"I feel good," Baker told Pack Pride after the Wolfpack's first spring practice. "I'm ready to get to work and help make our team even better."
Baker arrived in Raleigh as a five-star recruit, and the Pack's top signee in the 2005 recruiting class. He split time with other backs his first two seasons at NC State but still managed to rush for 1,234 yards and 11 scores.
NC State hired Tom O'Brien to take over as head coach the offseason following his sophomore year, and Baker looked forward to working with the ex-Boston College head coach.
"I think the offense really highlights my attributes," said Baker. "I'm just going to focus on getting better each day, and We'll see how that works out."
In 2007, Baker outperformed Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene to win the starting job heading into the season opener against Central Florida. However, his season would be over just four quarters in. He damaged his knee and required surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
"We named him the starter," said O'Brien. "He started that [first] football game, and we thought he was the best back coming out of spring practice... and to be the back for us as we started here. The injury was devastating, not only for him but for us."
Baker worked hard that offseason and appeared to be ready to go in 2008, but that wouldn't be the case. A few days into fall practice he was forced to have some more work done to his knee, and his redshirt junior season was over before it even began.
"It was pretty early, probably not even half way [through fall practice]," Baker stated when he found out he would miss another year. "It was probably the first two weeks or so, that was how far I lasted in the fall.
"I'm 100% better now though. I definitely feel 100%, and I can feel the difference from where I'm at now to where I was back then. I thought I was ready to go then, but I know I am now."
Now with Andre Brown auditioning for the 2009 NFL Draft and Jamelle Eugene sidelined for spring practice with a shoulder injury, Toney Baker is back atop the depth chart at tailback. Expect him to work his way back and compete as hard as he can to remain the Pack's starter.
"I'm very excited to come back out here and get back to working on the fundamentals," said Baker. "It just feels great to be out here competing and trying to get better. We want to take this team to next level."
One of the positives for Baker is that because his injury didn't deal with his knee ligaments, he say there isn't much cause for concern.
"My lateral movement and explosion out of my cuts, I don't have to worry about that," he said. "The stability is there because I didn't tear any ligaments. That's some of the positives from going through this injury.
"I've also been staying in shape. I'm about where I want to be. Before I got hurt, I was around 225 and that's where I'm at right now. I'm about 226 and no higher than 230, and that's about what I want to be."
For NC State to take the next step as a program, upperclassmen such as Baker will be counted on to perform in 2009. With just 16 seniors and 14 juniors on the roster, the Wolfpack's 85-man roster is loaded with underclassmen. The offense is led by All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson... an underclassman.
Baker believes that the potential is there for the Wolfpack to have a strong year on that side of the football.
"It just feels great," he said. "Everybody has a lot of confidence. We believe in the player beside us. Offensively, our quarterbacks look great, and we just feel a lot more confident going into this spring. I think if we can carry that over, we'll have a really explosive offense.
"[The offensive line] knows what they are doing and they are talking to each other. There isn't any miscommunication so everyone knows where they are going and where they need to be. It's exciting."