College football is coming to West St. Louis County.
During a Tuesday afternoon campus event, Missouri Baptist University administrators will unveil the school's plan to launch a football program that will be ready to go in time for the fall.
Jason Burianek, a former player at the University of Colorado and most recently an assistant coach at McKendree University, has been hired as the program's first head coach. The school's board of trustees approved the move Thursday. Athletic Director Dr. Tom Smith said the decision to jump onto the gridiron came after a pair of feasibility studies over the past five years.
"I think we really did our homework," Smith said in an interview Friday, indicating that he'd spoken with other schools which have launched football programs and studied what it would mean for everything from infrastructure to injuries.
The school's program will launch as something of a club team this fall with approximately 30 student-athletes, with plans to compete as a varsity college program in 2014. A full roster would be between 80 and 100 players.
Smith said the move is an opportunity to expand access to real athletic opportunities for students and grow the enrollment at the Creve Coeur school, and will result in growing the school's cheering program, along with Poms and Marching Band.
It is unclear which NAIA conference the Spartans will call home, as the American Midwest Conference, which hosts other Missouri Baptist sports, doesn't play football. The team will play at neighboring CBC, building on a relationship of shared access to facilities between the schools for soccer, lacrosse, track and field and wrestling.
Smith has said before and he said again Friday that despite a "never say never" outlook when it comes to the idea of being an NCAA school, Missouri Baptist's eyes are squarely focused on being a "premiere" and "distinct" NAIA member institution.
Smith said in Burianek, he found "a Missouri Baptist kind of guy."
"A Phenomenal Situation"
Burianek began conversations with Smith in November after a coaching change at McKendree had him filling more of an administrative role there. He walked on at the University of Colorado under Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, and was later put on scholarship by his successor, Gary Barnett. Burianek played special teams and wide receiver for the Buffaloes between 1998 and 2002. His coaching career has bounced between McKendree and Belleville West High School in the time since.
He said his CU Buffalo teams had a "relentless" mentality which he hopes to bring with him to Missouri Baptist, in the form of players who are tough both mentally and physically, do things the right way, and "refuse to lose."
"You have no shoes to fill," Burianek said of the chance to put his own stamp on a program.
He'll recruit in the 60 mile radius around campus, noting that many teams in that area have found themselves playing in the state finals at the Edward Jones Dome in recent years.
As evidenced by the school's name, Missouri Baptist is not shy when it comes to the importance of religion. Burianek calls it "a huge asset," but noted that student athletes would not have to sign documentation proving their christian faith in order to play.
"I think this is a phenomenal situation," he said.