Baker's Recruitment Heats Up

Strong Nike performance has SPARQ'd plenty of interest in the young Ohio linebacker. He'll be making a camp appearance at Penn State, the program he followed growing up.

Jerome Baker was in seventh grade when he first set foot on Penn State's campus. A middle school teammate had asked him to tag along with he and his family for a visit to check out the late Joe Paterno's program, and so he went.

He doesn't speak much to the teammate anymore, and only remembers that the kid's brother -- the focus of the State College trek -- ended up at Toledo. What he does remember, though, is the facilities on State's University Park campus, it's size and its atmosphere.

But now, it's his turn to be recruited, to bring friends and family with him on future visits. And the Class of 2015 outside linebacker loves every second of it.

“It's great. The recruiting process is fun,” Baker said. “I really like it. After the season, a lot of interest happened, especially after the NIKE SPARQ combine. That's when it really happened.”

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect from Benedictine High (Cleveland) saw interest in him soar after posting a SPARQ score of 106.35 at a camp in Massillion, Ohio, in the beginning of March. It ranked in the 99th percentile for his class. He was also the All-Ohio performer.

And with performance comes college coaches, and Baker has heard from plenty of those, most recently Penn State. It comes at a good time, as State's safeties coach Anthony Midget has already been in contact with the sophomore after revealing Tuesday he will recruit Cleveland and the surrounding areas in the Buckeye State.

“My first thought talking to him was that he was real calm, and willing to talk to me,” Baker said. “He could sense that I was nervous because he was a coach, and he calmed me down and held a conversation.“

His play sparked Midget's interest, but it was Baker's trip to University Park a few years back when he “fell in love” with Penn State, noting it's stadium was the right size and possessed the right atmosphere. He's loved Penn State ever since.

The stadium and atmosphere remain, though many of the coaches he met that fall day are no longer on the staff. Of course, that is due to sophomore head coach Bill O'Brien bringing on his own assistants in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Paterno's dismissal. But new faces, and sanctions, matter little to Baker.

“I believe at Penn State, even though it changed, the core of the university is still great,” Baker explained. “Even though the staff changed, I believe it's still great, and it really didn't affect me.

“I was more hurt because that is my school,” he added. “It wouldn't affect me to say I don't want to go there. I wasn't like that. The school is going to get back on its feet, and hopefully, maybe, one day I could be a part of it.”

The road to a potential scholarship will begin this summer, when the sophomore camps at Penn State during one of its Advanced Skill Camps. It marks not only an opportunity to obtain a verbal scholarship offer, but also the chance to meet and learn from Lion linebacker stalwart Ron Vanderlinden, a coach Baker says he's been waiting to meet and talk to.

Before that, though, the linebacker says he'd like to add some weight to his frame while retaining the speed he says makes him a presence on the outside as well as between the hash marks. It's all a part of the process of moving onto a bigger and better 2013 season, and his first verbal offer.

“If I get an offer, I would be very happy. It was actually my childhood dream,” Baker said. “I am from a small high school, and basically, I want to show I'm still there, and show my talent everywhere.

“I want to see how the university experience is; the whole thing. And if I do get offered, I would be very happy.”

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