Print and Go Back Penn State Nittany Lions [Print without images]

Thursday, September 5, 2013
Baker cooking up something great

By Brad Bournival

A year ago, Jerome Baker Jr. (Cleveland/Benedictine) toiled in obscurity.

Now, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound junior can’t move an inch without someone asking about him.

Such is the life of an ESPN Junior 300 standout that has burst onto the scene as a can’t-miss prospect in the 2015 class.

He’s a can’t-miss prospect because wherever the No. 157-ranked player in the nation goes he’s someone you can’t miss -- literally.

Jerome Baker Jr. of Cleveland Benedictine is having a breakout junior season.
When he went to Ohio State’s Friday Night Lights camp in July everyone wanted to talk about Damon Webb (Detroit/Cass Tech), Eric Glover-Williams (Canton, Ohio/McKinley), Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus) and Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County).

Then Baker stole the show both as an outside linebacker and as a running back.

“That’s just how he is,” Benedictine coach Joe Schaefer said. “At first, it was like, 'Wow.' He had the wide eyes for a couple weeks, but he knows what got him to this point.

“He stays grounded. He’s great. He’s a great teammate and a great kid to be around. He understands.”

Baker understands because he knows the offers from Akron, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and West Virginia can be taken away just as fast as they came.

Not many people knew who Baker was in March. In April -- when heavy hitters like Florida, Louisville, Ohio State and Penn State threw out offers -- things got a little goofy and haven’t slowed down since.

“It was pretty exciting,” Baker said. “I think I was a little nervous. I think I needed to calm down. My coaches and team treat me the same. They treat me like a regular person.”

That’s becoming harder and harder to do as each game passes.

Baker was the talk of just about every camp this summer. After his first game this season, where Baker rushed for 186 yards and two scores and hauled in another touchdown receiving, he proved he’s worth the hype.

Add to the a 57-yard score he had called back because of a penalty and another 35-yard run that was wiped out, and it’s easy to see just how strong Baker can be.

The biggest thing is he might be better when he doesn’t have the ball, which is a wonderful problem for Schaefer to have.

“There’s no doubt he’s a dynamic talent, but he understands if he doesn’t produce it can be taken away just as soon as it came,” Schaefer said. “That’s what has kept his head on straight. He’s so fast and so physical.”

As far as projecting where he’ll play at the next level, that depends who you ask.

Schaefer can see him as that 235-240 pound linebacker that tears through offenses and changes game plans.

He also sees a versatile running back that can wear down defenses and completely take teams out of their rhythm.

Either way, it’s just a matter of fitting in and filling the piece of the puzzle for Baker.

“Football handles itself,” Baker said. “I go out there and play with my friends and families.

“For my size, I have the strength and speed to go. That’s really it. I can just go and that’s not something many have.”

Baker has both, and schools are figuring that out quickly.