Four years ago, McMurry University punt returner/defensive back D.J. Baiza (Post, Texas) had to practically beg to be a part of the War Hawks' football program. Now, after closing out his career following last Saturday's CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl victory and after playing a huge role in the turnaround of McM football, he has been recognized as a first team All-American by Beyond Sports Network (BSN).
“D.J. is a great football player,” said McM head coach Hal Mumme. “But as good as he is as a player, he's an even better person. He is a big reason the McMurry University has a winning football program.”
In 2012, Baiza returned 18 punts for an average of 20.8 yards per return. He brought back two punts for touchdowns, one a season-long return of 75 yards. His TD returns added to his school career record total, giving him five punt returns for scores from 2009-12.
Baiza, a team co-captain, also had four kickoff returns for an average of 18.5 yards per return this year.
While being recognized as an all-America punt return specialist, Baiza helped the War Hawks team on defense, as well. He led the McM team in pass break-ups at 10, as well as in interceptions (4). On pilfered passes, Baiza averaged 14.8 yards per return.
Baiza rolled up a total of 29 tackles on the year, 22 of which were solo. He recovered two fumbles and blocked two kicks, among his impressive numbers.
But for Baiza – an exercise science and human performance major at McMurry – he almost didn't get the chance to shine on the gridiron.
Baiza came to McMurry from Post, Texas, a town with a population of around 4,000 and located about 35 miles southeast of Lubbock along Highway 84. At 5-9, 135 pounds, Baiza played football, baseball and basketball at Post High School, where he was a 2007 graduate. His stature did not lend itself to that of a prototypical college football player and he was instead recruited to become a War Hawk on the baseball diamond.
Upon arriving at McM, Baiza was a part of the War Hawks' American Southwest Conference baseball championship team in the spring of 2008. While a member of the baseball team, Baiza became friends with current War Hawks' quarterback Jake Mullin, who had only been playing baseball himself at that time.
Mullin, a standout QB at Burleson High School as a prep, had decided to give football a try under McMurry's then-new head coach Mumme in the spring of 2009. Mullin had played intramural football with Baiza at McMurry, so he tried to persuade his baseball teammate to join him for McM football's spring drills, as well.
Baiza declined and stuck with baseball. Or so he thought.
By the fall of 2009, Baiza had a change of heart and wanted to give intercollegiate football a whirl. The trouble was that the start of the 2009 season was only a little more than a week away and Baiza had not been a part of any of the War Hawks' training.
Baiza approached Mumme about joining the team, but was quickly told no because he had not gone through any of the drills like the rest of the squad. After getting the thumbs down, Baiza told Mullin that Mumme had nixed the idea.
Mullin, who had already earned a starting spot on varsity as a freshman signal-caller for the War Hawks, decided to call Mumme and speak with him about Baiza. Eventually, Mullin convinced Mumme to allow Baiza to suit up for the junior varsity team in an upcoming scrimmage versus the varsity.
During that scrimmage, the junior varsity coaches called for their punt return team to take the field. The player who was slated to return punts was not paying attention and did not go onto the field when summoned, so Baiza seized the opportunity and ran out in his place.
The ensuing punt came to Baiza, who promptly scampered 65 yards with the return…and the rest – as they say - is history. Mumme allowed Baiza to join the War Hawks in 2009 with the defined role as a punt return specialist.
Over his career, Baiza's role expanded to playing in the secondary where he quickly became an even bigger asset to the resurgence of McM football.
The McMurry team was 0-10 the year before Baiza began playing. Within three season (by 2011), the team was 9-3 and in the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in school history. This year – the first playing as an NCAA Division II program – the War Hawks were 8-3 and went to (and won) a Bowl game for the first time in nearly 63 years when it topped Southern Arkansas, 36-35, last Saturday in Copperas Cove.
Baiza was also a 2012 pre-season National Christian College Athletic Association All-American selection by USA College Football. In 2011, he was named both second team all-region and all-conference.
Baiza is the son of Marco and Eva Erives of Post.
Information for this story provided by McMurry Sports Information.