For Dorian Baker, the biggest shock to his system in making the adjustment from high school football to the college game wasn’t the complex playbook or a sticky cornerback or a hard-hitting safety that wanted to separate him from the ball at every opportunity.
It was his alarm clock.
As he prepared for his first practices as a Kentucky Wildcat, Baker was setting his alarm for a time previously reserved for teenage hijinks.
“I might be just going to sleep at 4 in the morning or up playing a (video) game or something,” Baker said with a laugh. “It was like… ‘Wow.’
“Waking up at 4 in the morning has been kind of crazy. I’ve been trying to wake up, get my mind right for practice. It’s definitely been a big adjustment, but that’s all part of the process of growing up and getting your body right. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to train like the best.”
The first few days of camp were a revelation for the freshman wideout from Ohio.
“I was exhausted,” Baker said. “My body hurt. I was in the Jacuzzi on the first day, all sore. The older guys were laughing at me, ‘It’s just the first day! We didn’t even do anything!’”
As camp progressed, though, his teammates quickly learned that Baker was no joke on the field. One of the most physical receivers that UK has signed in recent memory, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Baker has been showing glimpses of why he was so highly regarded coming out of University Heights High School in Cleveland.
The UK coaching staff wasted no time in pinpointing him as a newcomer who could help right away.
“I didn’t realize people were noticing me,” Baker said. “But (UK wide receivers) coach (Tommy) Mainord walked up to me the other day and said, ‘Keep working hard and doing what you’re doing.’ I figured that was a good thing. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Baker is one of two big targets UK signed in February to help give Neal Brown’s version of the “Air Raid” offense another dimension. The Cats had just 11 touchdown receptions from their entire receiving corps in 2013, so the staff set out to find recruits who could help move the chains and put points on the board, especially in the red zone.
Blake Bone, a 6-foot-5, 198-pound receiver from South Carolina, has looked every bit like the true red zone threat that UK was seeking through the first two weeks of camp.
“We’re both go-getters,” Bone said of the common thread between him and Baker. “When the ball’s in the air, we don’t think it’s anyone else’s.”
And the differences?
“Well, you’re not going to find too many receivers built like Dorian,” Bone said. “He’s huge. He can muscle a lot of the smaller DBs. I feel like I’m physical, too, but not the same way he is. But I can do some things, like going over top of people and getting the jump ball, that maybe he doesn’t do as much. We both bring a lot of good things to the table.”
No one’s more appreciative than the UK quarterbacks.
“Just ballhawks,” sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles said. “… If there’s a ball up there, we, as quarterbacks, have that faith in a guy like Baker or Blake or Javess (Blue) to go get that ball.”
“That’s something that we didn’t have at any point last year,” Brown said. “That’s something we made a living on at (Texas) Tech… I think we were up in the top five probably in touchdown passes, really all three years we were there, and we did a really good job of throwing those goal line fades and goal line post routes once we got down there (in the red zone). Once we got down there, we scored touchdowns at a real high percentage. That’s something we didn’t have the luxury of having last year, so we went out and really concentrated on getting two guys with really good length with Bone and Baker.”
The newcomers can turn a bad throw into a good one, redshirt freshman quarterback Reese Phillips noted. “You can have a miss here and there, and they’ll save you.”
Added freshman quarterback Drew Barker: “Dorian is just a monster. Huge hands. I think he wears like a triple-XL glove. His hands are so huge, so strong. That makes him really good at coming down with a ball, even if there’s tight coverage.
“With Blake, he’s really good at jumping over a guy and coming down with it. All you have to do is put it up there, and he’ll do the rest. I love throwing to both of them.”
Jeff Drummond, a former sports editor for the Harlan Daily Enterprise, is currently the publisher of AllWildcats.com on the Scout network. The site features comprehensive UK team and recruiting coverage.