
It also puts him on track to achieve over 10,000 yards of passing and total offense for his Rocky career. Baker would be just the sixth Frontier QB to ever accomplish that, but he’s taking it all in stride.
“I think the best thing that coach (Brian) Armstrong has ever taught me is to take things one day at a time, one week at a time, whether it’s the fall or winter or spring, and just to try to improve,” Baker said.
“Our goal last year was not to go win the Frontier or make the playoffs. Our goal was just to go 1-0 each week.”
Rocky, a close-knit team, wound up compiling an 8-4 record last fall, finishing second in the Frontier and qualifying for the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Bears are 19-15 over the past three years, including two straight winning seasons under Baker.
“This game has been amazing for me,” he said. “I’m so blessed
to be where I’m at now, so this season I don’t want to overthink things. I don’t want to be too excited and make silly mistakes. I also don’t want to have any regrets.
“I’m going to play my heart out, go 1-0 each week, hopefully, and we’ll see where we end up.”
Besides working on fundamentals this spring and aiming to “put the ball in the right spot,” Baker, with his 70.2 percent accuracy rate last fall, is also thinking long term in helping to groom sophomore backup Chase White.
“Like I said earlier, I want to leave (Rocky football) better than I found it, and I know Chase White is the future,” Baker said. “He’s got a huge arm. He’s smart. He’s a quick learner. I really want to help him in the film room and things like that.”
While the cold, wet weather has hampered spring ball for the Bears, that hasn’t stopped the Rocky players from having fun whenever they do get outside.
Baker has even taken some reps at wideout, matched up against one of his favorite receivers, Andre McCullouch, who has been playing as a defensive back.
“That’s just kudos to Armstrong,” Baker said. “He has a way of keeping things fresh and exciting.”
The spring game is scheduled for April 12 at 1 p.m. on Herb Klindt Field.
Looking ahead to the fall, Baker will certainly pose a threat to the staggering career statistics of his predecessor, Kasey Peters, who is now quarterbacking the West Texas Wildcatters of the Lone Star Football League.
During his playing days for the Bears from 2008-10, Peters passed for a school-record 10,031 yards. He had 10,739 yards of total offense and accounted for 86 touchdowns.
Baker, who tossed for 3,893 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, is just 2,182 yards from matching Peters’ passing totals. He is just 2,229 yards shy of his tying his all-around yardage.
“Coming in, I never really saw myself as a passer,” Baker said. “I was more of a runner ... In high school I prided myself on that. That’s what I was really known for.”
Now he’s on the verge of becoming Rocky’s greatest passer ever.
In 2010, Peters was one of just three quarterbacks in the Frontier to have over 10,000 yards in total offense, joining Carroll College’s Tyler Emmert (13,979) and Western Montana College’s Jason Truman (12,295).
With the recent addition of Eastern Oregon’s Chris Ware (12,679) and Southern Oregon’s Austin Dodge (11,854) in the 10,000-plus club, Baker, with his nearly clean-shaven head and bigger physique this spring, is now looking to join them.
“I’m just a guy that came in who was somewhat athletic,” he said. “Armstrong gave me a chance, and he’s really shaped me into a football player that I didn’t ever see myself being and also a person that I really didn’t see myself being.
“I’m pretty thankful for that.”
NOTES: Rocky has compiled a 25-20 record over the past four seasons. That’s the second-winningest four-year stretch in school history, trailing only a 28-13 run from 1996-99, which included back-to-back Frontier crowns. ... Rocky has enjoyed 14 winning seasons in 65 years, with six of them coming since 1996. ... The Bears have a 191-354-10 record in football since 1949.