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BY GABRIEL RIZK / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Coming out of San Clemente High in 1996, Brad Baker wasn’t a blue-chip college football recruit as some other Triton gridiron greats were, nor was he destined for a career in the NFL.
Soon, though, Baker’s name will be counted among the very best who donned the red-and-black. And for those who know the Triton tradition best, his inclusion is a no-brainer.
“In my opinion, Brad Baker epitomizes San Clemente football,” said Tritons Coach Jaime Ortiz, who is in his 13th year with the program. “He had a great high school career and he didn’t get recruited out of high school, but he went on to do great things.”
Baker’s accomplishments will be honored and his place in the Triton legacy cemented Friday, when he is set to be inducted into the San Clemente High Football Hall of Fame at the annual San Clemente Hall of Fame Golf Tournament at Talega Golf Club.
“It means a lot just because of all the great experiences I’ve had with my friends and family at San Clemente, and it’s humbling just because I played a position that didn’t get a lot of press or ink and I was always very fine with that,” Baker said. “Getting recognized for playing is a new thing, but it’s such an honor to be given.”
Baker’s humility belies the fact that his football resume is studded with achievements and accolades.
As a three-year varsity starter for the Tritons at offensive tackle, Baker was a two-time All-South Coast League first-team selection. In his senior year, he earned an All-CIF-SS Division 1 honor while serving as a captain for the Tritons team that captured the South Coast League title.
The very next year, Baker was a starting tackle and team captain for Saddleback College in its run to the 1996 Junior College National Championship. Already a member of that school’s athletic hall of fame, Baker finished the 1996 season on the all-state list and ranked in the top 10 nationally at his position.
Baker moved on to Azusa Pacific University, where the winning continued. As captain, he led APU to the 1998 NAIA National Championship and was named an All-American that year before enjoying a brief stint as a professional in Europe.
“He was a dominant offensive lineman, and he was a special football player,” said former San Clemente Coach Mark McElroy, who coached Baker throughout high school.
But football tells only part of the story of Baker, who since walking away from the game has put the leadership skills, dedication and character he exhibited on the field to use as an educator and youth mentor as an administrator in the Capistrano Unified School District. Baker is an assistant principal at Marco Forster Middle School in San Juan Capistrano and is on pace to complete his doctoral degree from USC in November.
“Now he’s a mentor to a lot of youth, not just at San Clemente, but at Marco Forster Middle School,” Ortiz said. “He’s a guy who’s made the most of his God-given ability, and it’s a good story for our kids. We’re not going to have every kid (play football) at USC or UCLA, but here’s a player in Brad who epitomizes the guy who never quit. He kept on pushing, and great things happened for him.”
Baker said so much of what he has gone on to do has been inspired by the lessons he learned and the relationships he forged as a Triton athlete.
As one of three sophomore varsity starters from McElroy’s first freshman class at San Clemente, Baker played on a team that broke the program’s 13-year playoff drought in 1993 and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section quarterfinals.
“I knew it was going to be a special group of kids,” McElroy said. “(Baker) got a taste of what it was like (in the playoffs).”
The peak moment of his high school career was one that remains an all-time highlight in Triton lore – the 1995 defeat of national-champion powerhouse Mater Dei.
“We had played them since we were freshmen, and we got whooped every single time,” Baker said of the Monarchs team whose senior class was 46-0 at the time. "We went into that game and said we were just going to let it all go. Our coaches just planned an amazing game, and we ended up beating them. It made me feel good that we did a good thing for our coaches and our community. That feeling has transcended through the other seasons of my life.
“The lessons I’ve learned as an athlete really draw a parallel to academics. The things that sports teach you and the lessons that you learn about relationships with people and trust really build you as an adult later.”
Baker maintains a connection with the Tritons football program. He serves on the alumni relations board and recently made a coaching cameo at the annual Red and Black spring game at Thalassa Stadium.
“(At the Red and Black game) I started getting the bug back in me,” he said. “It was so much fun to be out there at the stadium under the lights. I was enjoying myself. It brought back a bunch of memories. It’s quite a home for me; that’s where all my roots are and where I met my wife and where my kids will go to school. It’s a big part of my life.”
Come Friday, it will be ensured that Baker never fades from San Clemente’s memory, either.
And its name is Triton!! Early morning Rise and Grind workout getting the abs ready for summer for our awesome Triton Football Team
San Clemente sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold (6-5, 205) has been offered by Utah.
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Friday night was an excellent opportunity for our town’s up and coming football stars to show their stuff and work with some of the best coaches in Southern California. “Friday Night Lights” was the first annual youth football camp put on by San Clemente Triton Head Coach Jaime Ortiz and his varsity coaching staff.
All the players we exposed to skill and agility drills with lots of coaching and encouragement by the coaches and even some of the varsity players. Afterwards all of the players were able to meet the coaches personally and enjoy a BBQ together.
This is just another example of Coach Ortiz supporting the One Town, One Team philosophy for our San Clemente football family.
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