Wilmette, Sports

Loyola All-State kicker realizes SEC dream with commitment to Ole Miss

Mike Baker gives a lot of his time to his craft. But what that craft is changes often — sometimes season to season or sometimes, like in a football game, moment to moment.

An All-State kicker, Baker also played wide receiver for state champion Loyola Academy. Then, in the winter, he plays hockey and in the spring, lacrosse. He wonders what year-round focus would do for his kicking.

Baker, and Ole Miss, are going to find out.

The Ramblers senior kicking star announced on Jan. 7 that he is committed to play for the University of Mississippi starting next season. Ole Miss is one of the top programs in the country, and in coach Lane Kiffin’s fourth season this fall finished as the 10th ranked team in the country.

The moment is one of joy and relief for Baker.

“I’m just very excited honestly,” he said. “It’s all been up in the air. It was a lot of work talking to coaches and seeing responses, getting film out there. It’s stressful mentally and physically. So this feels great. It’s such a weight off my back, especially that it worked out for where I’ve wanted to go for last year.”

At Loyola, Baker followed in the footsteps of another Ramblers great, Nate Van Zelst, a 2021 LA graduate who now kicks for the University of Wisconsin.

Baker has been a top kicking recruit since he burst on the scene as a sophomore for the Ramblers. He has converted 31 of 37 field goals in his varsity career with a long of 57 yards in 2022. His senior season he hit 13 field goals, including a 48-yarder, and 54 extra points to lead his team in scoring (105 points). Baker also averaged more than 57 yards per kickoff, triggering touchbacks more often than not (142 as a high schooler).

Mike Baker’s high school highlight reel.

The success placed Baker atop many colleges want lists, but traditionally, specialists — such as kickers, punters and long snappers — are among the last positions college programs fill.

In today’s landscape, the evolution of the transfer portal — which more than ever enables players to move between schools without penalty — has made it even more difficult on recruits, as teams wait to evaluate transfer prospects as well as high school grads.

“It was the hardest thing,” Baker said. “Ten years ago, the recruiting thing would have been way easier. I was waiting on Ole Miss. It was between me and another guy for a while. And I was just waiting on them to decide.”

While it wasn’t easy to wait, Baker still had his options. He had formal offers from the University of Buffalo, University of Connecticut, Army and James Madison University.

But Baker grew up a Missouri Tigers fan, meaning he watched a lot of Southeastern Conference football. The SEC is regarded as the premier college football league in the country, and once Ole Miss was in touch with him, Baker had his heart set on being a Rebel.

“Ever since I was 8 years old, it’s been a dream of mine to play at an SEC school,” he said. “… In the back of my head, I always wanted Ole Miss.”

Baker also said he is entering a great situation within the Rebels program. The team has a returning kicker, Caden Davis, a transfer from Texas A&M who is set for his fifth and likely final college season.

Baker winds up for a field-goal attempt in a Ramblers’ playoff game.

Slotting behind Davis on the depth chart would give Baker a year to focus solely on his craft and learn from a more experienced talent.

“Being behind a guy who is going to teach me and make me way better will help me be at my best,” Baker said.

Specifically, Baker wants to get better at the technical aspects of kicking — footwork, follow-through, consistent routines — and just “spend more time every single day just on kicking.”

Another and related dream of Baker’s is to play in the College Football Playoff, a privilege annually afforded to just four programs — that is until next season when the CFP expands to 12 teams.

And if you think “that really is a dream,” then consider Baker’s former Loyola teammate Brooks Bahr, who just won the CFP national championship with the University of Michigan.

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

Related Stories