ANDOVER — Instead of a helmet and shoulder pads, Andover's Lyle Baker spent Monday's practice in jeans and work boots while nursing a minor foot injury.
But Baker made one fact clear. He would not be on the sidelines Thanksgiving Day.
"I'm fine," said Baker. "I'd be out there no matter what. There is no way I'm missing this game. It's huge."
Baker will be in uniform to anchor the offensive and defensive lines for the Golden Warriors, who take on Central Catholic with the Merrimack Valley Conference Large title and a playoff berth on the line.
"I couldn't dream of a better scenario than Thanksgiving for the title," said Baker. "They couldn't have come up with this for a movie. It's a great story, and I'm looking forward to coming away with a title. We knew we had the ability."
On the field, quad-captain Baker admits he has a bit of a split personality.
"An offensive lineman has to be really smart and a defensive lineman has to be an animal," said Baker. "On offense I am thinking, and on defense I am flying to get the ball. I love making a big block, but breaking through the line to make a tackle is a little more fun."
On offense, the 6 foot 2 inch, 240-pound Baker has been a key to the offensive line that has allowed the Golden Warriors to rush for 2,062 yards as a team, including a school-record 1,599 yards and 23 touchdowns for star back Andy Coke.
"The O line takes a lot of pride in Andy's stats," said Baker, in his second year as a starter. "He has broken a lot of records running behind us, and that makes us very proud."
Originally a tackle, Baker has moved to guard to capitalize on his quickness.
"It's great to be able to pull and make some big hits," he said. "Our other guard (Matt Crush) is very athletic. Our tackles (Connor Sullivan and T.J. Leeman) are both big and strong and our center Connor Clancy is really the quarterback of the line, making calls. I think we have the best offensive line in the league."
Baker might be even better on defense.
"Baker has had an unbelievable year," said Andover coach E.J. Perry. "He is the best lineman in the league, and I nominated him for the (MVC Large) defensive Player of the Year. He's a tremendous athlete. Big, fast and strong."
While going between defensive end and defensive tackle, Baker has averaged eight tackles a game. His biggest day statistically was 10 tackles and a sack against Lawrence.
Baker did miss two games to injury, Andover's losses to Chelmsford and Methuen. He, along with Clancy, Crush and Chris Newton will be especially key due to the loss of Brian Miller to an injury against Lowell.
"Baker is the best defensive player in the league in my opinion," said Clancy. "And I like having him at guard next to me because we are really on the same page."
Baker plans to play defensive line in college, with the top choice being Trinity College in Connecticut. He also spoke to schools such as Tufts, Bates and UMass.
But for the moment, his eyes are set on a victory on Thanksgiving and his first trip to the playoffs.
"This is the biggest game of my life," he said. "I can't wait. Everyone is talking about it. Just going from my house to (the practice field) three people stopped me to talk to me about the game. It is huge. Our offense took time to learn, but we started to click against Methuen, and the Dracut game we really broke out. Going to the playoffs would be a dream."
THROUGH THE YEARS
Here's a breakdown of the rivalry between Andover and Central Catholic.
1985Didn't play due to snow
Overall: Central Catholic leads the Thanksgiving series 19-17-1
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