For ex-Idaho running back James Baker, it’s not a question of if, but when. That question centers around his NFL future, which Baker expects to result in him participating in an NFL training camp this summer.
Baker, Idaho’s leading rusher in 2013, has been working out in Moscow since his collegiate career ended last December in preparation for draft weekend.
Baker represents Idaho’s most realistic chance at producing an NFL player from its 2014 graduating class.
“It’s kind of up in the air right now,” Baker said. “I believe Saturday I will get a phone call for sure. But I’m just ready for whatever. I’m just ready for the opportunity. Just going to camp, that’s really what I look forward to.”
Baker has gone through the typical process of an NFL prospect, including participating in the school’s pro day, taking visits and going through individual workouts with teams. Baker had a private workout with the Miami Dolphins in Moscow and has taken visits to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers. Numerous other teams have contacted him over the phone.
Baker credits his time with Idaho strength and conditioning coach Jacob Scharnhorst for his preparation for the draft.
“I can’t stress how much he’s helped me,” Baker said. “I’m thankful to have him as my strength and conditioning coach, because he’s helped me with a lot of things and always kept with me with a level head and told me to keep grinding, and he was always right there with me to keep work through everything.”
Baker’s numbers alone wouldn’t inspire much interest among prospective NFL teams. He only rushed for 593 yards on 4.1 yards-per-carry. Those numbers don’t tell the entire story of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound power back.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino is a fan of giving those who practice well the snaps when it comes to game day. Early in the season Petrino challenged Baker to step up and be that guy. It wasn’t until later in the season that Baker was able to wrestle the starting spot away from competitors Kris Olugbode and Jerrel Brown.
“Coach Petrino always preached to me to practice hard,” Baker said. “The way you practice is the way you play in a game. I just tried to come to practice everyday with the mindset to work hard and to get better everyday. Coach always told us that as a team.”
It’s that practice mentality that Baker said will help him when he gets into a training camp. As a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent Baker would have no guarantee of making a 53-man roster into the regular season. He’d have to follow in the footsteps of former Vandals Benson Mayowa and Justin Veltung, who were both able to accomplish that feat last season.
And if Baker doesn’t get drafted?
“(I have) to not let that deter me,” Baker said. “I will be in a camp, it’s just a matter of getting a call on draft day. So, the most important thing for me is to just understand, have to go in camp, compete, prove myself and just go all out, put it all on the line, that’s what’s most important for me. And that’s the easy process, getting the phone calls, to get the call this weekend.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com