Nick Baker

Junios Smith | October 16th, 2017
Nick Baker (Photo by Kayla Shakib)

Nick Baker (Photo by Kayla Shakib)

For Nick Baker, it was all about what he could do to help Page excel. Baker started the 2016 season at quarterback for the Pirates, but decided to make the conversion to wide receiver for teammate and friend Will Jones.

“I knew Will Jones was playing in front of me,” Baker said. “I’ve been playing with him since the seventh grade and we were short at wide receiver, so I decided to make the switch. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be — I’ve got pretty good speed and it’s in my bloodline with my dad having played receiver at Greene Central (in Snow Hill.)”

Baker would make his impact felt, even though he wasn’t the primary target for Jones. While Ronald Polite racked up 1,389 receiving yards on 89 catches and 22 touchdowns, Baker was third on the team in receptions (23) and yards (403) while hauling in the second-most scores with five. Baker also had the best yards per catch on the team with 17.5, helping Page reach the NCHSAA 4A state championship.

This year, despite a new head coach in Jared Rolfes and a new quarterback in Javondre Paige, the Pirates have picked up where they left off from last year’s 14-2 campaign, going into their bye week 6-1. Baker has worked on becoming a better receiver and in the team’s first seven games, he leads Page in catches (20), receiving yards (288) and touchdowns (3).

“I came in this year with a little bit more understanding as far as breaking down defenses as a wide receiver,” Baker said. “I was pretty good with reading and finding open holes running routes, but after my first year playing wide receiver, I came in this year with a more solid foundation. It was about fine-tuning my route running ability.”

Baker said he credits Rolfes, along with former coach Kevin Gillespie, on helping him develop as a player.

“The transition with the new coach wasn’t as difficult,” Baker said. “He made a connection with us and he lets us have a little more fun in practice. Both coaches definitely cared about the bond with the players and they’ve helped me become stronger as a wide receiver.”

Although Baker and the Pirates have excelled at the midway point of the season, there have been some growing pains. After last year’s team averaged 41.9 points per contest, Page is down to 26.1. The defense has improved a bit, allowing 16.6 points in 2016 to 14.0 now, but while the Pirates only had one game within 10 points in 2016 — a 23-22 victory over Dudley — 2017 has seen four in the same manner, including the Pirates getting revenge in a 19-14 win on Aug. 31.

Baker said the Pirates’ three wins by six or less and four close games with teams holding a combined record of 20-9 as of Oct. 6 will prove to be beneficial in the long run.

“We just find a way to win,” Baker said. “Offensively, we’ve started slow but we keep fighting and never give up. Hats off to Davie, Eastern Guilford, Dudley and East Forsyth — we knew they were key games we had to win. The coaches and my teammates have stuck together through it all.”

For Baker, the perfect way to end his senior year would be a state championship. Page fell to Wake Forest 29-0 last year and 49-6 to Mallard Creek in 2015, still looking to pick up a title since winning it all with an undefeated 15-0 season in 2011. “The past couple of years, we made it to the state title game but came up short,” Baker said. “The No. 1 goal this year is to win it.”

On the personal level, Baker is trying to acquire a scholarship. Despite limited time at wide receiver, Baker has picked up some interest. “For me, I want to be able to execute to help the team out while also being able to play college football somewhere,” Baker said. “I know I just started playing wide receiver as a junior, so hopefully with a lot of hard work I can get an offer.”

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