PREP FOOTBALL: West Point’s Baker turns adversity into opportunity

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West Point defensive lineman Keynan Baker (69). (Bill Piper/The Cullman Tribune)

WEST POINT, Ala. — This high school football season, one that many weren’t sure would happen, was loaded with high expectations for West Point. They have a solid senior class on a team loaded with talent, but after a series of heartbreaking, close losses, the hopes of returning to the playoffs were on the verge of being dashed. For this West Point team, adversity simply provided opportunity, and that is no better exemplified than in senior defensive lineman Keynan Baker. 

When you look at Keynan Baker you don’t see the tallest lineman. You don’t see the biggest or strongest lineman, but what you get is a high character player who works his tail off to be the best he can be for his coaches and his team. Baker is coming off a three game stretch that has included an interception returned for a touchdown, a fumble caused, recovered and returned for a touchdown, another fumble recovery on the goal line and a pair sacks to go alongside plenty of tackles. That’s a lot for any player in three games, but you read that right, he’s a defensive lineman. The senior is ending his prep career on a high note individually, but this dream was almost shattered before it ever began.

Nine years ago, Keynan went out to something he had done 1,000 times before, go blackberry picking. Unfortunately, Keynan suffered a chigger bite, something that most of us in the south have experienced, but the bite turned into a serious infection that almost cost Keynan his leg. From emergency room visits to doctor appointments to lengthy stays in Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, doctors discovered he had “osteomyelitis,” an infection in the bone that had also spread to the tissue and muscle around his tibia.

After four surgeries, a weakened leg that broke multiple times, and a lot of unknowns as to whether Keynan would ever even be able to walk again, he has made a full recovery and has become the player Warrior fans see on Friday nights. For Keynan, adversity was simply an opportunity. In his weakness he was made stronger, in his lowest points he was able to reach his highest and in the darkest times he was able to shine the brightest. If we have some young readers in need of a role model, look no further, Keynan Baker is your guy. 

While Baker has been a key part of the Warriors overcoming adversity early in the season, West Point has several other key parts that help anchor this team. Senior Will Cochran came into the season, experienced with weapons all around him, but the high-powered offense found itself looking for an identity after several games in wet weather. Cochran, who was eager to lead this offense and light up scoreboards, never wavered. There were times his team needed him rushing for 100 yards and other times they needed him airing it out. Regardless of the call, Cochran always was ready to answer the bell. He’s shown his true dual-threat abilities all season long with his running and passing ability. You could even call him a triple threat QB because he has shown he can catch touchdowns too. Cochran knows the biggest game of his career is looming Friday night against a talented Alexandria team and he is ready to do whatever his team needs him to do to advance to the next round. 

The next key Warriors I want to address is a group I call “The Arsenal.” This group is made up of seniors Kobe Bowers, Carter Thornton, Jacob Dye and junior Kelton Washington. These have been the main collection of weapons at Head Coach Don Farley’s disposal, and what they have shown all year is that any of them can score at any moment in a variety of ways. Bowers and Thornton have scored on the ground and in the air, both receiving and passing. There has been a friendly rivalry of who has the better arm, but I think both will agree Cochran can stick with most of the pass attempts.

Dye, who has been battling his own individual adversity with a lingering ankle injury, has performed all season and focused on being a specialist in the area of receiving. West Point is truly dangerous no matter the down and distance, because at any time Dye can be found running by defenders and catching touchdowns. Opposing defenses are constantly put under pressure because of his exceptional ability to stretch the defense. It’s guys like this that make the jobs easier for guys like Kelton Washington, who has put together quite the highlight reel this year in the backfield. Washington has shown he can juke, he can spin, he can hurdle and he can truck defenders. Behind an offensive line that has been anchoring the offense all season, Kelton has been a difference maker because he rarely ever goes down after first contact. He is already hungry for as many extra yards as he can get. 

This team has had so many players buy in and give their all, led by an awesome coaching staff. Alexandria may see a 4-6 football team coming to their place for round one, but what this writer sees and has seen all year is a collective group of Warriors. A group that is willing to go down into any valley. A group that is willing to climb any mountain. I see a group that sees adversity and has one word in their mind: opportunity.

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