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June 6, 2014

Dream becomes reality for Baker

BALTIMORE - At the Rivals Five-Star Challenge Media Day, four-star linebacker Jerome Baker revealed the top five schools on his short list.

In order, Florida, Ohio State, Tennessee, Michigan State and Florida State were all mentioned.

Yet, more than six months away from his intention of making a decision following his senior season at Benedictine High in Cleveland, Penn State linebackers coach Brent Pry and head coach James Franklin continue to pursue the Rivals100 athlete.

Whether the pitch will be enough remains to be seen, but Baker's childhood relationship with the Nittany Lions certainly can't hurt their chances.

"Growing up, they were my childhood favorite team, so they're definitely in there," he said Friday morning. "People always say Ohio State, but in the seventh grade, I visited Penn State and I fell in love.

"Coach Paterno, that's all I gotta say. He was there. I still got the poster where he signed it and it's still on my wall in my room… He's probably the best coach I ever met in my life."

According to Baker, the No. 3-rated athlete in the country and the No. 36 overall prospect in the Class of 2015, a chance meeting with the Nittany Lions' iconic former head coach prompted

"One of my teammate's brothers was being recruited by Penn State. When we went up there, he just told me to tag along so I tagged along. I was a little seventh grader going up there. Everything was huge. He was huge. It was just so much going on. The blue and white, there was just so much love and I really fell in love with Penn State."

Now that Baker is being pursued by nearly every major college football program the Nittany Lions certainly have more competition for Baker's attention, but as the No. 1-rated prospect in Ohio revealed Friday, Penn State is still very much in the mix for his services.

"They're up there on my list. They definitely are," he said. "I watch their recruiting and they're doing a great job. And I actually talk to a few of the recruits they have. They're doing a great job and Coach Franklin, he's a great guy. That's one thing I can say is, he's a great guy. The guy that's recruiting me is Coach Pry. I definitely have a great relationship with them.

"Coach Franklin, he cares about every single player. As soon as I went there, I noticed that. He cares about every player, every family, and I love that. I love my family and he loves every single one of his players' families. So that was one thing."

Saying that his criteria for the school he ends up choosing will come down to "academics, tradition and atmosphere," Baker said he won't focus on recruiting once he starts competing for an OHSAA championship this fall. Once that's completed, he said, he'll be able to announce his college decision in front of the students and teachers that have all helped him along the way.

Coming from the seventh-grade kid on a chance recruiting visit to now, Baker is enjoying the new reality in front of him.

Said Baker, "I really did not know I was going to one day be recruited by Penn State, it was just a dream, and now that I'm actually being recruited by them, it's just a blessing."

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