The ‘other’ Baylor prepares for national championship shot

You know the drill now. If you want a Texas college football team that doesn’t break your heart and actually plays for the national championships, you have to look beyond FBS to lower the levels of the sport.

Last spring it was Sam Houston, although the Bearkats’ quest to repeat themselves as FCS champions ended in the quarter-finals on Saturday. Hours before that, however, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor hit their ticket to the Division III title game for the fourth time in five seasons.

The Crusaders, who have won a vacant National Championship since 2016 and a title still recognized in 2018, are the best team in Texas you don’t follow, and possibly the best schedule in Texas, period. They have won seventeen Southwestern Conference titles since 2002, and the 229 career wins of Texas Sports Hall of Fame Pete Fredenburg (although if we count the 27 more wins the NCAA has erased pounds, that’s 256) are the fourth most among active college football coaches at all levels. A guy named Mack Brown is number one.

So before you get to Saturday’s FBS Third String Bowl List (sorry, UTEP), tune into ESPNU on Friday night, when UMHB takes on defending champion North Central College, of Naperville, Illinois at Tom Benson Hall. of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Here’s what you need to know to join the Crusades (yes, we’ll come back to that team’s name).

The name Baylor is no accident.

From 1845 to 1866, the school which is now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor actually has been the same as Baylor, which was located in Independence, Texas. It became “Baylor Female College” in 1866, moved to Belton in 1886 (the same year the men’s school moved to Waco) and was renamed in honor of Mary Hardin (a prolific Christian donor for the higher education) in 1934.

Male students didn’t arrive until 1971, which also explains why. . .

The program is barely older than its players.

The UMHB started fielding a football team in 1998, and Fredenburg, 72, is the only coach in the school’s history. A former high school coach in New Braunfels and Baylor’s top assistant under Bears legend Grant Teaff, Fredenburg had also staged at LSU and Louisiana Tech before launching the fledgling program.

Whether it’s the many quarterbacks leaving the state to play at other schools or the myriad soccer players who end up in the FCS, Division II and Division III, Texas will always have more. players than university teams to take them. The idea for the UMHB was to take full advantage of its location in central Texas, recruiting and training high school players (and, more importantly, high school football coaches) within a 75 mile radius. .

Of those early years, Fredenburg says he mostly remembers “how difficult it was.” But these young teams were very dedicated to each other and wanted to accomplish something special. I mean, the first year we won three ball games. And the second … four. And then finally, we won nine. In 2001, the UMHB’s fourth season, the team qualified for the D-III playoffs for the first time. The following season the team won the conference for the first time, and in 2004 they reached their first national championship game.

Fredenburg is a real Eric Taylor.

Remember when the Friday night lights coach moved to Philadelphia for Tami’s teaching job? After bouncing from Waco to Baton Rouge via Ruston, Louisiana, Fredenburg accepted the position of Mary Hardin-Baylor with the idea that her youngest son, Cody, could finish high school without moving. He also took it because his wife, Karen, had just completed her doctorate, and she took a job at Baylor University (Belton is a forty minute drive from Waco).

At the time, Fredenburg believed he would eventually return to climb the Division I coaching ranks. Instead, he never left and Cody ended up playing for – and eventually coaching with – his father. .

“I absolutely fell in love with the Division III philosophy: the kind of players you deal with, the disinterestedness,” said Fredenburg. “I was going to spend two or three years here and that’s been about twenty-four.”

“Student athlete” is not an art term for these guys.

It can be simplistic to say that Division I FBS football is all about the money – be it TV money, donor money, or the new world of business in name, image and likeness. – and the lower levels are where college football is still about college and football. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth in it.

There are no sports scholarships at the Division III level, just financial aid and academic scholarships (although D-III players can participate in NIL as well). “These are just people who really like to play and want to continue while continuing their education,” Fredenburg says of his players. “They just want to play football. We’ve had some that have gone to the NFL, but that’s certainly not the end of it all. “

Even a small Division III school can get tripped up by the NCAA.

Officially, the UMHB has only won one national championship, in 2018, and Fredenburg has 229 career wins, not 256. That’s because in 2019, the NCAA stripped the school of all its victories. and records from 2016 and 2017, due to a reported self-violation involving Fredenburg. His “major offense”? Loan of his 2006 Subaru to a player.

