It has been five years since Lucky Baar left the big city and bright lights of Chicago for the peace and quiet of historic Lebanon and tiny McKendree University and its Bearcats football program.
Next May, Baar will graduate from McKendree with a degree in computer science and with a bright future ahead of him. Where that future leads is still unknown, but the Bearcats free spirited defensive end can’t wait too find out.
“Am I going to miss McKendree? Yes, I’m going to miss it. But I’m the type person who is always looking forward to that next thing. That next adventure,’’ Baar said recently. “I don’t know what that next adventure will be yet. I’ve got a lot of things I’m thinking about right now and I’m trying to take things one step at a time. There are many things that I can do and right now I’m weighing what to do and what I can use to my best advantage for my future.
One thing is for sure, stopping the 6-foot-2 250-pound Baar from getting to the quarterback for the past four years has been a challenge for many college offensive coordinators. A two-time all Great Lakes Valley Conference first team all-conference selection and ‘14 GLVC Defensive Player of the Year, Baar is on the verge of making his senior campaign at McKendree his best yet.
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Baar currently leads all of NCAA Division II with an average of 2.25 sacks per game and is currently tied for the school record in career quarterback sacks with 38 heading the Bearcats GLVC contest at Southwest Baptist (4-0) on Saturday Former Bearcats great Oku Satcher had 38 sacks during his McKendree career from 1999-2001.
Baar’s nine sacks in the Bearcats first four games has been just part of the story for McKendree’s veteran defense. The Bearcats lead the GLVC in sacks with 23 and are tied with the University of West Florida for the NCAA Division II lead in sacks per game at 5.75.
Baar is taking his good start in stride.
“I don’t think anyone ever expects to have this kind of start to a season,’’ Baar said. “I’ve just tried to take advantage of my chances. I’ve been very lucky to be in the situations that I’ve been in which have allowed me and our defense to be successful.’’
An average junior season
Baar burst upon the NCAA Division II football scene two years ago as a sophomore when he was named as an Associated Press Little All-American, which includes Division II, III and NAIA players, as well as a first-team All-American by the Beyond Sports Network. Baar led the nation in quarterback sacks with 18.
Baar was a presence again last year for McKendree which was 9-2 and finished second in the GLVC under coach Mike Babcock. Baar ended his junior season with eight sacks and was second on the team in tackles for loss with 11 1/2
But it wasn’t the season Baar had hoped for, at least from an individual standpoint.
“Last year it was like me trying to get my mind in the right place. It was me trying to figure out what I wanted to do,’’ Baar said. “I just wasn’t as focused on the football field as I had been in the past.
“I love what I do in school. I mean I have a tremendous passion for it and at times there seemed to be a conflict of interest between that and playing football. This year, I think I’ve been able to seperate the two a little bit better and when I’m on the fooball field, I’ve been more focused on playing football. I’m doing a better job of taking advantage of my opportunities this year.’’
Babcock said what sets Baar apart from most defensive linemen is his technique and quickness.
“Lucky is just awesome. He’s a little different in that he has a different approach to doing some things. But at least you know that with Lucky he’s doing them for the right reasons,” Babcock said. “He’s got great technique, he’s very quick and he’s got great and quick hands.
“He’s also one of these kids who has spent every Summer down here to work out with the team. He’s quiet and a lot of times you aren’t sure what he’s thinking. But works hard and after he graduates, he’ll probably be making a lot of money in the computer field.’’
The Bearcats defense
Baar along with All-American middle linebacker AJ Wentland are just two of the leaders of what could be the top defense in the GLVC. Baar said the ‘16 McKendree defense is also the closest both on and off the field in the five years he’s been in the program.
“There is no doubt in my mind. This is the closest group we’ve had. I love spending time with all of these guys,’’ Baar said. “It’s made us a better defensive unit as well. There is no doubt in my mind that the players lining up beside me are going to do their jobs.’’
Baar said he plans on staying in the St. Louis area after he graduates and while he isn’t sure where his computer science degree will lead him, his experience with computers will come in handy. As for a career in football, he has a realistic attitude.
“I think everyone who plays the game wonders what if,’’ Baar said. “If it happens where I get the chance, that would be great. Regardless, it’s not going to make me or break me.’’