On November 11, 2004 Wayne High School grad Jason Baker kicked off for the Indianapolis Colts. He kicked off exclusively while Colts kicker Mike Vandejagt nursed an injury. Baker was cut by Indianapolis one month later.
The next day Jason was picked up by the Denver Broncos. And he soon found himself playing against the Colts as the Denver Broncos' kicking specialist.
Jason Baker has a career as a professional football player. I caught up with Jason last week when he was home in Indiana. He has extensive experience as a holder but his primary job is a punter and kick-off specialist. He signed as an NFL rookie free agent four years ago. He goes on to tell me that he has never been unemployed. That credit goes to a strong leg, and his agent, Frank Murtha from Chicago, Illinois. "I may not be playing right now without Frank," says Baker. "He is an extension of my family—-he is a blessing. I had to choose from several agents, many of them well known. I prayed over it and Frank became the answer to my prayers."
Jason has learned from the NFL releases that it is not always a negative to be released. He has no control over how long he will be with a team—"It goes with the job—it goes with the game, unlike baseball and basketball contracts that have built-in guarantees, football players live on the edge." He told me that he doesn't like to see: "Jason Baker claimed off waivers," flashing across the CNN Sports screen, but, "It lets everyone out there know that I am available."
I asked him if the thin air at Mile High (Invesco Field) in Denver had any effect on the kicking game? He said, "It's is a minor variable. The weather and the wind have more effect than the thin air, but the biggest variable is the ball. The NFL rules committee decided to use a 'K' ball. It has a 'K' branded into the side of it and the ball is harder than the broken-in footballs. We also kick from a shorter tee and of course the placement is now on the 30-yard line instead of the 35. All these factors tend to make my job more difficult."
While growing up in Waynedale Jason attended Maplewood Elementary, Memorial Park Middle School, and Wayne High School. He worked at Hill's Meat Market and also caddied at Orchard Ridge Country Club. He played on an Elmhurst Little League team and coached Wildcat Baseball and is a parishoner of St. Therese Catholic Church.
Jason began playing football at Wayne High School under Coach Mark Newlin and Assistant Coach Dave Mohr. When asked who helped him acquire his skills as a kicker, Jason said that it was his punting coach, Dave Mohr, who he still keeps in contact with. Coach Mohr's advice to Jason was to get exposure and learn from his peers. Jason was a second-team All-Conference selection as a senior at Wayne, he handled kicking duties (39.0 yards per punt), played wide receiver and was the team captain in 1997. An all-around athlete, Baker also performed well at baseball during high school and college.
In college, at University of Iowa, while earning his bachelor's degree in business administration and entrepreneurship, he was the nation's top punter all four years. He set school records and ranked second in Big Ten history for punts and punting yards. Baker concluded his college career with 4 career punts of more than 69 yards.
In 2003 Jason was an integral part of the Kansas City Chiefs and was with the San Francisco 49ers from his rookie year of 2001 through most of the 2002 season. He appeared in two games for the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of 2002. Pro Football Weekly named him to its All-Rookie Team after he placed 21 of his 69 punts inside the 20-yard line. As a fourth year pro, in 2004, Baker was on the Indianapolis Colts' roster from November 11 – December 8 after Kansas City waived him in October.
Today working out 6 days a week is part of Jason's job. If he wants to continue to be good at what he does, he said he needs to work at it. He watches his diet and works out even when he is at home in Indiana. He has a house in Carmel, a personal physical therapist in Indianapolis, works out at the Indy Lifetime Fitness Center, and often is seen on Homestead's turf or Canterbury's grass field practicing. When asked what he missed most about Waynedale Jason said, "Bandidos!"
Jason's family lives on Legoma Drive in Waynedale. He is the son of Jeffrey Baker who retired from Zollner's and is currently working at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. His mom works for Water Furnace. Catie, his sister, is 21 years old and a graduate from Wayne High School.
I asked Jason who he thought would win this year's Super Bowl. Jason replied, "The New England Patriots are an AFC team and the Philadelphia Eagles are an NFC team. I play for AFC...definitely, New England."
And how does it feel to have a bunch of 250 pound linemen bearing down on you while you are trying to kick the ball? "It is really not a problem," he said. "I am totally focused on what I am about to do. If the center does his job, and gets me the ball then those guys never come into the picture. I don't even notice they are there."
Jason Baker, a gifted athlete from Waynedale, Indiana, in four years has achieved the benefits of a football pro. If you think about it, there are only 32 kicking jobs in the nation--in the NFL. Jason Baker has one of them.