IOWA CITY, Ia. — News traveled fast last Friday that Iowa had offered Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson 2019 athlete Cameron Baker. The Omaha World-Herald’s Kevin White tweeted out the info, and Baker soon followed with a Twitter announcement of his own.
Earlier that day, though, before extending the offer, Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan called Baker’s high school coach, Brant Anderson. He needed to make sure of something.
"(Morgan) asked me," Anderson told HawkCentral Wednesday, "'I’m pretty sure we’re the first team that’s going to offer him, is that right?' And I said, 'Yeah, you are.'"
Music to Morgan’s ears.
Obviously, one of Iowa’s biggest recruiting goals is to dominate its home state year in and year out. And what’s a great way to ensure that with top-tier talent? Evaluate talent early. Offer early. Demonstrate loyalty early. Everything early.
That’s a good idea with Baker, who almost certainly won’t end his recruitment with only an Iowa offer. The Hawkeyes first contacted him as a sophomore and stayed in contact since. Morgan and Kirk Ferentz came to watch his Week 8 game against Lewis Central this year.
Iowa State has also been in regular contact since Baker's sophomore year; he's been to Ames "five or six times." Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas State and Wyoming have also all come to Council Bluffs to talk to Anderson about Baker.
He’s a 6-foot-2, 210-pound freight train who dominates at running back and inside/outside linebacker. He piled up 1,852 rushing yards (second in Class 4A behind a kid who played four more games) on 9.4 yards per carry this year, and he led his team with 44.5 tackles at inside linebacker. In his sophomore year, Baker rushed for 1,255 yards (9.2 per carry) and added 37.5 tackles at outside linebacker.
But here’s the scary part: Baker didn’t play either of those seasons fully healthy. Last Wednesday, he had surgery on a torn right labrum that had hindered him both years. And he had offseason surgery to clean up a meniscus issue after his sophomore campaign.
"It’s pretty painful," Baker joked about rushing for 1,852 yards with a torn muscle. "They tried giving me a brace to wear but I’m stubborn, so I could not wear that brace. It irritated me, so I just ditched it and played through the pain."
Added Anderson: "Unless he physically can’t, he’s not going to say, 'Oh my shoulder hurts, can I get out the next series?' I don't think that even enters his mind, he’s not that kind of a player."
Iowa’s coach says that practices have been good leading up to Friday’s game at Nebraska. Chad Leistikow/The Register
An apparent immunity to pain isn't the only reason Bakers is an intriguing 2019 target. His size and style of play translate to several different positions at the next level. He’s a bulldozer, north-south runner who could fit in a pro scheme like Iowa’s or Wyoming’s. His power and sideline-to-sideline speed are building blocks for success at any linebacker position. Anderson says he's the team’s best blocker, too, so fullback isn’t out of the question.
Wyoming has specifically mentioned Baker as a potential running back, Anderson said.
What about the Hawkeyes?
"They’ve been more in the mindset of, 'We’ll get him on campus and we’ll figure it out once he gets here,'" Anderson said. "'But we have no doubt he can play for us at one spot or another.'"
And Baker's other suitors?
"I’m hearing mostly a lot of outside linebacker or defensive end comments," Anderson said.
Baker is a bit tall for the prototype Division I running back, so it's more likely he winds up on the defensive side of the ball. Anderson said that’s where Baker showed the most improvement from his sophomore to junior years.
"He got more disciplined," Anderson said. "When you’re a kid with his kind of talent, playing through youth and middle school football, it’s, 'OK, Cameron you line up here and then go tackle the guy.' Not nearly as much thought as what’s your responsibility? What’s your gap? When they do this what do you do? When they do that what do you do?"
Up next for Baker is recovery and rehab from his labrum surgery. He said he’ll be in a sling for 6-8 weeks, but he already began rehab two days after the surgery. He won’t wrestle this winter, and it’s questionable if he’ll be able to throw discus this spring.
Then, once fully healthy, Baker plans to tour the summer camp circuit. Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska for sure, he said. He grew up a Huskers fan and will be paying close attention when Iowa travels to Lincoln this Friday.
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.