Punishing power back in for spring

IDAHO SIGNED THREE JUNIOR COLLEGE PLAYERS in December who are expected to make an immediate impact for 2012. Among them is running back JAMES BAKER, a bruiser who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 225-pounds. The "downhill runner" likes to keep it between the tackles, and is expected to provide Idaho with a new wrinkle in the running game this fall.

Woolridge in 2009.
It's been a long, two year stretch since the Vandals last had a true, between the tackles bruiser in the backfield. Not since DeMaundray Woolridge, at 5-foot-9 and 240-pounds, has Idaho had a power running back that brings a north-south running style to the Idaho rushing game -- and leaves the dancing shoes at home. In his one season at Idaho (after transferring in from Washington State), Woolridge was virtually unstoppable, gaining 980 yards on 170 carries and scoring an eye-popping 18 touchdowns along the way to a Humanitarian Bowl victory. He was Idaho's last "between-the-tackles" grinder – a serious change of pace to compliment Idaho's runners who were most effective using their speed and shiftiness to make things happen on the outside, like Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson.

But that may change this spring with the addition of James Baker, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound bruiser out of Independence Community College in Kansas who makes no bones about his role on the Idaho team he is joining for the 2012 season.

"I'm a downhill runner," Baker told GoVandals.net this week. "I really don't try dodging people too much. I'm not scared of contact – I always look forward to contact.

"I'm the guy that's going to get that first down when it's needed."

What Baker should also provide is a nice change of gears – and punch – to go along with the speed and agility of senior Ryan Bass – a heralded Parade All-American out of powerhouse Centennial High School who began his career at Arizona State and completed his junior year at Idaho last season – and the rest of the Vandal running back depth chart.

"I'm the power back," Baker continued. "I'm the guy that's going to run between the tackles and break tackles. I'm not an outside runner -- that's not my expertise. I'm the guy that's going to run between the tackles."

AS A TWO-YEAR STARTER AT INDEPENDENCE COLLEGE, Baker did a lot of the heavy lifting on a team that struggled for wins. The Pirates went winless in 2011, which was a disappointment as they came off a 4-6 season in 2010 that was better than expected. Throughout that 2010 season Baker made his impact felt, rushing for 547 yards on 160 carries and earning First Team All-Conference recognition as a fullback.

In 2011, though, the Pirates struggled – and Baker's role in the offensive attack fluctuated. In the first six games of the season he exceeded 10 carries in a game only three times, and for a three-game stretch he got fewer than six carries. But on October 15th that all changed as the bruising rusher carried the ball 19 times to break the century mark in a game for the first time in the season with a 116 yard performance. For the next two weeks, against Coffeyville and Garden City, Baker would get more than 20 carries in each contest and rush for 123 and 119-yards, respectively.

Despite the team's struggles and Baker's lack of carries early in the season, he was still named an Honorable Mention All-Conference pick at running back.

Baker will have three years to play two at Idaho, but he has no intention of redshirting the upcoming season. He signed with Idaho in December and will be joining the team for spring drills.

IDAHO WASN'T THE ONLY SCHOOL RECRUITING BAKER this off-season either. "I was talking to a couple other schools like Missouri State and North Dakota State," Baker said. "I talked to Indiana and Minnesota during my first season in junior college. This year I talked to a couple schools, and Idaho was the visit I went on [December 9th]."

James Baker
Recruited to Idaho by Running Backs Coach Jason Gesser, the two formed a bond. "I felt like it was a good fit for me," Baker said of his trip to Idaho. "I feel as though I have a better chance of playing out there. Talking with the guys on the visit, I bonded with the guys good and with Coach Gesser -- we bonded pretty well. He made me feel at home."

A native of Deerfield Beach (Florida), Baker played his high school ball at Boca Raton High School, and the coaches for that team were integral in getting his name out to the Idaho staff. "One of my high school coaches sent my film to a few D1 schools," Baker said. "He [Gesser] got my number from my high school coaches then gave me a buzz, and then it started from there."

For Idaho, it ended with the Vandals getting the power back they wanted. Baker committed to Idaho during his visit in early December, and will be expected to make an immediate impact for the Vandals this fall.


LINK: Baker highlights as a senior at Boca Raton High School

LINK: Baker highlights at Independence College

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