In a season filled with ups and downs, offensive lineman Shea Baker steadied the offense on his way to being named our 2022 Rice Football Iron Man.
To some extent, everything about the Rice football program has changed in the past five seasons. A new head coach, upgraded facilities and a revamped roster make it hardly recognizable from the scene head coach Mike Bloomgren walked into when he was hired following the 2017 season. But at least one thing has been constant, our 2022 Rice Football Iron Man award winner Shea Baker.
When Baker donned his helmet for the final time against Southern Miss in the Lending Tree Bowl he put an exclamation point on a Rice football record that won’t soon be broken, if ever. Baker leaves Rice as the all-time leader in career starts, making 53 starts over his six-year career.
Prior to Baker, Chris Boswell held the record at 51 starts. Starting statistics weren’t officially kept in Rice game books until the mid-1990s. Even then, redshirt rules weren’t what they are today and teams didn’t even play 12-game regular season schedules with regularity for many years afterward. Few players in Rice football history have appeared in 53 games, let alone started.
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Setting start records was never what Baker set out to achieve when he arrived at South Main. He wanted to leave a legacy and help rebuild a program that had fallen on hard times. “It makes you realize how long I’ve actually been here,” Baker said of the record. “It feels good that I’ve broken a record, I can leave a footprint or a legacy and in the process helping this program get to a bowl game.”
How Baker reached that record only served to further amplify how impressive it was. Baker became the skeleton key along the offensive line, flip-flopping between center and guard, sometimes on a week-to-week basis.
Frequent position changes might have fazed some, but not Baker. “I’m used to it,” Baker admitted. “Over the years I’ve gone guard and center more times than I can count. I think I’m about even on starts with guard and center so to me, both are natural positions now. It’s really no issue at all.”
By mid-September, Baker had played more than 3,000 snaps in his Rice football career, a number that is probably closer to 3,500 now. He missed just one start — he was sick during the week with the flu and missed the walk-through — but entered that game in the first quarter anyways.
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It’s going to be surreal watching a Rice football game without number 58 lined up somewhere in the middle of the line. Whether with the ball in his hands or standing just next to center, Baker has been a mainstay in a program that’s changed so much in such a short time. For Baker, he wouldn’t have his legacy remembered in any other way.
When asked about his legacy, Baker’s everyday availability was near to his heart. “Playing as hard as I can, whenever I can, every play,” Baker said. “Being dependable, being the most consistent and best player I can be.”
Because of Baker’s example, Rice football has a standard in the offensive trenches that will live on well past the time he’s done strapping on shoulder pads. Baker was a true iron man, someone that showed up every day to work and set the stage for what he, and others, hope will be an even better future.
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