May 28, 2013

What does Baker prefer?

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No one has learned that the human body heals with time more than Marist defensive lineman Kendall Baker.

Baker sustained a torn ACL in his sophomore season for the War Eagles, and as is the case with most injuries to that ligament, he was sidelined for several months afterward.

In his junior season, Baker played major snaps for Marist, but could feel the effects of not being able to work as hard as he would have liked in the off-season between his sophomore and junior campaigns.

Now, as a rising senior, all of that has changed for the Rivals250 standout.

He went through Rising Seniors week without a hiccup, had a strong showing at the Rivals Camp Series event in Atlanta, and went through his team's entire spring practice with no issues.

That is good news for Marist and the schools recruiting Baker, and bad news for opponents as the 6-foot-6, 297 pounder just continues to get better.

"It was a total 360 this spring for me. My coaches even sat back and said, 'Mn, he has been doing his thing in the weight room. He has been doing what he is supposed to be doing out there and getting himself ready and preparing for the season,'" Baker said. "All of that coming off a season where I didn't really get hurt or banged up too bad after the ACL injury the year before. That helped a lot. I've got a whole summer to train this year. I have a whole off-season to train, so I feel like we can turn some heads at Marist this year. I had to sit out a lot more last off-season because of my knee, but now it is fully healed and I can get back to training hard and working hard."

Getting back to full strength isn't the only thing Baker has been up to this spring. He says that he is also starting to inch closer to figuring out where he wants to play his college ball.

"As of right now, Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, Clemson, and Alabama all seem to be moving up a little bit," he said. "Georgia is still up there at No. 1. Florida State, Clemson, and Alabama are still out there. I guess I need to see those places more and visit. I'm not saying all of that is final or anything, but when it comes to a decision, we are getting there. We are making progress. I feel like I know more about what I want to do, where I want to be, who I want to be with and stuff like that."

Baker named Georgia his leader after a visit to Athens this spring, but what has allowed the Bulldogs to hold on to that top spot?

"Georgia is the leader because they are closer to home and people around here, that I've grown up with, can see me play," Baker said. "I'll be able to see my family a lot more and it is just home. It's the home state. I've been here all my life. I really like the coaching staff and what they are doing up there. They had a really good season last year with the SEC East championship and lost by only one play or one drive in the SEC Championship. It seems like they are coming up and the recruiting class in 2014 looks good. I know couple of those guys well already with Jeb (Blazevich) and Sony (Michel), and I've known those guys for a long time."

With Blazevich and Michel committed, Georgia already has two players in the fold with which Baker is very familiar, and another of his friends, Elisha Shaw, is also being recruited heavily by the Bulldogs.

Playing with prospects Baker considers friends at the next level is something that he admits is quite appealing.

"Team chemistry is big for me. I've played with those guys (Blazevich and Michel). I've played with Elisha already," he said. "If we all end up at the same school that would be more team chemistry we would have. We already know each other. We already know each other's habits. The chemistry would be up and we would already have a jump on things."

While UGA has grabbed and held on to the lead for the four-star prospect, one of the Bulldogs' SEC West rivals is also heavily in the picture for Baker's services.

"I like the program at Auburn and the tradition over there," Baker said. "Coach (Rodney) Garner is a good guy and a really cool guy." I've liked him since he was at Georgia. He is a good recruiter. Coach Gus (Malzahn) is really cool. He seems like he has a handle on things over at Auburn. He was there when they won that national championship, so maybe they can have a good turn around season this year."

A number of evaluators feel that while Baker has all the tools to be a big-time defensive lineman in college, he has the ability to flip and be a great offensive lineman as well.

But is Baker ready to do the blocking rather than beat blocks at the next level?

His answer might surprise some.

"I prefer to play defense because I've been playing it my whole life and in high school. I've been playing it all the time, but I'm not shying away from offense at all," he said. "If I can play there and help my team, I will do it. I just want to be on the field helping my team. If they need me on offense, I'll play offense. If they need me on defense, I'll play defense. I believe it when people say I could be a great tackle. I don't get offended. I just say, 'Okay, that sounds good. If you want me there, try me there.' I'm not going to shy away from it."

Creating a schedule for visits and camps this summer is something Baker hasn't gotten to quite yet, but he does feel as if there is one significant event that will occur before his senior year begins.
"A decision, right now, is something I'm shooting for this summer before the season starts so I don't have to worry about all that during the season," Baker said. "But if I don't find that place before the season starts where I feel comfortable, I don't mind waiting. There really is no set date, but I believe it is going to happen this summer.

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