Baker Brings Pride and Passion to the College Game
Sept. 22, 2009
Louisiana Tech senior safety Antonio Baker is a pretty serious guy.
However, when the moment presents itself, he possesses one of those smiles that will light up a room.
And over his three-plus year career with the Bulldogs, Baker has shown he also has the ability to light up something else - opposing players.
Simply put, the chiseled 6-foot, 215-pounder likes to hit, and he likes to hit people hard.
"Look at him," said Tech head coach Derek Dooley following the season premier of Inside Bulldog Football, a one-hour radio talk show held at the Dawg House Sports Grill each Wednesday night. "He wants to hit someone right now. The guy loves to hit."
Tech defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler said that his star safety is a defensive playmaker and a coach's dream.
"He's definitely a guy that can run and hit," Spangler said. "When you have guys that have twitch and suddenness and they will put their nose on someone, that's what you want. That's Antonio in a nutshell."
Off the field, Baker is an easy going, respectful young man who doesn't say much. But on the field, the Amite, La. native lets his play do the talking.
"I take passion and pride in playing (football)," Baker said. "In doing my responsibilities, making tackles and making big hits - I take pride in all of it."
Entering this season, Baker ranked third among all active Football Bowl Subdivision players with 301 tackles and with a healthy senior campaign, could move into the top 5 in the Bulldog record book for career stops.
When talking about the reason for Baker's success on the field, both Dooley and Spangler cited his passion for the game.
"I've never coached a guy that has a greater passion for football, and it's evident by his consistency on the field and how hard he works every day." Dooley said. "In my three years at Louisiana Tech, he has never had a bad day; never. No matter what the circumstance he has a great attitude, and he pushes through any adversity."
Spangler, who coaches the Bulldog safeties, agrees.
"I think the No. 1 thing is he has a passion for the game," Spangler said. "He loves football, and he loves competition. He's also a very humble guy. He is a guy that goes to the practice field every day to keep developing and getting better. "He has ability, but he has the intangible qualities that you look for too. He has all the explosive quickness and toughness and discipline and those key components, but at the same time he loves to compete."
After back-to-back seasons in which he eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau (118 tackles in 2007 and 115 tackles in 2008), Baker needs exactly 100 tackles this year to move past former Bulldog great Joe McNeely who ranks third all-time with 400.
He is also only one interception away from moving into the Top 10 in career picks.
Baker enters today's game with 27 consecutive starts dating back to his freshman campaign, and he has developed a reputation as one of the fiercest competitors in not only a Bulldog uniform, but in the Western Athletic Conference. Baker earned first team all-WAC honors last season while also becoming the first Bulldog in decades to be named the Defensive Player of the Year in the state by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
He earned the accolades after recording double digit tackles in eight of the Bulldogs' 13 games and while leading LA Tech to an 8-5 mark and the 2008 Independence Bowl championship title, the first bowl victory by the program since 1977.
The former high school quarterback, who also played cornerback and safety on the prep level, led Amite to the 2004 Louisiana Class 3A state title and four straight District 9-3A titles has drawn plenty of interest from National Football League scouts and is being projected to be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft next April.
"For anybody that is looking for players to play at the next level ability is a big factor, and Antonio has ability," Spangler said. "He has to continue to develop. The NFL scouts see upside to him. They like his explosive quickness and his ability to tackle and to tackle big guys, not just little guys. He is a physical player.
"Antonio is productive player, and he shows up around the football. He puts himself in position to make plays. The guy just loves to play the game."
However, Baker isn't thinking NFL just yet. He knows he and his teammates still have plenty of work left to do this year if the Bulldogs want to win a WAC championship and return to a bowl game.
"I definitely put my team goals ahead of everything else," Baker said. "I want to win games. I'm having fun out there and enjoying the team and practice. It's my senior year, and I want to make it a memorable year.
"(Playing in the NFL) has been a lifelong dream. I think about it all the time, but I never let it overwhelm me. I'm just having fun playing college football and enjoying my team."
As each game passes in 2009, Baker's collegiate career comes that much closer to an end. However, the light at the end of that college football playing tunnel isn't a cliche ... it's Antonio Baker smiling as he launches all of that passion and competitiveness towards an opposing ball carrier.
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