Ivy League, here he comes. It’s a destination JT Baker first pledged for his choice of college one day. Cornell, a school in upstate New York, is where he will continue his academic and athletic experience this fall.
Baker formally signed his letter of intent to play football February 1, National Signing Day, in front of family, friends, teachers, coaches and well-wishers in the packed study hall at DeLaSalle High School, which is located on the northeast edge of downtown Minneapolis.
Wearing a red sport coat — Cornell’s colors — Baker thanked everyone. “It means a lot that all of you came to support me, and supported me over the years,” stated the young man.
“I’m so very proud that he had stayed committed to his goal,” says his jubilant mother Alice Baker. She and her husband James own and operate a Northside eatery, where their son works on weekends. “When he was little, he told us that he wanted to go to the Ivy League and he wanted to play football,” she added.
“He turned Harvard and Princeton down to go to Cornell,” added his father James Baker.
The young Baker told the MSR, “I appreciate everyone in my life — God, my mom and dad. I really appreciate Coach CJ Hallman. He was one of the first coaches who really believed in me.”
“I was the head JV coach in his sophomore year,” recalled Hallman, now the school’s head football coach. “JT came and sat down in my office, and we were talking about his goals and what he wanted to do. He was a lot more focused on basketball at that time. If his goal was to go to college and play a sport, [I suggested] football might be the best sport for him to focus on.”
“His off-the-field stuff made them really want to understand what he could do on the field. He was able to show them as a 17-year-old that he was willing to do what [it took],” noted Hallman, who added that Baker also flipped the recruiting script. “He was interviewing [college recruiters] as they were interviewing him on what would be the best fit for him,” said the head coach.
Baker will play defensive back at Cornell. “He has worked real hard to put himself in the position to be recruited,” said his high school coach. I’m very proud of him as a head coach, a mentor, and one who got to see it from the start as a ninth-grader all the way to 12th grade, leading the team and doing the best he could do.”
His future plans include applying his hospitality degree in helping his folk run their restaurant. “His dream is to come back and open a hotel,” said Alice Baker of her son, who has a 3.7 GPA. “We are going to do what we can to help him get that hotel.”
“We will miss who he is and what he brings to the team,” stated Hallman. “He’s been able to solidify his place… It is a sense of pride. I hope [the Baker signing] is the first of many here to produce student-athletes who can do it in the classroom as well as do it on the field, and get the opportunity to sign on National Signing Day.”
Concluded Baker: “I have been waiting for this day for a long time. I am ready for the next step. I feel I have been prepared.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com