HARRISBURG — Harrisburg High School's Jeffery Baker could tell the crowd liked his performance on the football field Monday.
"They were going nuts," he said.
Indeed they were, particularly because Baker was playing with a wrapped arm.
Baker starred on defense for the Bulldogs in their 26-0 junior varsity win against Westran. The win improved Harrisburg to 4-3 on the season. This was Baker's first start of the year and really the first time he'd seen any playing time, having been injured prior to the season. He played with a "club" over a removable cast but playing with it didn't slow him down.
Baker's first tackle came in the first quarter and sparked his play for the rest of the evening. He pursued the running back from the opposite side of the field, dragging him down before he got a first down. The crowd, seeing Baker's "club" — a covering that fits over a cast, completely covering the hand — issued a thunderous applause.
And they kept clapping for Baker throughout the evening.
The freshman capitalized on his playing time, racking up 4 1/2 tackles, three of them for a loss, and two sacks. Lining up as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker on most plays, Baker used his small size and speed to his advantage. The quarterback must have gotten tired of seeing Baker get around the outside of his blocker, bearing down on him.
Harrisburg coach Travis Kinkade said he admired Baker's effort. He also knows what it's like to play with a hurt arm — Kinkade played seven high school games at Centralia with a club over his arm. He said it wasn't "too bad", but you must have a quicker first step because you only have one hand "to grab on with."
"Jeffery was a kid we were excited about at the beginning of the year," Kinkade said. "The second day of practice, he fell and broke his arm in three places, so he was put in a cast and restricted from football. He got his cast off a week ago. ... He was cleared Friday. He went hard and tackled well and he played with great effort, and that's good to see."
Lisa Baker, Baker's mother, was in the stands watching him play. She said she was nervous to watch him play because he'd just gotten his cast off. Lisa Baker said her son was "the first injury in Harrisburg High School football," and she was glad to see him finally get on the field.
"He's always been a go-getter and doesn't quit — he's a pretty good kid," she said.
Lisa Baker said the doctor was doubtful that Jeffery would play at all this season, but she said he "begged the doctor to let him play." Apparently, Jeffery Baker is just as persistent off the field as he is on the gridiron.
Jeffery Baker said it felt "awesome" to be able to play.
"Just to be out here with the team and actually a part of it again is great," he said.
He played with reckless abandon Monday. He'd been "holding it back all year," he said, adding that he "wanted to show coach what I could do."
He showed his coach all right. And his doctor, too.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.