The Mountain Lakes football way is that seniors play.
It’s just a way of life. At Mountain Lakes, they take pride in being a true program, with the underclassmen moving their way up the charts, then taking the field as a senior.
As a junior last year, Baker understood that it wasn’t his turn to play quarterback for the traditionally strong Herd, that it was Brad Smith’s team to run. Baker had to bide his time.
But midway through the 2014 season and with the Herd owning an impressive winning streak, Smith went down with a knee injury. Up sprung Baker. It was suddenly his time.
“Playing behind Brad, I learned a lot,” Baker said. “I felt prepared coming in.”
Baker started five games last year for the Herd, including the first-round NJSIAA North 2 Group II playoff against Caldwell. He won all five.
“It was definitely a big confidence boost for me,” Baker said.
When Smith was healthy enough to return to action, Baker stepped aside and let the senior Smith reclaim his starting role.
“He deserved it,” Baker said. “It was his team.”
Baker was on the sidelines when the Herd defeated Lincoln of Jersey City, 36-28, in MetLife Stadium for the North 2 Group II title, pushing Mountain Lakes’ winning streak to a state-best 24 straight games.
Smith has now graduated. It’s Baker’s turn again — and this time, he’s the senior.
“Baker is a true quarterback and can do things in our offense as a quarterback,” Fusco said. “He’s run our offense well. He’s going to be very good. I think he could really be a special quarterback for us. He’s a kid with a lot of savvy. He’s also extremely smart. … He has a special presence about him. He’s a competitor. That special presence makes a difference.”
With a 4.3 grade point average and a 32 on the ACT, Baker is drawing attention from some Ivy League schools, as well as Middlebury and Wesleyan. He hopes to play football in college.
Baker doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of his father, Greg Baker, the head golf pro at Rockaway River Country Club.
“Dad was a quarterback during his day as a football player in Massachusetts and he’s definitely helped me a lot,” Baker said. “He instilled a lot in me. I get a lot from him. But golf’s not for me. I don’t play that much. I can barely play nine (holes). There’s too much standing around for me. It gets boring.”
Griffin Baker has to be a mentor for another aspiring Herd quarterback: his younger brother Jack, a freshman.
“I got a little taste last year and now I’m ready,” Baker said. “I’ve worked hard in the offseason to get ready. I think I’ve got it down now. I definitely feel that as a senior and as a captain, I have to assume a certain leadership on this team, especially being the quarterback. We have others who are also capable, but I feel like I have to.”