One of the more heralded football recruits in recent memory to make their way to West Raleigh is certainly Toney Baker. The Jamestown, NC player was a consensus All-American, and it was the Army All-Star game on national television that Toney did the hat dance where he ultimately donned the red and white cap with a Block-S on it. At the time it felt natural that Baker would achieve all-star status and lead the Wolfpack program into a post-Philip-Rivers era of consistent bowls contention for conference championships.
It didn’t work out that way.
NC State football fell into a swoon. Chuck Amato was fired. And, Toney Baker suffered a devastating knee injury inthe first game of the 2007 season against Central Florida. Baker has since missed effectively two full seasons while undergoing two knee surgeries. Baker has remained in college throughout, done everything asked of him by his rehab trainers and by the Wolfpack staff. Today, all accounts from NC State indicate that Baker’s perspective that he is ready to go is accurate.
“The way I feel running now and the way I felt then is completely different. In my mind, I felt like it was time, but maybe it was just a little too early. But sitting out and waiting last season, I can really feel the difference.””
If Baker returns to form, he will share backfield duties with Jamelle Eugene, the versatile Wolfpack running back that was an after thought when he joined the program. Eugene is missing spring practice because of a shoulder injury, and as a result, Baker will get plenty of repetitions in the spring. He’s splitting time with redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes and true freshman James Washington III, the next generation of Wolfpack backs, leaving Baker as the “old man” on the squad — albeit a talented “old man” who is itching to get back to form and back on the sod of Carter-Finley Stadium carrying the ball for the Pack. He’s also excited to be playing with Russell Wilson, the talented NC State quarterback:
“It has changed a lot having him as quarterback,” Baker said. “There is somebody on defense who will have to account for Russell Wilson on every play, and that will open up the running game. The fact that he can throw the football will open it up even more.”
Analysis: If Baker comes back as healthy and strong as he was pre-injury, he will add a potent weapon to Dana Bible’s offense and provide some much-needed depth in the running back corps. Helping carry the load of running duties with Jamelle Eugene will keep both of them stronger during games and throughout the course of the season, and also allow Brandon Barnes to come in as a lightning-fast change of pace back that can break a game wide-open late. Fresh legs in the fourth quarter can mean victories, and having three strong backs will give you not only that, but will also help avoid a major dropoff should one of them be injured and miss some playing time. In short, a healthy and productive Baker can mean nothing but good things for a Wolfpack offense that is designed to control the clock and time of possession of the opposition.