By Michael Kinney, Contributing Writer
For Phillip Baker, 2017 has the potential to be a special season.
After playing in the shadows of other Mustang tight ends most of his career, he has a chance to break out and be an integral player for the Broncos on the gridiron.
However, Baker isn’t looking at it that way. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound senior is keeping it simple as he heads into his final season.
“I just expect improvement. I mean, that’s all any athlete can ask of anything they doing, whether it be in the classroom or on the field, just improvement,” Baker said. “Everyone can get better, no matter if you’re amateur, high schooler like me or a professional. Always improvement.”
While Baker wouldn’t gush over how important he can be to the Broncos this year, his coach has no problem expounding on Baker’s potential
“It’s going to be a break-out year for him, he’s kind of unknown,” coach Jeremy Dombeck said. “We had a really good talented tight end last year in Ashton Jones, who’s up at NEO. But Phil played a lot for us. We consider him a returning starter, but he’ll be more involved, actually, other than blocking. He runs good routes, got great hands, so I expect him to have a big year for us.”
With Mustang looking to open up its passing offense this year, Baker is a likely candidate to be a focal point. Combined with his size, he has run and has good hands. That makes him potentially a matchup nightmare.
“I do feel like a focal point in our passing game,” Baker said. “I was just like in basketball, working inside out, you have me, big guy as a slot receiver or inside receiver working our way out to our deep balls in the fade. So I do feel like I’ll go up and post up on a linebacker, again, just like basketball, someone who’s smaller, that’s a good short yard pickup, especially on a third down and short situation.”
Baker credits much of consistent improvement from year to year in football to the work he puts in during other athletic endeavors.
Besides football, Baker also competes in basketball and tennis for the Broncos. It’s a rare combination for any athlete.
“We encourage our kids to do multiple sports. I think it helps for injury prevention, so you’re not doing the same thing year-round, it helps develop other skills, hand-eye coordination, footwork, running on different surfaces, all those things,” Dombeck said. “He’s one of our better tennis players at our school here. And it shows. He’s just an all-around great athlete and it helps Mustang athletics in multiple ways. He’s a recruitable kid, that’s for sure. So I think it’ll be a breakout year for him, football-wise. I think he’ll get a lot of attention.”
According to Baker, basketball has helped him learn to post up defenders and make himself a bigger target for his quarterback. From tennis, it’s his footwork that has improved the most.
“Definitely with footwork and hand-eye coordination,” Baker said. “Especially as a sniffer back in our blocking schemes, because we are a run heavy team, so I’ve got to clear the way for our running back to get into the end zone.”
Dombeck wasn’t sure, but he believes Baker is the only three-sport male athlete at Mustang. But what something Baker is sure about is that he is one of the few, if any, Native Americans involved in sports. That is something he wants to see change.
“That’s got to be one of my biggest dreams in life, to be able to be someone’s role model to look up to,” Baker said. “If it’s a Native American young person, then that’s all the better.”