VANCOUVER — The UBC Thunderbirds are bringing B.C. high school football’s touchdown maker to the Point Grey campus.
And ‘Birds head coach Blake Nill is not holding back his optimism for the future of Windsor Dukes’ superstar senior Ryan Baker.
“To me, Ryan Baker is as close to a can’t-miss prospect as you can have when you look at the discipline he’s carried throughout his career,” Nill told Varsity Letters on Monday afternoon. “He’s a high-achieving academic kid. He is a team guy. He’s a two-sport guy who is also a high-end baseball player and I think once he gets into a structured strength-and-conditioning program, the sky is the limit for him.”
And that ceiling, according to Nill, will be put to the test at the quarterback position.
“I think when you look at this kid, he has above-average throwing technique,” began Nill of Baker, a throwback do-it-all type who starred at the pivot but could have been groomed at multiple positions on either side of the ball. “He has such leadership ability and he was the MVP of the province on a team that may have been the best AA team in B.C. high school history. The kid deserves a chance to become an elite athlete at the position and he wants to compete as a quarterback.”
On a Windsor team which was filled with offensive weapons, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Baker was as effective running the ball himself as he was throwing it to his cadre of versatile receivers.
Yet on a Dukes’ squad which went undefeated en route to winning Subway Bowl last December at B.C. Place, he was just as noticeable as a hard-hitting presence in the heart of the North Vancouver school’s defence as its starting middle linebacker.
Sometimes the best laid plans don’t come to fruition, and there will always certainly be the opportunity for Baker to make his presence felt on the other side of the ball or at other positions on offence.
Yet judging by Baker’s want to bark out the signals and Nill’s willingness to let him develop at the position behind blue-chip starter Michael O’Connor, who has as many as two more seasons of eligibility remaining, it’s the start of Nill’s refortification of a position which has been A-plus solid since the day he arrived.
It’s not a stretch to say that Baker is the best B.C high school quarterback to join the program in exactly a decade, since Hec Crighton award winner Billy Greene picked the ‘Birds out of Surrey’s Holy Cross Regional and arrived in time for the start of the 2008 season.
If memory serves, Greene led Holy Cross to a perfect season in 2007 with a AAA Subway Bowl title before joining the ‘Birds.
“Ryan Baker reminds me a lot of a young Andrew Buckley,” said Nill of the pivot he rode to success during his previous reign as Calgary Dinos’ head coach. “Ryan is bigger than Andrew was, and he is maybe at a higher level than Andrew was back then when he first came out. But Andrew was given the opportunity to work hard during the early stages of his career and when he got his chance he made the most of it. I hope Ryan Baker comes in and makes the most of it.”
Of course that’s not to say the quarterback room can’t get a little more crowded the days leading up to the start of spring camp at UBC. Competition is a good thing.
Yet Baker was simply stunning over his Grade 12 season at Windsor. In the championship game, a 44-29 win over Abbotsford, he rushed for majors of six, 33 and 51 yards, while throwing touchdown strikes of 68 and 57 yards.
Of course UBC’s season came to gut-wrenching close last November when the Calgary Dinos kicked a 59-yard field goal on the game’s final play for a walk-off 44-43 win in the Canada West championship final Hardy Cup.
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