Starkville High School senior Preston Baker returns a kickoff in a game earlier this season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Preston Baker had come to the conclusion that his senior year at Starkville High School was over when he was laying on the field with an injury during the West Point game on Sept. 7.
After all, he was taken off the field and his leg was put in an air cast.
"I thought my ankle was broken and I was going to finish my senior year on the sideline," Baker said.
It was later that night that Baker found out different.
"When I went to the doctor, he told me it wasn't even broken, so I was relieved and happy," Baker said.
Baker was diagnosed with a severely sprained ankle and the work began to return to his Yellowjacket teammates as soon as possible.
With the help of the trainer, Baker was able to get back on the field and perform against Povine on Sept. 28, only three weeks after suffering the injury.
Baker claims he is "100 percent right now."
Not only is Baker back quickly for SHS, but he is performing at a high level.
After rushing for 62 yards on 10 carries and three touchdowns against Ridgeland, Baker added another scoring run and helped the Jackets to a 311-yard rushing effort as a team against Canton last Friday.
It was a situation where the coaches went from not knowing if Baker could play at all to watching him be a major contributor to the offense again.
"When he went down, I was in the press box and I wondered what else could happen," SHS offensive coordinator Preston Leathers said. "I told Carlos (Kemp) on the headsets the other night that I think he's playing better right now than he ever has. Midway through his senior year, that's expected. It's just the way he's breaking tackles now and stepping up is good for our offense."
Even though he did miss a game, Baker stands as the second-leading rusher for the Jackets with 341 yards on 60 carries and six touchdowns. He averages 5.7 yards per carry.
Starkville head coach Jamie Mitchell said Baker is a valuable member of the team both on and off the field.
"He just means so much to us in so many ways," Mitchell said. "It was more evident in the West Point game. When he got hurt, it was like our whole team looked around and wondered what are we going to do now. He's such a great kid and great personality. It's great to see him having some success."
Both Mitchell and Leathers are glad to have a leader like Baker for leading rusher and sophomore Jaquez Horsley to follow.
"He doesn't take that lightly," Mitchell said. "He works very hard at practice every day. He just goes about it the right way. He's such a pleasure to coach."
According to Mitchell, the attitude Baker brings to the table every day keeps everyone on their toes.
"He's one of the pranksters on the team and he's hilarious," Mitchell said. "He makes it fun to come to work every day. He's always got something going on and something new. He always has a smile on his face and always keeps the locker room pretty lively."
Baker appreciates the guidance coming from the coaching staff and giving him the chance to make a difference.
"They are great coaches," Baker said of Mitchell and Leathers. "They've got a lot of faith in me to do what I do on the field. When they put the ball in my hands, I just make big plays."
The next opportunity for Baker and the Jackets will be Friday's home game against Yazoo City. It will be homecoming at SHS.
Baker wants the focus for the team to be to finish the Class 5A, Region 2, District 6 schedule out strong.
"We're trying to get better in practice and go 7-0 in the district, but you've got to take it one game at a time and get that district championship," Baker said.
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