Prior to the start of the 2012 season, senior cornerback George Baker told members of the media he was ready to go out and make plays for (his) team.
Theres a good chance even Baker had no idea how true those words would ring.
The fifth-year senior from Miami had two career starts before the Bulls announced him as the starter beside star cornerback Kayvon Webster, and he has responded with strong play. His performance against Rutgers, which included four pass breakups and four tackles, grabbed the attention of another member of the USF football teams defensive backfield.
Before the game, the coach told us that their coach had an interview and said that theyd be throwing at George, junior safety Mark Joyce said. I think he stood up and took that as a challenge. All the (defensive backs) were proud of him he responded when they tested him and he had a great game.
Through three games, Baker led the team with four pass breakups and nearly got the teams first interception of the season when he broke up a pass intended for Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman his opponent for most of the night.
At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, the junior Coleman who was named a preseason All-Big East selection after averaging 32.5 yards in 2011 had an seven-inch and 40-pound advantage over Baker, but he was limited to two catches for 29 yards.
Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh complimented Baker for ignoring the size difference and preventing a big game from the Scarlet Knight star.
I think George responded well this last game, Cosh said. I was worried about their height, they tried to stretch the field all game, but (Baker) pinned a guy really well into the sideline, played the ball at its highest point and knocked it out of his hands at one point. Im happy with what I saw from him.
USF coach Skip Holtz said Baker earned high honors for his performance, and that it was important for Baker to prove that he deserved the starting role.
George Baker was our defensive player of the game, he said. I thought he played an outstanding game, for a guy who has played a limited role a really spotty role to step up against big receivers. They went at him a few times and I thought he responded well.
Baker said coming into the season and earning the starting role can be attributed to hard work between the lines and in the meeting rooms.
I went in every day and got better at something, whether it was my footwork, my man technique or whether it was zone technique, he said.
Everything (defensive backs coach Rick) Smith told me in the meeting room, I went out and transferred it onto the field.
Joyce said he could tell Baker was focused and hungry for the starting role, even though his personality did
It was a little in the air over the summer, as far as the starting corner job is concerned, he said. But George really got better over the summer, he focused and he took that starting job. Hes a chill guy, so his
demeanor never changed, but he just took the job.
With the high-powered offense of Ball State on the horizon an offense that is 14th in the nation with 262.3 rushing yards and an average of 35 points per game the Bulls will need their defense, including the senior corner, who said his latest performance just added to his confidence level.
Having a game like that definitely helped me out with my confidence even more, he said. I plan to continue to build off that and just go from there.
Holtz said Bakers presence in the starting lineup is a reflection of hard work and patience.
Its a story of a kid whos waited his turn, Holtz said. Hes a fifth-year senior, and all of a sudden, in his last year, he steps up and takes the role, and its been a good start so far.