BUFFALO — Quarterbacks love options. Multiple receivers, multiple formations, multiple play calls. They love it all.
In the fall of 2018, Lockport native Tyler Baker entered Canisius High School looking for a different option in his quest to become a college football player. As Baker begins his senior season against Western New York Maritime at 1 p.m. today, he is in search of as many scholarship opportunities as possible.
Baker is a three-year starter at quarterback for the Crusaders — throwing for 2,680 yards and 24 touchdowns — who has devoted much of his life to playing football and currently has four college options on the table from FCS schools Robert Morris, Monmouth, Columbia and Pennsylvania. With one final season to showcase his talents, there is no favorite or desired school. He just wants the chance to select the right school from a broad variety of options.
“I’m not really holding out for a certain offer, I just want multiple opportunities,” Baker said. “I don’t want to be limited to a few. I want to explore many different options. That’s why I want to light it up on film this year to try and get some more offers.”
Baker knew he had a future in football from his first game as a 5-year-old in Lockport Little Loop. He played for the Lockport High School junior varsity squad as an eighth-grader. But as turmoil swirled around the program and the Lions plummeted in the standings, Baker opted to pursue prep football in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association.
Leaving friends at Lockport was a difficult decision for Baker, but he desired a program that could match his commitment to football, although few players in Western New York put as much effort into improving. He gave up basketball after his freshman season, as well as soccer, baseball and track and field to dedicate his time to football.
Aside from Canisius team workouts, the 6-foot, 180-pound Baker attends Proformance Sports Training owned by renowned trainer John Opfer to improve on speed and agility, while also attending Western New York Quarterback Academy, owned by former arena football star and coach Jim Kubiak, twice per week. He has even traveled to the Southern Tier to work with former Syracuse University quarterback John Kinder.
“I feel like I lost some friendships having to stick to football because I came to Canisius for football,” Baker said. “I lost some friends in different categories like soccer and baseball back home. That kind of stinks. That was probably the worst part, I think.”
Finding the right fit
A 40-minute one-way trek to school each day, along with four to six hours of football-related work per day during the season, may have cost Baker non-football opportunities and some friendships, but it has produced the desired results on the field.
Baker became the starter for Canisius as a sophomore, throwing for 1,830 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 925 yards and 12 scores to lead his team to a Catholic High School Athletic Association state championship.
Then-junior varsity coach Bryan Gorman — who took over as varsity head coach after longtime coach Rich Robbins resigned — felt Baker was “thrown to the wolves,” but quickly proved he was the right person to lead the Crusaders.
In his first varsity start, Baker threw three interceptions but ran for 206 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to Euclid (Ohio). He then capped the season by throwing for 249 yards in the state championship game against Bronx-based Cardinal Hayes.
Even in last year’s COVID-shortened spring season, Baker trimmed his interception total to three in five games and completed fewer than 57% of his passes on just one occasion.
The gradual improvement cannot only be attributed to natural ability, but persistent training. Baker demands commitment from himself and others. Gorman stopped short of saying Baker was too committed when it comes to football — when he’s not training, Baker is usually watching football or even playing Madden — and believes he and his family get to make that determination.
“That’s a question Tyler has to answer himself,” Gorman said. “When you have an athlete like Tyler who really cares about the sport, invests the time in his playbook, into understanding the concepts of defense and how to work his craft, it makes our job a lot easier. Tyler loves football and we love kids who love football here at Canisius.”
As Baker begins the season he has been waiting for his entire life, Gorman wants he and his classmates to pump the brakes on what is to come in the future. After last season was limited to five games due to the pandemic, he wants his players to enjoy this season.
“Everybody’s always chasing tomorrow instead of staying in today,” Gorman said. “We always try to have small goals in mind and a larger goal at the top, but kids are in so much of a rush to get to where they need to be based on one form of pressure or another. We try to embrace the moment here.”
Aside from football, Baker is like many high school seniors and is uncertain what he wants to pursue in adulthood. He knows business is his desired field of study in college, but right now his focus is creating more options.
Prospective college coaches have told him they want to see film from his first five games this season — especially after a limited season — before deciding whether or not to make an offer. Baker is also considering reclassifying to the class of 2023 and attending a prep school next fall, as he refuses to settle for an offer that does not match his vision.
“I don’t want to go somewhere that’s not a fit for me and I’m not going to enjoy myself,” Baker said. “I want to go somewhere I can play and compete for a spot. I want to go somewhere that’s the best fit for me.”
Nick Sabato can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.