BAKER — From the moment Matt Brunson met his current group of seniors in his 9th-grade P.E. class, he knew they were special.
Those who go to Baker School have always prided themselves on their hard work, but this group took it to heart like no other over their four years with the Gator football program, Brunson said.
Under his watchful eye, Baker’s 2020 senior class won 50 of 54 games, won 38 straight regular season games, advanced to the Final Four every year and made the state championship in 2016 and 2018.
In a word, they were dominant, and Brunson is again the Daily News Small Schools Football Coach of the Year.
"This group was actually in the third grade when I got to Baker," Brunson said. "I’ve got to watch ’em play through the city league, middle school, JV and now through their varsity years. I think there’s a special bond at Baker ’cause of our K-12 school. You get to see ’em grow up, you get to follow ’em and their families; it’s a neat thing. Just to watch how hard they worked and be able to enjoy the success they had and be a part of it is a special thing.
"I tell ’em all the time that life’s about making memories, and the memories we made will never be forgotten. And the success level they achieved and the standard they set at Baker is definitely a mark for other teams to shoot for and fight for. They did a great job, and it’s not because we’ve got a bunch of Division I players; it’s just because of how hard they work and how hard they played."
This past year, the Gators finished 11-2 and outscored foes 424-179. They racked up 360.3 yards of offense per game, scored 61 total touchdowns and forced 26 turnovers on defense with 19 sacks.
It was a classic Baker team, vanquishing the likes of Graceville and Vernon en route to the Final Four, and they did it in classic Baker fashion.
"I think it comes from the culture," Brunson said. "They hold their teammates and themselves to a very high standard in how they prepare and how they practice, how they work in the weight room. I don’t have to do a whole bunch because it’s just by the standard those kids (hold themselves to).
"There’s gonna be a bunch of guys in this group that are gonna be fun to follow their successes in life because of the way they go about it."