ATHENS – By this time, most people in Kendall Baker’s position would have been long gone from the Georgia football team. Fourth year on campus, and within a year of graduating, but zero starts to show for it, and a slew of highly touted recruits on campus.
Something inside Baker told him to stick it out. Make one last push. And lo and behold …
“Honestly it’s a dream come true, because being in this situation, not a lot of people get this opportunity,” Baker said. “I’m just trying to embrace the moment, do everything I can, and just take it all in.”
Baker will start his fourth straight game at left guard for No. 7 Georgia when it visits Tennessee on Saturday. The Bulldogs offensive line is improved, coming off a great performance in a 31-3 victory over Mississippi State, and Baker was a huge part of it.
Not many would have predicted it. Georgia loaded up on highly sought offensive linemen this year, but a starting spot was snatched up by a 3-star recruit from 2014 who had barely played in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons.
“The fortitude that that takes, I feel like, just staying mentally engaged,” said Jeb Blazevich, Georgia’s senior tight end. “Because it’s easy to quit. The majority of people quit. But it takes someone with a lot of integrity and a lot of character to say, ‘I’m here to work,’ and each and every day work.”
Baker actually came to Georgia as a defensive lineman and was ranked as the No. 37 prospect at that position in the 2014 class, according to 247Sports. Georgia moved him to offensive line – just as it eventually did current starting center Lamont Gaillard, a member of that same class.
Baker redshirted that first season, then appeared in three games in 2015 and just two games last year. It was easy to overlook him as Georgia signed the likes of Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson, Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer.
But as this preseason went on, the word trickled out of Georgia’s camp that Baker was impressing. After beginning his career as a tackle, he was put at guard and worked his way up the depth chart. He entered the season as a second-team guard, then supplanted Pat Allen at left guard for the Notre Dame game. He’s stuck there since.
Baker said he never considered transferring.
“I felt when I locked in here I was going to be good,” he said. “I was going to put my all into it, and just see what happened.”
Even when he saw these headlines about 5-star recruits and other highly touted linemen who were signing with Georgia?
“Yeah,” Baker said, with a laugh. “I was still confident in myself, and I believed in myself.”