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Jerome Baker Views Season as Blessing Compared to Expectations
By Tony Gerdeman
Sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker is surrounded by media following Ohio State's 30-27 controversy-free double-overtime win over Michigan.
Photo by Dan Harker

COLUMBUS — There was never any doubt that Jerome Baker could be an impact player for the Buckeyes this season, there was only doubt that he would ever get the opportunity.

Baker began the season as Ohio State's No. 4 linebacker, backing up Chris Worley at the Sam. When Dante Booker -- the team's starting Will linebacker -- went down in the season opener, Baker moved over and took over that starting role.

He quickly blossomed, returning an interception for a touchdown in week three at Oklahoma. He recorded seven tackles against the Sooners while announcing his presence to a national audience.

Not bad for a 19-year old kid from Cleveland who was supposed to be a backup this season.

But it didn't stop there. Baker notched 13 tackles in the overtime win at Wisconsin and finished the regular season with 15 tackles in the overtime win against Michigan.

Baker currently has 79 tackles -- which is second on the team, and 8.5 tackles for loss, which is also second on the team.

Interested in even more numbers? In Big Ten play, Baker has more tackles -- 65 to 43; more tackles for loss -- 7 to 5.5; more sacks -- 2 to 1; and more interceptions -- 2 to 1, than Heisman Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers.

And he was Ohio State's fourth-best option at linebacker to start the season.

When did his currently reality really start to hit him?

"I think it was the Oklahoma game when I got that interception," he said. "I remember standing on the sideline and the one thing about me, Raekwon, and Worley was I looked at them and I was like, 'Wait, I just caught an interception.' That was pretty good. Another one was Wisconsin. The fans were doing the lights with their phones or whatever. I looked at Raekwon and I was like, 'This is cool.' There’s been a few moments. I honestly just look at my teammates and I’m just like, 'This is pretty cool.'"

Pretty cool?

Baker didn't know what he was getting into when he was thrown into the mix early in the season, but each week he gathered more intel. He prepared more and watched more film. He needed to be ready because he was an integral part of the defense, and he took that responsibility seriously.

Amazingly -- or not, he saved his best performances for the biggest games. Chalk it up to the extra preparation, or credit Baker for being one of those players who steps up in big-time situations.

"I love the big games," Baker said. "The big games, there is something about that. It is more the competition. That is when the real competitors come out. You see who is really going to bring their game. When the big games come, I feel like that is when the big players are supposed to play."

It is an interesting -- and accurate -- outcome that Baker lumps himself in with the "big players" he references, but that was certainly not his expectation coming into this season. Not that he wasn't ever capable, it's just not what his role was going to be for this particular defense in this particular season.

"I didn't expect any of this honestly," he said. "It is really a blessing just to be here, doing what I love. The chance to show off my skills. Just a blessing."

What did he expect?

"Just to get Raekwon, Book and Worley, all the guys in the linebacker room better," he said. "That was my role. If I was needed anywhere on special teams, do it. That is all I was expecting, to help the team."

Well, in that sense, at least he met the expectations of helping the team, and then exceeded them by miles on top of miles.

And if somebody had told him a year ago that this was the season that he was going to have?

"I would probably laugh honestly," he said. "I am honestly happy and blessed. Very blessed."

Yeah, that sounds pretty cool, alright.

Player profiles relevant to story:
17 - Baker, Jerome
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