You remember that kid who, when all else failed during a game of pick up football, you would just tell to go long and bomb it to him? Well, junior Jesse Baker was that kid.
“In high school I was a straight runner,” he said. “ … I used to just be a deep ball receiver.”
Soon after arriving at Cornell, however, Baker realized he couldn’t crack the rotation with that mentality.
“I had to learn how to run better routes if I was going to be on the field,” he said.
So Baker did pretty much the only thing he could do — watch.
“It was just watching the older guys like Tony [Jackson ’07] and Pat Blakemore [’07] and getting a feel for what they were doing,” he said.
Baker’s footwork improved dramatically, as he learned how to run routes over the middle in addition to down the sidelines. One summer and one training camp later, Baker was the main deep threat for a Red offense that was stretching the field more and more. Hauling in 22 catches for 320 yards and a couple scores, Baker was second on the team in receptions and yards to classmate Zac Canty. Canty played T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Baker’s Chad Johnson — without the antics.
“We’re two completely different receivers with myself coming out of the slot and playing the intermediary slots,” Canty said. “Our whole core feeds off each other, though. There’s a lot of competition. Maybe Jesse will have some tips for me and I’ll have some for him …”
Baker was not satiated with his 2006 performance.
“I wanted to get faster and I was just trying to build strength,” he said. “I felt like last year I could compete on the field well, but if I had a few more pounds of muscle, I would have that edge.”
So Baker joined a 24-hour gym in his hometown of Platteville, Wisc. Wide receivers coach Guy Holliday had laid out a daily workout plan for each receiver that detailed footwork and lifting drills. Baker also reserved two days a week when he would go over to his alma mater, Platteville High School, and run sprints and shuttles. Now, Baker is ready to take over a collective leadership role for the receiving unit.
“When I first came in [my classmates and I] would sit in the media room and there would be silence,” he said. “There were people ahead of us, though, so we developed our games together. That really helps us on the field, I like to help out other receivers. We don’t have any seniors so we’re kind of a collective group of leaders.”