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Bosco’s Corner: NY Jets take Queens native in 3rd round

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Chris Baker is coming home. The senior out of Michigan State University, who was selected in the third round by the New York Jets in this past weekend’s NFL Draft, spent his formative years right here in Queens before he ever picked up a pigskin.

The towering 6-foot-3-inch, 258-pound tight end focused on basketball while living in St. Albans, where his older brother Anthony still lives. It was only after his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Saline, a small town just outside of Ann Arbor, Mich. that Baker first considered pursuing football seriously.

He never went out for football at Campus Magnet (then Andrew Jackson) or Springfield Gardens high schools, the two schools he attended before heading out west.

“Everybody played basketball [when I was growing up],” Baker said. “When I moved out to Michigan, I just wanted to start over. I talked to a few guys who said I should [go out for the football team]. I thought I’d try it.”

Though he got hurt in his very first scrimmage, Baker rebounded nicely. When his senior year rolled around and after several impressive performances at a couple of camps, Baker became one of the most sought-after receivers in the state.

“They saw I had potential to play,” he said.

But the move to Michigan changed a lot more than his sport of choice. Admittedly less than a scholar in the classroom in high school, Baker turned his academic career around as well, making the hulking teenager a blue-chip prospect in the eyes of many major Division I collegiate programs.

“I left and I wasn’t doing so well in school and then I came out here and started over,” Baker said. “Football just kind of took over.”

Instead of going to nearby University of Michigan, Baker chose to play with the Spartans of Michigan State. While never the go-to guy on offense during his four years in green and white, he still managed to put up some very respectable numbers.

His 133 career receptions rank him first among tight ends in the school’s storied history and fourth among all receivers. He started 47 consecutive games for MSU, at one point rolling off 24 consecutive games with at least one catch. His 1,705 yards in 11th all-time and his 13 touchdowns put him at ninth on the school’s career list.

This past season he was third on the team in receptions with 40, compiling 548 yards for an average of 13.7 yards per catch. He also hauled in four touchdowns, including scores against Penn State, Notre Dame and Central Michigan. He had a career-high 99-yards against Northwestern and a season-high seven catches against the Nitany Lions.

Baker red-shirted his freshman year at the school, but used all four years of his eligibility, despite being considered among the nation’s top tight ends entering his junior season. As a freshman he had 22 catches, followed by 38 in his sophomore season and 33 in his junior year.

“I was never the focal point at Michigan State,” he said. “When I got my chance to get the ball, I was able to make plays with it.”

Returning to the New York area to start his professional career has been a dream for Baker, who grew up a Jets and Giants fan, something he carried with him to Michigan.

“It’s the best scenario for me,” said Baker, whose father, a retired New York City police officer, lives in the Bronx. “It’s crazy. To come back on top of the world is a great feeling. It’s the perfect opportunity for me.”

His devotion, particularly to the Jets, was evident when speaking with him Monday from his apartment in East Lansing.

“I’ve been a big Jets and Giants fan growing up,” Baker said. “I know about the frustration.”

In coming to New York, Baker finds himself having to earn a spot on the team, most likely backing up friend Anthony Becht, who the Jets drafted in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Becht and Baker share the same agent and Baker says he knows the Jets’ starter “pretty well” already, something that can only help him come camp time.

As for the team Baker is about to join, the Jets are coming off a season which culminated with a first-round playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders under first-year coach Herm Edwards.

Where Baker will fit in remains to be seen, but Becht has yet to emerge as a star at the position, despite showing some improvement in his sophomore season after an unimpressive rookie campaign. The tight end position has not been a focus of the Jets offense, which is centered around running back Curtis Martin, but Baker hopes with his addition that both he and Becht can be an added threat to an already multi-dimensional offense.

“It’s kind of a similar situation [as Michigan State],” Baker said. “Hopefully, I can provide a threat for them.”

As for what he expects from the team as a whole, Baker is enthusiastic that the Jets will soar in 2002. And he hopes to be an integral part of the team’s success.

“It’s definitely a team on the rise,” he said. “Hopefully, I can help take them to the next level.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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