Budda Baker Comes Full Circle

BELLEVUE - It was a bolt from the blue, and from the most unlikely of places. Bishard ‘Budda' Baker, the top in-state prospect for the 2014 class, had suddenly, and without warning, verbally committed to the University of Oregon five days before Christmas. It was as if Washington football fans were not only getting coal in their stocking, they were notified beforehand.

"I did it at random, let it out, and now it's over," Baker told Scout.com's Brandon Huffman at the time he let the news out of the bag via Twitter. "Oregon just was the best place for me."

Washington Football was barely two weeks into the Chris Petersen era, and already cries of ‘THUD' were clanging against the brand-new steel bleachers at Husky Stadium. Husky fans weren't questioning Petersen's ability as a coach; 92-12 will buy you a lot of credibility.

But could Petersen recruit against the big boys? Could he go toe-to-toe with USC and UCLA for a top prospect from Southern California? Could he keep the likes of Oregon and Notre Dame from the in-state players' doors?

Baker's announcement for the Ducks brought an early judgment - Petersen wasn't going to keep the wolves at bay. It was open season in the state of Washington; the fence had been torn down completely.

Why did this happen? And more to the point, how had it happened? Even among those within the Bellevue program were silently wondering the same thing. It was as if Budda has just had enough. It was over.

Anyone who has met Bishard ‘Budda' Baker knows that he never does something without a reason, especially something as gigantic as a college decision. He's a thoughtful, well-spoken kid that is as humble accepting the truckloads of praise heaped his way as a senior as he was when we first met, four years ago.

That's why, when I heard the amazing news of Baker's relatively quick commitment, I accepted it completely at face value. He was Eugene-bound, of that I was 100 percent sure, and would have put my life savings on it. That was how sure I was about Budda's word, and what it meant to him.

But I have to admit that my first impulse was to wonder why things went the way they did. Back then, as a ninth-grader just finding his way, Budda was all about Washington. That's all he talked about, and presumably it was because that was all he knew.

The next season, he broke out and the colleges came to Bellevue's door like a ravenous pack. "Probably after the Oaks Christian game sophomore year, my coach (Butch Goncharoff) told me there were going to be guys calling from colleges and all that stuff, so be ready for it," Baker recalled. "I didn't think I was this ready, but that heads up was good."

Again, as Baker does with most things, he took the adulation in typical Budda style, thanking everyone for their interest and keeping as low a profile as possible. After all, he was just one guy on a team that won four-straight 3A titles during his time at Bellevue. It might be hard to be humble for a guy in Baker's position, with schools from across the country coming out of their way to the Northwest specifically for him, but it never seemed to faze him or bother him.

At least on the outside.

As mild-mannered and go-with-the-flow as Baker is, it was nearly impossible to see from the outside that the mounting pressure of an impending college decision was taking a toll. But one thing was easy to spot; Baker's play on the football field. In front of thousands, it was his chance to get away from the distractions and just play the game he loved.

When Baker spoke to Huffman that day in December, he talked about what a relief it was to get the decision over with and get on with the business of just playing football. He would be on his way to the U.S. Army Game in San Antonio two weeks later, not just representing the state of Washington, but also the Oregon Ducks.

"I'm not taking any visits," said Baker at the time. "I'm done. I'm not taking any more trips."

Jump forward to January 17th - again, a day unlike any other day around that time in the recruiting process. Typically the focus is on those players making last-second visits and really getting down to the crunch time of a decision that would come within a couple weeks' time.

As he had done back in December, Baker stunned the recruiting world with another tweet - this one even more surprising than the one before.

"I have decommited from Oregon an decided to reopen my recruitment. Coach H (Mark Helfrich) an (sic) the ducks are a great program just not the right program for me."

Baker, whether he cared at the time or not, had jump-started a collective Husky heartbeat that had gone cold for a few weeks. And when news surfaced hours later that Budda was actually on an official visit to Washington at that moment, you could feel the surge of adrenaline pumping through the fan base as the speculation over Baker's future increased.

They were alive again. There was reason for hope.

Their prayers wouldn't be answered for a couple weeks, but on the Tuesday before Signing Day word got out that Budda and his family would be making an appearance on KING-5 in Seattle to announce his college choice.

For Husky fans, this was the news they had waited four years to hear. Budda Baker was staying home.

