Two of the centerpieces of Maryville's perfect Class 3 state championship football team plan to continue their careers very close to their own backyards.
Maryville quarterback Jonathan Baker and offensive/defensive lineman Caleb Mather went on their official visits to Northwest Missouri State together last week and gave verbal commitments to the coaching staff soon after.
Baker said his visit, taken Wednesday, sold him that Northwest was where he wanted to be.
He mulled the decision over with his family Thursday night before informing Northwest Friday morning of his intention to sign there Feb. 6.
"I've seen the campus a million times, but one of the coaches took me through the building where my classes would be and that just set it apart," said Baker who plans to major in broadcast journalism. "That really intrigued me along with the great football tradition."
Baker (6-1, 180) was a first-team all-state selection this past year and broke the school's single-game, single-season and career passing records. He finished the year with 2,215 yards, 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions and rushed for 365 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Baker capped his record-setting season with a 35-yard touchdown run in final minute of the team's 35-22 Class 3 Show-Me-Bowl victory over John Burroughs.
Winning the title, he said, made him that much more appealing to college coaches.
"I think it has a big impact," said Baker. "On the visits I did take, they mentioned how the team I was on were winners and they look for that sort of thing at the quarterback position, guys that can go in and lead the team to wins. I guess that definitely had a big influence on people"
Along with Northwest, Baker's other main suitors were William Jewell and Washburn.
He planned to make an official visit to Washburn, but decided to forgo that trip after his tour of Northwest.
Baker went on a game day visit to Missouri Western in the fall, but says he "ruled them out," after learning of their other quarterback commitments.
A three-sport star, Baker attracted interest from NAIA schools in basketball and wanted to pursue the sport in which he could compete at the highest level.
It became clear to him last summer that football was the route to go.
"I told my summer baseball team I wasn't going to be playing with them in order to concentrate on football and basketball to improve my game in those two sports," said Baker. "The way my summer went, after playing basketball and participating in a lot of football camps, Northwest reached out and showed a lot of interest. I decided I better go this direction. Then the way fall went with the success of my team, it helped my decision that football was the way to go."
Page 2 of 2 - Mather, a fellow first-team all-state selection, was the most disruptive member of Maryville's dominant front four. He led the Hounds with 21.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks from his defensive tackle spot.
Mather, who stands 6-2, 260, could also be a valuable addition to the Northwest track and field teams. He won the state shot put title in Class 3 as a junior and is favored to do so again this year.
In football, Baker and Mather are set to join a Northwest roster that already includes former Spoofhound teammates Cole Forney and Will Twaddle.
Baker has also developed a relationship with several of the other current players through team camps, FCA functions and the recent visit.
"Everybody I've talked to is real positive," said Baker. "Of course, everybody in the community says Northwest is the place to go. The players back that up. When you ask them, they say they've really enjoyed their time there. You can tell they give it their all. The coaching staff gets the best out of the players. They really respect their position coaches and want to do well for them."
Baker is now the fourth quarterback that's committed to Northwest this year, a fact he was made aware of on his official visit.
Kirkwood's Jordan Bishop, Lawrence's (Kan.) Brad Strauss and North Scott's (Iowa) Randy Schmidt are the other three, creating the possibility of heated competition at that position in the future.
"When you go into a program like that, nothing is guaranteed," said Baker. "That's the fun part about it."
A starter each of his last two years at MHS, Baker has been told he'll redshirt in 2013 along with the remainder of Northwest's freshman class, a program philosophy that's held since the beginning of former coach Mel Tjeerdsma's tenure.
While admitting it's going to be tough to sit, Baker fully embraces what's to come at Northwest.
"In my mind, I want to start next year, but that's not going to happen," said Baker. "I was fortunate enough to be able to play during my early years of high school. Now having to take a step back, it's going to be a humbling experience. At the same time, it's going to make me better. Everybody talks about the redshirt year and the coaches reiterated how it develops you as a player. I'm really looking forward to it and we'll see what the next five years bring."