Target 2005: Toney Baker

JAMESTOWN, N.C. – Toney Baker, already one of the most coveted running backs in the class of 2005, is taking an unofficial visit to Chapel Hill for the Aug. 30 UNC-Florida State football game -- and may be more likely to end up in a UNC uniform than many expect.

"I really like Carolina," the 5-10, 215-pound talent from Jamestown (N.C.) Ragsdale said Thursday before a scrimmage. "I've met the running back coach [Andre' Powell], he's pretty cool, I like his style. I've met the head coach [John Bunting] -- I like him, he's intense."

While Baker may like Carolina, he is not willing to place them in the lead for his services, nor is he willing to place any other school in that role. He was quick to discredit recent speculation that Virginia Tech and North Carolina State are ahead of other schools.

"I've never said anything like that," Baker said. "It's wide open; [the school I choose] is going to be where I feel I can help my long term future."

Virginia Tech, which is scheduled to join the ACC next season, has no reason to give up hope, however. The move to the conference will seemingly keep them in the race, as Baker emphasized that he was looking to stay in the ACC.

"I want to stay in the ACC, anywhere around there," he said. "I'm not too sure about Tennessee because I really want to stay in the ACC."

Such talk from a major recruit will assuredly encourage Hokie fans around the country, but there is a counterbalance to the newfound benefits of ACC membership: distance.

"I think Toney's going to look somewhere where his dad can see him play, where the drive isn't so far his dad can't do that," said Ragsdale's coach, Tommy Norwood. "Him and his dad have a great relationship, that's his role model, that's the guy who he idolizes and it would be a shame for him not to be able to have an opportunity to see him play every Saturday."

When asked about his father's (who played football at ECU) role in the process, Baker was less explicit, choosing to again refer to his desire to stay in the ACC -- which doesn't necessarily mean within driving distance.

"I'm going to try to stay in the ACC and listen to what he has to say," he said. "I'm not sure right now."

Ragsdale, where Baker is a junior, has produced numerous high-major prospects of late. Last year Emmanuel Byers chose Virginia, and this season Jon Terry has committed to Duke and Brandon Drumgoole opted for Wake Forest. Does the lack of a recent Carolina connection pose a problem for the Carolina staff in their recruitment of Baker? What of the reported rift between Norwood's staff and Chapel Hill?

According to Norwood, relations between UNC and Ragsdale had nothing to do with the college choices of previous and current players.

"I think it is really a question of their needs at the time," said the head man in Jamestown. "I really like Coach Bunting, he came and visited here several times, I've worked Carolina's camps. I really like Coach Bunting and everything he's done. We had a great relationship with the earlier staff because they were here so long, and Darrell Moody and I were good friends, so I was sad to see him move on," Norwood said.

Baker still has two years remaining at Ragsdale to etch his name into the N.C. high school football history books. His 2,007 yards and 32 touchdowns as a sophomore gives him 3,790 rushing yards and 58 touchdowns in his first two years of high school.

His performance at the Blacksburg combine this past May -- where he showcased a 4.5 40-yard dash, a 4.05 shuttle, a 33-inch vertical leap and then bench pressed 185 pounds 25 times -- earned him the ranking of No. 1 running back in the state by, ahead of such big in-state names from the Class of 2004 as George Bell, Jamaal Edwards and Andre Brown.

The race for Baker is wide open, and with him being so unquestionably prized on the recruiting trail, this is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested recruiting battles of the class of 2005.

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