There was little doubt during his career how electric an athlete Izaiah Baker was for the Gainesville Leopards football team.
He was selected for several district awards including a first-team nod this season, along with an all-state selection in the Padilla Coaches Poll.
On Thursday, Feb. 6, Baker officially set into motion his football future as he signed his national letter of intent to play for Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
Baker joined his brother Calion, who was also a standout player for the Leopards, at Northwestern Oklahoma State.
He said Calion has been a great asset to him as he prepares to make the jump to college football and he can’t wait to start playing with him again.
“I feel amazing,” Baker said. “I’m ready to reunite with my brother. [Northwestern Oklahoma State] treated me like family. They’ve been talking to me constantly for three years, so I felt like that was the perfect place for me. I felt good about it. He has been telling me lately what I have to do to get ready.”
Baker helped the Leopards get off to a blazing, historic 7-0 start and the school’s second consecutive playoff berth.
Despite dealing with an ankle injury throughout most of the season, Baker said it was a good year overall.
“I already knew we were going to do really good,” Baker said. “We were 6-0 at home and it gave us even more motivation to do even better. I wish we could have done a little better, but at least we made the playoffs. The injuries really killed me and I was out for a lot of games. I felt I could have done way better, but the injury made me stronger and I came back better than I thought I could.”
Head coach James Polk said he knew Baker was going to be special since Baker’s freshman year.
“I wanted to make sure he was getting quality time while he was young so he’d be ready when he was older,” Polk said. “He’s played basketball, run track and played baseball. He’s done it all. I know mom and dad are happy he’s playing with his brother. He’s also a kid that made good grades and took care of things like he was supposed to.”
Polk said Baker’s injury kept from using him at multiple positions this season, but throughout his career, Baker has shown he can line up anywhere on the field and be more than effective.
“We didn’t use him as much defensively as we wanted to, but we knew he was definitely going to be an explosive player in the return game,” Polk said. “There were some games where the game was on the line and we told him to go. That’s another reason he was selected to all-state as a returner.”
Baker will play cornerback at Northwestern Oklahoma State and while he wishes he could do both sides of the ball, he feels like he can make more of an impact on defense.
“I feel like I can play any position they put me at,” Baker said. “I enjoyed playing wide receiver this year, but before that it was always corner. I just like defense and I was just used to tackling so much that I just fell in love with defense first. I went to their camp my sophomore year and I did the best, so they gave me an offer that year. It felt good and it gave me a boost to do better.”
Track and field season is just around the corner and Baker said he has designs on returning to the sport after a hiatus of two seasons.
“I’m looking forward to do the 110-meter hurdles because that’s what my brother did,” Baker said. “I just want to follow in his footsteps. I haven’t run track in a minute. Last time I ran track, I was a freshman and I did really good. I already know I’m going to do really good this year.”
Knowing that college football will be a step up in competition, Baker said it will take a lot of work to get ready.
“You have to do more than the coaches are telling you,” Baker said. “You have to do even more. You have to take time out to train and you have to not only be physically prepared, but mentally as well. My expectation is to be one of the best corners. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing, plus more. It’s going to be a crazy jump, but I think I’m ready for it.”
After his signing came to an end and his friends and family began to celebrate, Baker took a moment to soak it all in. He called his teammates up for more photos while everyone in attendance reveled in the occasion.
“It was fun to see everybody smiling, knowing that I worked so hard for this and that my parents really need this,” Baker said. “For them to know I’m going to college and doing something positive is really good. I feels like I’m getting a payday basically. This is my check and I’m about to cash out.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip