Rivals.com had a chance to have a question-and-answer session by phone with Justin Baker, a 5-foot-10, 263-pound defensive tackle from Ashburn who has signed to play football for the Dukes next year.
Well going through my recruiting process, I was highly looked at, but then I was also a little underrated because of my height. And going through it, there was a lot of mixed messages from the big schools, like Virginia Tech and schools like that. It just came down to my height. I got offered by VMI, William & Mary, Delaware State, all those schools like that, and something about JMU when I visited, it just felt like home.
Before our state championship game, [assistant] coach [Clayton] Matthews was up here - he was my recruiting coach - and he was talking about Harrisonburg and everything like that. He was just there - I don't think he was looking at anyone specifically or anything like that, he was just in the area. He actually was leaving when we finished up practice, and [my high school coach], I'll never forget it, he was leaving, and I said, 'Coach, can I go run and catch up to him?' I went to go talk to [Matthews], and he was about to get in his car. I asked him if I could send him my tape - he didn't know who I was or anything like that. He said, 'Sure.'
I sent my tape, and I called him a week later, and he loved it, and said how all the coaches liked it - how I played.
When did you 100 percent decide you wanted to come to JMU, and what were you doing at the time?
When I decided for sure was, I went to the Virginia Tech one-day camp, and there were a bunch of schools there - I think Virginia, Maryland, Virginia Military, and JMU, and some other schools. I was going through my drills and everything, and that was the day that Tech was going to decide what they were going to do. For me, it was my chance to show a lot of the schools what I was doing.
Then I was invited to JMU's one-day camp to performed for them
I went home and was getting ready to go to JMU's camp, and I called coach [Clayton] Matthews to make sure that everything was cool about me coming up, and he actually said, 'You don't need to come to the one-day camp, come to the senior prospect camp - the top prospect camp,' and he said he was going to extend me an offer.
My mom broke down and started crying, my dad was excited. I knew that was the place I wanted to be at.
Who did you tell first?
I told my parents that I wanted to go and that I was sure. And right after that, I told my [high school] coach, I called him and I was like, 'Pick up coach, pick up,' and he picked up, and I said, 'Coach, I just committed to JMU.' And he said, 'Wow.' I was like, 'Yeah.' And he was like, 'Well, I guess I'll tell the Maryland coaches not to come by.' And I said, 'I guess not.'
The Maryland coaches had set meetings and stuff like that, because they had actually had me on their recruiting board. But with JMU and coach [Clayton] Matthews, he's just a great recruiter. And other than a great recruiter, he's a good guy.
My mom and dad, we've visited JMU at least nine or 10 times, and we always go up there and have a good time. Coach Matthews just knows how to talk to kids, make them feel important. Plus, with other coaches, I'd be on the phone with them for 10 minutes tops. With coach Matthews, I'd stay on the phone for really long periods of time, just talking about anything - not even football-related.
When you talk to coaches like that, that's when you know that's the place you want to be - where they're looking at kids, not just the football player.
What NFL player would you compare your skill set to?
I would like to be as good as Dwight Freeney one day. I kind of look up to Dwight Freeney, because he's shorter and he's a defensive lineman, and a good guy. I just like the way Dwight Freeney plays. He doesn't let his height hold him back.
A lot of guys on paper, they'll jump out more than my height and stuff like that, but if you look at the stat sheet, I'm just as good as any of them.
What is your most embarrassing athletic moment?
During one of these [high school] games, I went for the tackle and just totally missed and flew across the screen. It was hilarious. My coach pointed it out like three times. He kept rewinding it and embarrassing me, because I put my head down and totally missed the tackle.
What is your most embarrassing non-athletic moment?
I was walking up the stairs when I was at JMU and tripped up the stairs in front of one of the coaches, and he was like, 'Be an athlete, Justin?' It was pretty funny.
Do you consider yourself a ladies' man?
I consider myself a ladies' man. I get some ladies. But as of right now, I am going to be in a relationship with a girl who's going to JMU. So I guess right now I'm not a ladies' man.
When you're not playing football or studying, what are you probably doing?
Working out and eating.
What's your pump-up song?
"Riot" by 2 Chainz.
What is your opinion of Twitter, Facebook and other social media?
I feel like social media is really good actually - I just recently got a Twitter, but Facebook and YouTube, that's how I got all my film out, and that's how I talked to most of the coaches. On my Facebook I have a lot of coaches as friends, and that's how I kept in contact with them, and found out about camps, found out about friends committing places.
So I think it's really important, especially nowadays with recruiting, and with coaches to stay in touch. I used Facebook a lot - you get invited to camps and stuff that way.
What are your athletic goals for your freshman year?
JMU usually redshirts most of their freshmen, so my first year my goal, since I'll probably be on the scout team, is to be the most competitive scout player, and work hard to help my teammates work hard as starters.
And I just want to learn. It's a lot of learning, it is a big step from high school to college, and you have to learn a lot. So I want to learn a lot from my coaches, and just get bigger and stronger throughout that first season, so the next season after that I can compete for a spot.
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