SHINER - Don't let the calm demeanor, the stoic expression, or the soft voice fool you. Chris Baer is and always has been a fiery competitor.
Senior running back/linebacker Chris Baer will play his final game for Shiner when the Comanches face Stratford in the Class 1A state final Saturday in Wichita Falls. photo by Kerri Besio, Victoria Advocate
Baer may quietly go about his business on and off the field, but if you want stoke the flame that burns within him ask the Shiner senior why he enjoys playing football more than baseball.
"There are a lot of times in baseball where I get frustrated," Baer said. "Out on the football field, I can definitely do something about it."
You could count more than a few times during his career where Baer has blown up a play or flattened a ball carrier from his linebacker position, or busted through tackle attempts as a running back like he did to score the winning touchdown with 25.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of last weekend's 21-17 Class 1A semifinal victory over Big Sandy.
Even starting at catcher as a freshman on a state championship team and being named Newcomer of the Year on the Advocate's all-area team, or moving to center field and being named the most valuable player of the championship game at last season's state baseball tournament can't match the tingle Baer will feel as he prepares to take the field when Shiner (15-0) meets Stratford (13-2) in the state final Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.
"I think everybody is a little nervous before a game," Baer said. "My adrenaline is definitely flowing. If you have no adrenaline, something is wrong. I want to play so well. I may act calm, but yea, I can feel it inside."
Baer may have felt some internal pressure coming into this season. He rushed for a team-high 1,724 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, and recorded a team-high 122 tackles, including 10 sacks, and intercepted two passes while helping to lead the Comanches to the state final where a missed extra point resulted in a 28-27 loss to Windthorst.
Two other members of the Shiner backfield, who shared MVP honors with Baer on the Advocate's all-area team, did not return this season, leaving the offensive burden squarely on his shoulders.
"Chris already had a lot of that responsibility last year," said Shiner head coach Steven Cerny. "We were just a little more balanced in the backfield. With the people we lost, he really had to carry the load this season."
Baer has more than done his share this season by rushing for 1,992 yards and 37 touchdowns, while scoring 228 points. He has also returned 18 punts for a 16.1-yard average, and has led the defense with 136 tackles, including 11 sacks, and two interceptions.
Baer was a first-team selection at running back and a second-team pick at linebacker on The Associated Press Sports Editors Class 1A all-state team released on Monday. But he is much happier about getting another chance to play for a state championship.
Baer's 2004 stats:
Following is a breakdown of Shiner all-state running back Chris Baer's rushing:Date Opponent Rushes Yds Avg TD's Aug 27 Poth 17 109 6.4 2 Sep 03 East Bernard 13 95 7.3 2 Sep 10 Boling 13 158 12.2 3 Sep 17 Randolph 24 163 6.8 3 Oct 01 Falls City 19 75 3.9 2 Oct 08 Runge 21 165 7.9 2 Oct 15 Louise 11 82 7.5 5 Oct 22 Woodsboro 9 113 12.6 3 Oct 29 Flatonia 10 187 18.7 3 Nov 05 Pettus 16 83 5.2 1 Nov 12 Benavides 12 142 11.8 2 Nov 19 Charlotte 19 161 8.5 4 Nov 26 Chilton 21 236 11.2 2 Dec 04 Brackett 20 102 5.1 2 Dec 11 Big Sandy 21 121 5.8 1 SEASON TOTALS 246 1992 8.1 37
"Stats don't really matter as long as we can keep in the win column," said Baer, who has rushed for 5,193 yards and 77 touchdowns during his Shiner career. "We had to start fresh in the backfield and it was just of matter of letting everybody get used to the system before we could totally utilize the whole offense."
Baer's offensive statistics could have easily been higher this season, but he has rarely left the field and Cerny has tried to keep him as physically fresh as possible.
"We could have sat there and rolled up Chris' numbers early in the year," Cerny said. "But he's got to have fresh legs for the long run. His value to this team is on both sides of the ball. He's the fastest kid we have and he prevents a lot of long touchdown runs other people never get to. He just does so many things so well."
Cerny insists Baer's achievements should not be diminished because he plays in a smaller classification. Baer stands 6-feet tall, weighs a solid 200 pounds, has high jumped 6-2, and has run a 4.54-second 40-yard dash on grass.
"He could go to (Victoria) Memorial and play there," Cerny said. "He would easily fit into a (Class) 5A program because you get to specialize more."
Shiner defensive coordinator Billy Turek sees Baer as a late bloomer, who could blossom on the college level once he concentrates on a single position. It also helps that Baer ranks second in his class and has scored 1,240 on his SAT and 30 on his ACT college entrance examinations.
"Chris doesn't say a whole lot and he's not a rah-rah guy," Cerny said. "But he makes good use of his time, he works hard and he's very smart. We went through some injuries this season and it just seemed like it was one thing after another. We really had to rely on him."
Shiner leaned heavily on Baer during its game-winning drive against Big Sandy. He not only threw a 46-yard halfback pass to Nick Evans to start the drive, but he carried the ball eight times and scored the winning touchdown two plays after he had the wind knocked out of him and had to leave the game.
"I just want to play as well as I can," Baer said. "I'm definitely satisfied with the way things have gone. I felt like we had the talent to get back to state, but anything can happen."
Baer experienced what can happen when a team makes a critical mistake in a state championship game last year and he's determined not to let it happen to Shiner again.
"It's great being able to get to state one more time," Baer said. "It's kind of started to sink in that this weekend is my last game for Shiner. It's kind of hard but I want to have a good ending.
"We have to take a better approach than we did last year," he added. "We have to take a more aggressive approach, get a lead and make sure we have a better ending."
NOTES: The football team is scheduled to leave Shiner today by chartered bus. The Comanches are expected to spend the night in Decatur before traveling to Wichita Falls on Saturday.