When he was a freshman in college at the University of Delaware, Jets tight end Josh Baker received a written warning from the resident assistant in his dorm for lighting a candle in his room one night. That incident helped set in motion a series of events that helped land him in the NFL in what he calls “a long, crazy journey.”
It was the start of his freshman year of college and Baker was getting ill from the fumes of his freshly painted dorm room. The open window wasn’t helping much so Baker lit a candle, hoping to clear the air a bit. Instead, a resident assistant -- in a moment of strict adherence to dorm policy -- walked by his open door and wrote him up for having an open flame in his room. Other incidents would follow, including one for underage drinking, and by the time of his redshirt sophomore season, he had accrued his third major incident on campus.
“We had a pretty strict ‘Three strikes and you’re out’ policy and I had three strikes by then,” Baker said. “So I had to sit out the next year and I decided to go to community college so I could continue to take classes. It was mainly immature stuff, but it was frustrating to have little things add up like that.”
That led him to Collin County Community College in Waco, Texas. No longer on a football scholarship, Baker got a job at a nearby Office Max where he worked as a cashier and stocked shelves, earning the princely sum of $9.00 per hour. It was enough for him to pay for his own way through school and he completed 19 credits during those two semesters away from Delaware.
He credits that time for “being part of the journey that keeps me humble.”
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The program retained an athletic scholarship for him when he returned for his redshirt senior season. Big things were expected from him. During his redshirt sophomore season he had 20 receptions for 344 yards and two touchdowns as the Blue Hens’ No. 2 tight end.
“I thought maybe I had turned a corner, that things were coming together after that year away from the program. Then in the first quarter of the first game of the year, I tore ligaments in my knee,” Baker said. “It was frustrating.”
With his eligibility with the FCS program used up, Baker sought a way to continue his playing career. He learned that if he dropped down a level he could play one more year of college football. So after completing his senior year at Delaware he enrolled at Division II Northwest Missouri State.
He earned AP All-American honors with 66 catches for 838 yards and a receiving touchdown, then added three rushing touchdowns in the Bearcats’ Wildcat offense.
“It was great to be able to play again. I think I answered lots of questions that people had about me. It was part of making me who I am today, about taking me to where I am today in my career,” Baker said. “All that I went through before that, it was nice to have that success there.”
Although he earned a late-round draft grade, Baker went unselected last spring. He signed a free agent deal with the Jets in late July. He went on to make the practice squad and eventually, play in 11 games for the Jets. He was in on special teams mainly, but did register three catches, including a touchdown catch in a Week 16 loss to the Giants.
Now with the Jets parting ways with Ben Hartsock and Matt Mulligan this offseason, there is an opportunity for Baker to crack the two-deep at tight end and expand his role with the team. After a solid start to his NFL career last year, Baker is clearly looking ahead to what could be this year.
“You can’t look back at the past. In my eyes, I have to look at the future and see how I can improve to help this team,” Baker said. “I’m just looking to improve any way I can. I’m one of those jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none types. I can do a lot of things and I have many facets to my game. I just need to keep showing up every day.”
And of course, stay away from lighting any candles.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for all your offseason news on Gang Green.