Salmen head coach Gerry Leonard has seen more than his fair share of major college football prospects over the years.
His 2010 squad was loaded with as many college prospects as any other school in the state with a number of them signing with FBS schools led by Daniel Sams (Kansas State), Crishawn Dupuy (Miami of Ohio), Jamal Robinson (ULL) and Malcolm Pichon (Louisiana Tech).
At the time he was doing all he could to help his senior class move on to the next level, but Leonard was also looking ahead because he knew that he had a sophomore receiver that had a chance to be special in Chuck Baker.
“We had him kind of pegged as a player when he was a freshman,” Leonard said. “He was big, ran real well and had all the makings of a pretty high caliber player early on.
“His sophomore season was the attention getter. He looks great in a uniform and once college coaches saw him running routes and catching the football they all saw the potential and that put him on a bunch of lists right there.”
One of those coaches who saw a lot in the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder was Les Miles and he extended a scholarship offer to Baker a little more than a week ago that he quickly accepted.
The offer and commitment caught some a little off guard because there was very little film on Baker and his stats from his junior season were not off the charts with 37 receptions for 503 yards and two touchdowns. Leonard says there was a lot that Baker did that did not show up in his stat line.
“With regards to the stat thing, we kind of had to play the hand we were dealt and the hand was we lost a lot of players from the year before,” explained Leonard. “So based on the youth we had we didn’t feel like we could continue to do the things we did before when we were able to throw the ball around a lot with Daniel and Matt (Lipham).
“We had to revamp things and we had a sophomore running back (Chris Thomas) that could do some pretty special things and he ran for 1,900 yards this year. A lot of that was attributed to downfield blocking and that was something Chuck took upon himself to make happen. Chuck could have gotten down because he didn’t get as many balls thrown to him but instead he became a more complete player and became a terrific blocker. I was really proud of what Chuck did and how unselfish he was.”
Baker’s junior highlights may not be as extensive as some that are circulating on the internet, but Leonard feels that his receiver has all of the qualities that college coaches are looking for.
“The first thing you notice with Chuck is his size and the second is speed and athleticism,” said Leonard. “Those are things that definitely stand out with him. He’s a guy that likes contact and that will do anything he can to help his team. You hear that a lot but Chuck is the kind of guy that wants to be on kick coverage teams and he’s the first one down there.
“He makes the tough grabs across the middle and really is just such a competitor. The deep ball right now is not his forte but he is tough to deal with when he gets the ball in his hands on underneath routes. He breaks a lot of tackles and is a sure-handed guy that makes the tough and easy grabs.”
Some high school players will take their foot off the gas pedal when they make an early commitment, but Leonard isn’t worried about that at all with Baker.
“The issue with him is we can’t do enough for Chuck,” Leonard said with a laugh. “He will stay out there as long as the lights are on and work on his routes and work on his speed. You have to make Chuck take a day off because he always wants to work on getting better and doesn’t realize that it’s okay to take a day off and let your body heal.”
Something else Leonard doesn’t have to worry about is what Baker does when he is away from the Salmen campus.
“He is a great kid from a good family that does a good job of staying on him,” Leonard said. “Chuck isn’t going to get into trouble and he’s a good student that will be academically qualified. He really does have everything together and is just one of those kids that you love to coach.”