Blountstown (Fla.) wide receiver Jon Lockhart said all the notoriety and all the recruiting calls from some of the country's top college football coaches has not changed Ryan Baker's personality.
Lockhart should know. He and Baker have been friends since second grade.
"He's just one of the boys," said Lockhart, a Georgia Tech commit. "He's not bragging about all the attention. It hasn't changed him at all. He never talks to us about the recruiting. We learn from other people. He's happy about it, but he doesn't want to boast and brag about it to us."
Quarterback Cory Cox said when he transferred to Blountstown in 10th grade he immediately gravitated toward Baker. Cox does not know why he and Baker became such fast friends. They were in the same grade and on the football team, sure, but there was also an unexplainable bond.
"It's like we always knew each other," Cox said.
Baker, an LSU commit, has that effect on people. He likes to joke. He has an easy way about him. People who know Baker best say he is a likeable kid who does not get caught up in all the recruiting hype. When it comes to playing football, it is all business - and that is one reason why Baker has become one of the nation's top prospects.
Rivals.com released its new recruiting rankings Tuesday. Baker was formerly rated the 15th best outside linebacker nationally, the No. 77 prospect in the Florida top 100 and No. 241 overall. Now he has climbed all the way to No. 65 in the country.
Blountstown coach Greg Jordan moved Baker from outside linebacker to the middle this season, mainly so teams could not run away from him. Through five games, the switch has worked. Baker (6 feet, 215 pounds) averages about 15 tackles per contest. He also plays fullback and has about 300 rushing yards and one touchdown on 48 carries. Blountstown is 2-3.
"He's getting bigger, he's getting stronger, he's getting faster and with the instincts he has, he is already a great football player," Jordan said. "Coaches at LSU compare him to (senior linebacker Ali) Highsmith. Everybody is trying to double team him on every snap. They can probably scheme against him, but he's going to get his. It doesn't matter if he's double- or triple-teamed. If I played him at outside linebacker they'd run away from him. It's hard to get away from him."
Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every scouted Baker and other Division I-A prospects when he attended the Blountstown-Wakulla game on Sept. 28. Wakulla's best player is linebacker Nigel Bradham, rated as the No. 1 linebacker nationally by Rivals.com.
Baker and Bradham have different playing styles – Bradham is a pure, hard-nosed middle linebacker and Baker is a more agile outside linebacker. Every said he was impressed with Baker's speed and tackling ability.
"He puts his facemask in their chest right when he hits them," Every said. "He runs through you when he tackles you. He's not an arm tackler. He can catch the quarterback from the back side. I was really shocked the other Florida schools haven't offered him.
"Jordan said Florida seemed to be the only other one who is remotely interested right now. LSU did a really good job with him. My whole comment on that was LSU is nothing to sneeze at. They're not any lesser than Florida or Florida State or Miami. They're at the same level or better."
Jordan is not shocked when people describe Baker as surprisingly powerful. The Blountstown coach has known that for a long time. Baker is a member of the weightlifting team and took fourth place at the state qualifier last season in the clean and jerk with a lift of 335 pounds. At that event, Baker bench-pressed 385 pounds. His max is 410 pounds.
"He's a friendly kid, he likes to smile and joke around and play around a lot," Jordan said. "He loves football. He loves to be in the weight room and watch film. He had a hip flexor and a groin pull and a bum knee (against Wakulla) and played through all that stuff. He loves to be around the game."
Baker has been a staple at Blountstown since his freshman season when he was moved up to the varsity to play in the state championship game, a 42-38 loss to Fort Meade at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Baker was the backup strong-side linebacker. He stepped in whenever starter Chance Attaway, now a sophomore defensive back at Florida International, needed a breather.
Jordan said Baker was in the 170-pound range as a freshman. Despite being undersized, Baker remembers making a tackle and getting a sack. And not being intimidated at all.
"I was 14 or 15 (years old) going up against Fort Meade, but I wasn't scared," Baker said. "Especially at linebacker, you have to go out there and get after it. If you don't, they're going to get you. You have to have a no fear mentality in your heart. … My freshman year it was all about getting to the ball before they got started because I was kind of light. Now, I'm bringing the thunder with me."
Said Jordan: "We don't like to play ninth-graders on our level, but he's an exception to the rule. He is a tremendous playmaker, covers from sideline to sideline and is a great, great tackler. He's just a good football player. He has those intangibles you can't coach. He's got lateral movement. He's got (good) feet. People try to block him and he makes plays. He's probably the best one I've ever coached."
Recruiting has not died down since Baker committed to LSU on July 30. He said Florida is the most active school still recruiting him other than the Tigers. Alabama and Clemson have also upped the interest. Ole Miss, South Florida, Auburn and Arkansas are some others that have reportedly offered. Baker said he's 100 percent committed to LSU, but he might attend a Florida game to check out the Gators.
"LSU is like every team recruiting me," Baker said. "They like my speed and athleticism. They think I can come in and play immediately. I don't want to be a bench warmer. It's still going kind of crazy. The Gators are still (recruiting me) and Clemson and Alabama. I'm cool with it. They're just showing they want me at their school. It's helping my game knowing the coaches are out there watching me."
Despite all the attention, Baker is one of the boys. That's one reason why he's so liked by his teammates.
"He loves football," Cox said. "He's definitely focused on his goal of playing college football. He leads by example by what he does on the field. He's very important to our team.
"He comes over a lot and we hang out and play some Xbox. We hang out all the time. He's a really funny person and a good friend, but when it comes to football he's very serious."