FAIRMONT — In all of the excitement at Fairmont State University concerning Perry Baker’s run to the Olympics, two messages rang true in the thoughts of those wishing him luck in Rio.
First, the community is proud that it has an athlete headed to Rio to compete at the highest level.
Second, the community couldn’t be happier that it’s Perry Baker representing them.
Ryan Dumont was offensive coordinator when Perry Baker was a member of the Fighting Falcons football team.
Dumont described Baker as a fast and dynamic player with a great personality and outstanding leadership.
“Perry wasn’t afraid to take control in the locker room,” Dumont said. “He always led the right way.”
According to Dumont, Baker went to church every Sunday and regularly attended Bible study.
“He was living the good life,” Dumont said.
Gary Lanham was the recruiting coordinator and offensive line coach when Baker played at FSU, and he echoed Dumont’s comments.
“He was a great person,” Lanham said.
Baker got turned on to rugby while in high school in Florida, and during his time at Fairmont State he attended club rugby practices when not occupied with football commitments.
Despite only playing a single year of high school football, Lanham said, Baker’s skills quickly developed.
“Obviously, he was a good athlete and when he got here he made big plays,” Lanham said. “As he got better and got in the weight room, he dedicated himself just to football and became one of the better players in our league, and he was one of the better players in Division II.”
This hard work played off, and Baker got a chance to try out for the Philadelphia Eagles.
A failed physical brought his career with the Eagles to a close, and after Baker eventually went back to FSU to finish his degree, playing football in the Arena League along the way, he set his sights on rugby.
This resilience to turn the disappointment of an unsuccessful NFL try into motivation to excel in another field is one that FSU director of marketing and branding, Amy Baker, thinks is something people can look up to.
“That’s a good message for kids,” Amy Baker said, “that when something is a setback, you don’t stop. You don’t quit. You just change your plan and keep going.”
Once his mind was set as to what he wanted to do, Baker went out and made it happen at the highest level.
“The kid could do anything he put his mind to,” Dumont said. “Especially if someone told him he couldn’t. He proved them wrong.”
Now that he’s overcome these obstacles, Dumont said he isn’t surprised that Perry Baker has gone on to have such success.
“I wish Perry the best of luck,” Dumont said. “He’ll represent us very well. If there’s anybody to represent us, Perry Baker is a good name to put out there.”
“He was a very driven player,” Dumont said. “When you have that God-given speed, it’s bound to do something positive for you.”
The skills that Baker showed in football at FSU and developed in the time since are not limited to simply speed.
Baker is a shifty athlete who can stop on a dime and make people miss with ease.
“His ability to change direction and to stop and start is second to none,” Lanham said. “He wasn’t the biggest guy in the world and wasn’t going to let people get shots on him and hit him.”
As much as Lanham and Dumont laud Baker as an athlete, they’re even prouder of who he is as a person.
According to Lanham, Baker was an upstanding community citizen who participated in charity work with the Special Olympics, reading to children, refereeing youth basketball games.
“He’s a good person,” Lanham said. “He gave back to his community. Anything we asked him to do giving back to the community, he did it. He loved it.”
Now as he heads to Rio, the Friendly City is happy to wish him the best.
This story by Sean McNamara of the Times West Virginian appears here with permission. Contact McNamara at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @SMcNamaraTWV. To view the original story, click here.