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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Wayne grad and former NFL punter Jason Baker announces Tuesday that former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will be at his annual coaches clinic March 18.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 10:02 pm

Baker camp seeks 'heart of' players

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Jason Baker may have been a punter in the NFL, but his mentality nowadays is more like that of a defensive lineman. If a difficult situation arises, he doesn’t just boot the problem as far away as possible; he bulldozes through it.

Maybe we should have known this about him. He was one of those punters who liked to hit somebody if he had the chance.

In an era when football camps are becoming more about treating young players as commodities – colleges use them as recruiting tools, high schools as pipelines, parents as means to their kids’ future paydays – Baker makes sure that his Pro Football Mini Camp for grades 6-8 is about more than running and tackling.

He’s trying to make people better. And it’s refreshing.

"We feel very strongly about not just coaching and talking about football for the blocking and tackling, the physical and mental parts, but how do we really use this as a relationship to get to the heart of the player?" Baker said.

Baker announced Tuesday that longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will be part of this year’s Coaches Clinic, which precedes the camp itself, and the attendees will become better teachers of X’s, O’s and life.

This will be the ninth running of the Coaches Clinic – it will be March 18 and the camp for kids will be May 20-21 at Wayne – and Beamer will be the first nationally recognized coach to have participated. In a 35-year career, Beamer was 280-144-4, including a 238-121-2 record, 23 straight bowl appearances and a place in the 1999 national championship game at Virginia Tech.

"Bringing in a high-profile person is good if the message lines up with what we’re trying to convey," said Baker, a Wayne graduate, who played for six NFL teams, most extensively the Carolina Panthers from 2005 to 2012. "Bringing in the most high-profile person just to bring that person in, it just ends up costing us a bunch of money because of the number of people that show up and it doesn’t have the message we want. We’ve got to balance that out."

While past Coaches Clinics have addressed head injuries and domestic violence, this year’s will include a panel discussion on "promoting racial empathy."

"Things just happen in the world. I used to get really worried about, ‘What are we going to talk about next year?’ All I have to do is turn on the news and inevitably it sorts itself out," Baker said. "What does our sports culture, that we raise our kids in, do? And does it promote (race relations) or inhibit it? Let’s take a look at that."

Kids in the camp are required to participate in a servant leadership project, in lieu of tuition, a concept that really should be replicated everywhere.

"Ideally, we’d like to be raise our kids in a sports culture that promotes empathy toward people that are different from each other," said Baker, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Members of the Indiana University football staff will be instructors at the Coaches Clinic. Registration information is at The camp’s success is contingent upon the support of people and sponsors in Fort Wayne. With its admirable qualities, that’s not surprising.

"We’re not going to hide from stuff that’s real and relevant," Baker said.

Justin A. Cohn is a writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by email; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.