MILLIS — His loud exhales were the first sign that Jon Baker was on the move.
Those could be heard from as far as the Millis-Hopedale sideline, when the 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior guard broke from his three-point stance at midfield and sprinted ahead toward his first target.
After steering a Dover-Sherborn linebacker to the ground, Baker, his eyes encircled by black face paint, darted upfield to look for another challenger. He saw two — one for each arm — and drove them backward until called off by the sound of the referee's whistle.
Baker helped clear the way for the Mohawks, who ran for 210 yards through three quarters and beat the Raiders in a Tri-Valley League Small game, 39-6. As a forceful blocker, Baker has guided his team to a 6-1 record, solidifying himself as one of the state's best linemen.
And he’s still only 16 years old.
Strong mind, strong body
“We’re looking forward to him graduating,’’ said Dover-Sherborn coach Joey Schotland . “And if he wants to graduate early, that’s fine with us.’’
By now, most of the Tri-Valley League has to be feeling the same way. Baker, a cocaptain who also plays on the defensive line, was named the league’s lineman of the year last season. In the spring he picked up his first Division 1 scholarship offer from the University of Massachusetts, and since then, Boston College and the University of Connecticut have also made offers. Harvard — which, as an Ivy League school, does not provide athletic scholarships — has told Baker that it would support his application.
The University of Michigan and the University of Virginia are among the other schools that have shown interest in Baker, who will probably play center in college.
What makes him so attractive to schools is not only his size, or his strength (he bench-presses over 400 pounds), or his athletic ability (he has a 27.5-inch vertical leap and runs the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds). He is an honors student, with a 4.0 grade point average, and he is enrolled in both United States history and biology Advanced Placement classes. In college, he hopes to balance football with a pre-med course load.
“It wouldn’t be the easiest thing, but plenty of people have done it before, you know?’’ said Baker, who appropriately sports his hair in a closely cropped mohawk. “I wouldn’t be the first.’’
The academic bar has been set by his older siblings — Dave, a senior offensive lineman at Williams College who also hopes to attend medical school, and Katie, a freshman at Providence — so Baker expects to earn high marks. As he puts in time at the Millis Middle/High School library, he also helps tutor his classmates whenever they need it.
“I’ve been coaching for 23 years,’’ said Millis-Hopedale coach Dale Olmsted . “And in all my years I’ve never seen a kid like this. So dedicated, so smart. He gets it. He has ‘it.’ And ‘it’ doesn’t come around very often. He’s a special kid.’’
Baker’s intelligence helps him on the field, too. From his right guard spot, he calls out defensive alignments and helps set protection assignments. Against Dover-Sherborn, with Mohawk backups in the game, Baker served as an assistant coach of sorts, offering tips to his fellow linemen on their technique during timeouts.
The Mohawks will need good production from junior running back Chris Ahl and senior receiver Ian Strom when they face reigning TVL Large champ Holliston (5-2) Friday night. That game should serve as preparation for next week’s matchup with Bellingham, when Millis-Hopedale's second consecutive TVL Small title will be on the line.
Though the attention from colleges has been nice, right now Baker’s eyes are set on a league championship.
“He knows what he wants,’’ Olmsted said. “And he’s going to work hard to achieve it. That’s why he’s been able to be so successful on and off the field.’’
It’s a bad break
for Needham QB
Needham quarterback Ryan Charter suffered a fracture of his middle finger on his right hand against Walpole last week. It’s uncertain when he will be available, but coach Dave Duffy does not believe it will be a season-ending injury.
“He’s a good competitor,’’ Duffy said. “If it was on the other hand or something else, he might go. But he couldn’t grip the football. There’s not much you can do in that case.’’
Without him, Needham (5-2) will be forced to try to keep up with Natick quarterback Troy Flutie and the Red Hawks’ high-flying offense tomorrow night with a new signal-caller.
Senior Matt McGloin replaced Charter in Needham's 31-0 loss to the Rebels, and Duffy said he may try out two others under center to see who will be the best fit.
Whoever it is will have his work cut out for him, as Natick (7-0) scores 34.6 points per game. Flutie threw for 294 yards and four scores against Braintree last week.
“Our defense has to play as well as it has all year,’’ Duffy said. “Our offense has to control the ball and keep them off the field. It’ll be a big test for us. We’ll see how the kids respond from last week.’’
With Weymouth’s loss to Norwood last week, Needham, Weymouth, and Framingham are all 4-2 in the league and tied for the lead in the Bay State Carey Division.
On Friday morning, MIAA schools will vote to decide whether there will be a two-year test of a new statewide football playoff system.
The pilot program would reduce the number of Super Bowls from 19 to six, but would allow more teams into the postseason. . . .
Holliston appears to have found its rhythm, winning its last five games, and scoring at least 40 points in its last three, including last week’s win over previously unbeaten Hopkinton, 49-14.
Junior Matt Jeye has taken over as the number one quarterback of the Panthers variable offense, while sophomore backup Nick Athy has played a big role as a linebacker and safety on the defense. . . .
Bernie Fleming died last Sunday at the age of 67. Along with Ed Kirrane , Fleming helped revive the Brookline Pop Warner program and coached at Dedham High School. His brother, Kevin, was the longtime coach at Belmont Hill and now is an assistant at Needham.
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.