Wayland Baptist University football returns after 72 years

From Wayland Baptist University:

After more than seven decades, the wait is over.

Wayland Baptist University football returns to the field for the first time since 1940 this weekend in San Antonio where the Pioneers take on Monterrey Tech, the premier college program in Mexico. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. from North East ISD's Heroes Stadium. The game can be heard beginning at 6:30 on KRIA (103.9 FM) with live video and audio Internet streaming available at www.wbuathletics.com.

"We're ready to go," Wayland head coach Butch Henderson said.

Henderson hopes his young team — composed almost exclusively of true and redshirt freshmen — will be able to get past the excitement of playing in such an historic contest.

"We need them to block out all of this hype, execute and just go play football," he said.

That will be easier said than done, of course, since the entire campus, Plainview community and much of the area have been buzzing about Wayland football's rebirth since the official announcement was made on March 31, 2010. The time since then included bringing in a "leadership class," which went through regular practices last fall but did not play any games.

"I've been impressed with the enthusiasm with which we've played and practiced. That's really helped to unite us," Henderson said. "If we will become a team we will win. A team always overcomes individuals, and that leadership group really did a good job."

Monterrey Tech also is excited about Saturday's game, although for very different reasons. Located about 150 miles south of Laredo and some 5 ½ hours from San Antonio, Monterrey Tech began playing football in 1945, not long after the sport disappeared at Wayland. So while football is anything but new there, head coach Frank Gonzalez said the Wild Rams are pumped because of the chance to play a game across the border.

"We excited just to go into the United States and be able to play," said Gonzalez, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Chicago. "Our institution has the idea of one day being a member of the NCAA, so we want to show people we have a good, solid program and are capable of playing American football."

Likely no one who has seen the Rams play would doubt that fact. Monterrey Tech has won 20 national championships within Premier Conadiep, a league of private institutions in Mexico. In fact, the Rams have captured three of the last five national titles — including last year when they were 14-1 — and they played for the crown the two years they didn't win it.

"They're supposed to be really good," Henderson said.

Gonzalez, who became Monterrey Tech's head coach in 1986 and is responsible for 16 of the school's 20 national crowns, said all of his players were born in Mexico.

"American football down here is really, really popular — more popular than many Americans realize," said the coach, who also bragged about Monterrey Tech's academics, calling it the "highest educational institution in Latin America."

(Like many colleges in Mexico, Monterrey Tech also supports a high school, and Monterrey Tech's high school football team, according to Gonzalez, serves as a "feeder program" to the university. While the high school squad mostly competes from January-May, it will be playing in Stephenville this weekend.)

This will be the Rams' second trip across the border this season, having scrimmaged Texas Lutheran University in Seguin last week when Monterrey Tech came away with a 28-20 victory. Gonzalez said his team also has played the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, located just up I-35 from San Antonio in Belton, as well as Blinn Junior College. In fact, Monterrey Tech scrimmaged Blinn in 2009 when Cam Newton was playing there.

"We were the last team to beat him in college," Gonzalez said of Newton, who went on to guide Auburn to an undefeated season and win the Heisman Trophy before beginning his pro career with the Carolina Panthers.

Saturday's game will be a contrast in styles between Wayland's no-huddle passing offense and Monterrey Tech's ground-it-out running style. Henderson said the Pioneers will look to pass 60-70 percent of the time while Monterrey Tech, according to Gonzalez, will throw it about 40 percent.

"They have big, thick linemen," Henderson said. "They're going to line up and try to mash us."

That's cause for concern for Wayland, which is short on both offensive and defensive linemen. To counter that, the Pioneers will use their fast-paced, spread offense designed to keep defenses guessing and on the move.

"We want to be able to snap the ball and make the defense stay in a base," explained Henderson, saying he hopes to have the ball in play before the 40-second class is even halfway expired. "The kids have picked it up real well. Our coaches did a good job recruiting kids who did something similar (in high school) or who knew what we wanted to do."

Henderson said one of the keys for Wayland will be getting the ball to Kendall Roberson, a 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore back who rushed for close to 1,000 yards his senior season while playing for Henderson at Lubbock Coronado High School. Roberson briefly walked on at Kansas State University before joining the Pioneers.

"He should be our producer," the coach said. "He's a great football player."

But Henderson said the key for Wayland's offense is spreading the ball around, which will be up to quarterback Anthony Campuzano, a redshirt freshman from El Paso Chapin High School. Henderson described Campuzano, who led the El Paso area in passing in high school, "is not real flashy but is extremely smart.

"For us to be effective we need to get the ball in the hands of different players," Henderson said. "We have to make the defense defend the entire field."

On the other side, Gonzalez said Monterrey Tech is led by Diego Betancourt, a 5-foot-9, 176-pound running back who rushed for close to 100 yards and scored on a late 45-yard run in last week's scrimmage against Texas Lutheran.

"We like to use a lot of play-action pass," Gonzalez confirmed.

"They'll throw it when they have to and are effective at it, but they like to run it," Henderson said of the Rams. "It will be a challenge."

Henderson would like to see the Pioneers get off to a fast start.

"We need to get a lead on them and make them use the clock to play catch up," he said.

While the coach wants to see a solid performance from the Pioneers in their season-opener and is thrilled with the excitement of football returning to Wayland, he's not pulling any punches regarding his intention for Saturday's game.

"We're approaching it," he said, "to go win."