Baker focused on this year
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Dallas Baker says he's already moved on.
Will the rest of the Gator Nation let him? Baker should know by the end of the week, when Florida plays Tennessee on Saturday night at The Swamp.
It will be the first meeting between the rival SEC schools since the senior receiver's notorious 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Vols a season ago.
"That's not on my mind," Baker said following Monday's practice. "What's on my mind now is playing hard, going out and getting a win, staying on top of the SEC."
The penalty, with 55 seconds remaining, played a pivotal role in Tennessee's 30-28 win at Neyland Stadium last season. Baker was flagged for slapping the helmet of Tennessee cornerback Jonathan Wade, who was not spotted slapping Baker's helmet earlier on the same play.
Officials stopped the game clock, albeit erroneously. That gave Tennessee enough time to drive down the field and win the game on a 50-yard James Wilhoit field goal in the closing seconds.
"Today was the first time we really mentioned Tennessee," Baker said. "As far as the clock and what happened last year, we're not really paying attention to that. We're paying attention to this year."
Baker was chastised after last season's Tennessee loss in Gainesville. Students painted a "THANKS BAKER" message on the Southwest 34th Street wall at the edge of campus. But his players quickly rallied behind him, painting over the message, and warning other students on campus not to tease him for the mistake.
"It really showed me that we were starting to become a family," Baker said. "Once you are a family, it's hard to beat a team like that."
Baker admitted it took about two games for him to get the play out of his mind.
"I played Arkansas and I still played OK, but I thought to myself what if we wouldn't have lost to Tennessee," Baker said. "Like I said, that's last year. That's far behind me, really."
Baker said he's sure he wouldn't lose his composure this season, and cited his improved maturity as an example. He married over the summer, and also made significant strides in the classroom last semester.
"After that game, if you didn't grow up, something was wrong with you," Baker said. "That game helped me mature really fast."
Baker said he's also received support from his uncle, former Gator and ex-NFL receiver Wes Chandler. Recently, the conversations have shifted toward football. Chandler was first concerned about Baker staying out of trouble and his schoolwork.
Another sign that Baker is growing up? Perhaps.
"That's the way I'm taking it," he said.
Baker, coming off a season-high 63 yards receiving on five catches against Louisiana Tech, still sees room for improvement in his game and in new coach Urban Meyer's spread-option offense.
"It's not all about catches," Baker said. "I came in today and coach kind of got on me because I missed a couple of blocks. I have to be staying on my blocks the whole season."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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