"It was a big relief," Baker said to Dawgman.com this week, recounting the days before Signing Day. "It was real stressful. Going into the de-commitment with Oregon, that was stressful, and taking all these visits, and USC wanted me to visit the 31st and that was stressful…but at the end of the day I'm just glad it's all over."

Family factored into his final decision. Proximity definitely played a big part. "They are really happy I'm staying because now they can see me pretty much any time they want," Baker said with his trademark wide smile. "They are really excited for me. They just want me to do my thing, get that spot, and start playing so they can watch me."

When you look deeper, there's an inherent dichotomy in Budda Baker. When the lights shine the brightest, he's at his best. He comes up with the top play at the right time. Nothing fazes him on the football field. He's the ultimate team player, the ultimate practice player, the ultimate teammate.

But off the field, he shuns the limelight and the attention in a way that would belie his larger-than-life stature between the hashes. He's just not interested in the fluff, the sideshows, the things that could possibly take away the joy.

"There's nobody calling me anymore, talking to me, asking about what college I'm going to," Baker said. "It's all over, and now it's on to the 2015 class.

"If anybody doesn't talk to me, I wouldn't really care about it. I'm doing the sport that I love."

To wit: with all that has been written about the pure speed of Wenatchee's Isaiah Brandt-Sims (and rightly so), did you know that Baker won the last two state 3A 100 meter championships? He also won the 200 meter title this year, was second and third in the long jump the last two years and also was a part of back-to-back state 3A 4x100 meter relay teams. Bellevue's 4x100 team last week beat Kennewick Southridge by three-quarters of a second. That may not sound like much, but in relays run in less than 42 seconds, that's a substantial margin.

One day removed from the 3A track finals Baker was back on the football field, participating on one of two alumni teams at the Barton Football Academy 7-On Tournament at Interlake High School. If Budda has a switch that shuts off his competitive nature, he hasn't found it yet.

The reason he decided to play in a relatively meaningless event in the larger scope of things while others that had run track at the same time rested? His Bellevue teammate Timmy Haehl - headed to Harvard - was playing, and he knew this was probably the last chance he'd get to play next to his defensive back partner-in-crime.

That's vintage Budda Baker. And it's the Budda Baker Washington fans should get used to seeing. He's got big plans when he gets to Montlake, but first he has to finish what he started at Bellevue.

"First off, I've got to finish this year off strong," he said. "I've got a 3.0 right now…Senioritis is kicking in! Getting that over with, then starting this week working out with Tracy Ford. He's a big Bellevue guy and he's got his own gym, so working out with him every day until July 5th."

Baker still has one eye focused toward the Huskies. He knows he has plenty he needs to do when he arrives, but he's already laid the foundation to hit the ground running - even if that means going up against some of the best offensive players UW has to offer right from the jump.

"I talked to Jaydon (Mickens) and (John) Ross and told them if they are doing some one-on-ones to hit me up, so hopefully they'll do that," Baker said.

The Huskies have been talking to Budda about the return game, something that will definitely have Washington fans salivating at the thought. If you want a glimpse of Baker and what he can do with the ball in his hands after a punt, click HERE.

In typical Budda fashion, he just wants to make sure he does what he needs to do to even earn a role in the special teams rotation. But one thing he's confident about is his ability to compete for a starting spot in the defensive backfield. He may only be 173 pounds right now - track will do that to you - but Baker is intent on doing what he has to this fall.

"I saw they are young," Budda said when asked about Washington's current safety situation. "They are getting better each week. Hopefully I can get better as well and hopefully get that spot. I don't have anything negative to say about them. They are all good and I wish them good luck too."

Then the competitive Budda emerges.

"We're teammates, but I'm going to try and get that starting spot. That's a huge goal. Anybody, any freshman - that's their dream to start the first time, like Myles (Jack) last year. I feel like that's a big goal, and I feel like I can accomplish it."

Jack, Baker's Bellevue teammate two years ago, burst on the Pac-12 scene with a vengeance, earning freshman Player of the Year honors on both offense and defense - a feat probably never to be duplicated. Budda knows how good Myles is, but Myles knows how good Budda is too.

UCLA travels to Husky Stadium November 8th. Could we see Budda at safety and Jack at running back at the same time? It's a mouth-watering proposition, and they've been talking about it.

"(Jack) told me that if he sees me there the first thing he's going to do is hop over me," Baker said. "We'll see."

And how many players have jumped over Budda Baker? Budda knew the answer.

"No one."

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