Tampa brings back memories for Baker
TAMPA, Fla. - Sunday’s travel day was a long journey for all those incorporated with Marshall’s football program.
It was an intense 16-hour day that left nearly everyone tired, yet, as the team pulled up to the Hilton Tampa Downtown, Marshall wide receivers coach Dallas Baker couldn’t help but feel the energy surge through his body. As he stepped off the bus and into the hotel, memories started to flood his mind of the last time that he had been at that hotel. It was for the 2006 Outback Bowl in which Baker earned most valuable player honors following a 10-catch, 147-yard performance that included a pair of touchdown receptions that led Florida to a 31-24 win over Iowa.
As Baker recalled all the memories, the smile never left his face.
“When we were pulling up, I was like, ‘Man, this is the hotel we stayed in when I played in the Outback Bowl my junior year,’” Baker said. “Then, when I walked
upstairs, I remember that as soon as we got there, there was a guy named Tony Joiner and we were two of the first people in there. We hugged and took a picture and all of the memories just came back. I texted my receivers and told them, ‘Cherish every moment of this. Don’t rush wanting to get to the game. Just cherish each day.’”
In that contest, Baker caught touchdown passes of 24 and 38 yards from Chris Leak as Florida built a 31-7 lead before the Hawkeyes came storming back to cut it to a touchdown game.
Ask Doc Holliday about that contest and he’ll remember one fourth-quarter play that sealed it for the Gators.
“I remember we had a fake punt at the minus-20 yard line to help us win that game,” Holliday said. “It was a great experience and any time that you get to go to a bowl and find a way to win, it’s huge.”
Baker said the return to Tampa brought back a desire that he’s never felt since leaving the game to start his coaching career.
“A lot of people, that side of their life, they never really let go and they still have that itch to play,” Baker said. “For me, I feel like I got it all out of me. But when we got to the hotel last night, I started texting some of my boys like, ‘Man, what I would do to go back to be able to play college football again.’”
That energy and swagger took to the practice field on Monday morning where Baker lined up and ran routes with some of the wide receivers as they went through drills.
“A little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Baker said. “I was messing with the receivers and they were like, ‘Coach, are you happy to be back?’ I was happy to be back on grass and to be back here period.”
For Baker, the memories of that 2006 contest weren’t the only thing that is special about the return.
When the teams take the field for the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday evening at Raymond James Stadium, Baker is going to have two of his biggest influences in coaching - Holliday and South Florida coach Charlies Strong - on that same field with him. Both on the Florida staff for that Outback Bowl win.
“When I was 18 years old, a guy sat in my parents’ house named Charlie Strong, a guy I committed to and this guy recruited me, and here it is that both of these guys coached me because coach Holliday coached me on special teams,” Baker said. “So for me, it’s great to be able to look at both of these guys and know that they both had a major, major part in me becoming a man. Now, here it is that I’m doing what I love to do and I’m looking across the field and I’ve got Charlie Strong over there and I’m looking to my left or right and I’ve got Coach Holliday with me. For me, it’s a blessing. God has really, really blessed me.