When you get to the top-10 of any major college football program, you're talking about ballers. We know what they do on game nights, but few connect the dots to what they did in the preceding days to get them to play at a high level on the big stage.
Budda Baker does. He has for a long, long time.
“The thing I tell everybody about Budda — every kid loves to play on Friday nights, everybody’s excited,” Bellevue High School Head Coach Butch Goncharoff told the Seattle Times about Baker three years ago, but the quote could very easily apply to today. “Budda, the best thing about him is you can’t tell the difference between Friday night (and) Monday at 3:15. Practice looks exactly the same. That is rare. That is probably the most rare thing. I’ve never seen the kid have a bad practice — ever. I’ve never seen him not go 100 percent ever in the years I’ve had him. I can say that about a very rare few kids.”
Chris Petersen concurs. "He's got really good instincts," Petersen said recently about Baker to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman. "He also has this great demeanor in how he prepares and practices. He just goes hard. He is always locked in. It's really impressive. He runs onto the field. He runs off the field. No BS. He doesn't take shots on his teammates. He's a good guy. He practices hard."
With all the talk about what constitutes an OKG in Petersen's system - Our Kinda Guy - Petersen would immediately point to Baker as the consummate OKG.
"He just fit us," said Petersen. "I think he fits our university and our program and the things we're all about. He fits us to a T."
So while his 2015 statistics - 49 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and seven pass breakups - are solid numbers, they aren't going to turn a lot of heads. But when you look at the accolades - 2015 All-Pac-12 First Team honors, as well as a ton of pre-season All-America mentions this summer from publications like Athlon, Phil Steele, the Sporting News, Lindy's, and others - it tells a big story for the undersized safety.
Baker's ethic is infectious, as is his ability to out-compete and lead by example. Those traits are the reason he's the unquestioned leader of a secondary rated by most pre-season magazines as one of the top groups in the country. It's a group that should have multiple NFL draftees next year, and Baker could be right there with them if he decides to leave early.
And I haven't even touched on the fact that Baker could become a true three-way threat for Petersen and the Huskies this fall. With the receiver position yearning for playmakers, Baker is certainly capable of impact cameos. And he can also be a factor in the return game for UW.
All of that means Baker is arguably the most important - and valuable - piece in Washington's push toward Pac-12 primacy. And when you're listed at No. 2 on a team of over 105 players, that subjective thought alone should speak volumes toward the perception of Budda's worth.
Much like the hometown heroes that have come before him, Budda Baker will finish his Washington career with a legacy UW fans won't forget for a very long time.