The whole affair looks particularly silly and quaint given the new realities of college football, although Fredenburg himself is old enough to be puzzled by those realities, whether it be the FBS players retiring from the games. bowl or the fact that in 2021, thanks to NIL, its players could theoretically just get a free car from a local dealership. “Everything for which SMU was sentenced to death is now legal,” he says. “It’s crazy.”

Interestingly, the 2016 title is still recognized on the NCAA website, as is Fredenburg’s actual winning total in the 2020 record book. Even the school itself plays the role of an NCAA corporate citizen. . . . although his fans are not subject to such a mandate.

The Crusaders won their first game of the season 84-6.

Yes, even D-III schools can organize cupcake games. The victim was Simpson College in Iowa. The UMHB’s 14-0 season this year also included blowouts on Southwestern (54-3), Austin College (56-0), Sul Ross State (72-14) and McMurry (77-3). Their only test came early: a 34-28 victory over rival Hardin-Simmons on September 25. The Crusaders also faced Trinity, Birmingham Southern and longtime national powerhouse Linfield at the start of the Division III playoffs.

They probably won’t change their mascot.

This year, Valparaiso, a Lutheran university in Indiana, changed its name from Crusaders to Beacons, in an effort to distance itself from the name’s association with the actual 11th-century Crusades, as well as with white supremacist associations. more modern. As a Texas Baptist school, the UMHB is probably in a much less rush to make this move. But you never know.

They thrive on the little guy, both figuratively and literally.

Fredenburg says his program recruits players who are only an inch or two, or maybe ten pounds in weight, by Division I standards. “But there is no difference in desire and desire. passion, and just pure love of the game, “he says.

And this year’s squad isn’t as small as you might think. Starting quarterback Kyle King of Milan – there’s that 75-mile radius – is six-foot-three, 220 pounds and plays with a bit of swagger Dandy Don Meredith. He also sports a splendid state soldier’s mustache. Wide receiver Brandon Jordan of Calif. Is six foot six and is nearly impossible to cover on high throws. And, well, let’s just say some of the UMHB linemen have FBS caliber bellies.

The Crusaders are also led by defensive back Jefferson Fritz of Kaufman. The five-foot-eleven, 205-pound senior has been an All-American for the four years of his career and has been named conference defensive player of the year three times. He is also the punter and a punt turner.

“He’s an incredible athlete,” says Fredenburg. “He’s a great leader and a very dynamic player. He will have a chance, I think, to level up. He works incredibly hard, but more importantly, he’s a team player and a leader. “

They know how to dress warmly.

Being a successful Division III football team means playing November and December playoff games at schools such as Saint John’s (Minnesota), Mount Union (Ohio), and Wisconsin-Whitewater. Fredenburg therefore already has a heavy winter coat in gold and purple UMHB. “During those early years, we were always talking about playing in the snow someday and making the national playoffs someday,” he says.

Ahead of last week’s tilt to last week’s semi-final in Wisconsin, the field was blanketed in white, but between the snow plows and warm afternoon temperatures, the game was played out in rough conditions. normal, almost 40 degrees.

Prior to his 2018 championship season, the Crusaders were 0-5 against UW-Whitewater, a schedule devised by current Kansas head coach Lance Leipold. The Warhawks also bounced the UMHB in the 2019 playoffs, so last week it was the UMHB rematch (due to the coronavirus pandemic, D-III teams didn’t no playoffs in 2020). The Crusaders survived a slow start to take a 17-7 lead at halftime (with two Jordan touchdown receptions, plus a big catch leading up to the field goal), then survived a fumble near the goal line. in the middle of the third quarter to make it 24 -7, which became the final score.

Fredenburg admits he felt nervous throughout the game. “When we’ve lost as many times as we’ve lost to Whitewater, you don’t have a lot of self-confidence,” he said. “It was a major undertaking to beat them for them.”

On the pitch after the victory, he told the team how proud he was of their season, but also that it was not over. “It’s very important that you’re excited to go to the national championship, but the essence of being there is that you win. You are not only going there to enjoy the atmosphere, but to go and win the football game.

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