Blake Baker keeps it simple on the football field. He doesn’t try to be someone he’s not. The Lenoir-Rhyne defensive linemen simply sticks to the game plan and does his job.
“I just go out there and do what the coaches want me to do,” Baker said. “I play my role in the defense to the best of my ability. It’s worked out well and things have gone good for me so far this season.”
Baker is an integral part of the Bears’ defense. The senior star is coming off a year where he racked up 56 tackles and a single-season school-record of 14.5 sacks for a Bears team that marched all the way to the NCAA Division II national championship game. L-R fell 43-28 to Northwest Missouri State in the title game.
He enters this year with added attention as a preseason All-American. Baker doesn’t mind the extra attention, though, and credits his teammates for his success.
“It’s a tribute to my teammates,” Baker said. “They have helped put me in a position to be successful. It’s nice to be recognized. I don’t consider myself lucky. I feel like I’ve earned that recognition because of how hard I have worked.”
Baker has risen steadily during his career. As a freshman, he made only five tackles and did not record a sack, although he played in just five games. A year later, he came through with 16 tackles and two sacks.
But last season was his breakout year, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time as L-R secured its third consecutive South Atlantic Conference title and made an historic playoff run, reaching the D-II national final for the first time in program history. It played in the NAIA national title game three times, winning it all in 1960.
Baker was part of a defense that allowed just 17.9 points per game and only 317.5 yards per game.
It appears the Bears have picked up where they left off a year ago. They have allowed only 16 points in two games and Baker has come up with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Baker said one of the keys to L-R’s success through two games has been everyone believing in first-year head coach Ian Shields.
“He’s a great coach and everyone has bought into his system,” Baker said. “You can’t have success if you don’t. We lost some key players from last year, but we have enough talent back to make another run. The pieces are in place. We just have to go out and do our jobs each game.”
Baker is certainly ready to do his job after putting in the time and effort in the offseason to make himself a better player.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger and feel like I have also gotten quicker,” Baker said. “I worked hard and it feels like it’s all paying off.”
Baker would love to have another shot at a national championship, but he knows the focus has to be on each game as it comes. There is no time or room to look ahead.
Still, he hasn’t forgotten what it was like to fall short of a championship , especially after the Bears shook off a season-opening loss and won 13 consecutive games en route to the title game. He’s motivated to make up for it.
“It was tough to lose last year, but it was a great experience,” Baker said. “We have a good football team again and our goal every week is to go 1-0. If we do that, we’ll have a chance to accomplish our goals.”