Sept. 16, 2012
***The following profile appeared in Saturday's Marshall-Ohio game program.***
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – If Keith Baxter and Keith Baxter were in one of those wideout-versus-cornerback, route-running tussles, it might be a one-way father-son conversation.
Let’s just say that Jr. – who is a sophomore secondary starter for his dad’s alma mater – at least figures it might be that way.
“I like to talk,” said the younger Baxter, two games into his Marshall career as a starter.
What’s good for the Thundering Herd is that Baxter loves to play even more.
In a way, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Baxter is following in the footsteps of his dad of the same name, who built himself into a star as a receiver and kick returner during the Herd’s Division I-AA days.
In another way, to call Baxter a follower would be woefully misguided.
“He’s developing into a big-time corner,” Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said of Baxter last weekend. “He’s really taken to Coach (Lytrel) Pollard’s coaching, and he’s matured very quickly, gotten disciplined.
“He’s unbelievably competitive, and he wants to play man coverage. He loves man coverage. He’s doesn’t believe there’s a wide receiver that can beat him, not even (Herd senior star Aaron) Dobson.
“Keith thinks he can lock down a Dobson. You know what? He’s just going to get better and better.”
Baxter’s reputation when he arrived on campus a year ago – and became one of 10 scholarship true freshmen to play in Coach Doc Holliday’s second season – was that he played as well as he talked.
It didn’t matter. He needed other ingredients, the Homestead, Fla., native said.
“I’m a lot more disciplined now,” said Baxter, who played about 50 snaps in six games last season. “I listen more to what the coaches are trying to tell me to do. I need to step up and be a leader, even though I’m only a sophomore.”
Brash? Not like he was. When Baxter was being recruited – and his offers included Syracuse, Kansas State, New Mexico and FIU besides the Herd – he told recruiting websites his favorite player was Deion Sanders.
His father – Keith Baxter Sr.’s 1988 Herd season included 37 catches for 821 yards and 15 touchdowns, including six in the I-AA playoffs – didn’t take umbrage. He knew his son could play early, but not the way the son envisioned.
“I talked a lot, a whole lot (to receivers),” the Marshall cornerback said. “I’m trying to cut it down, and my Dad and Coach Pollard have talked to me about it a lot. I’m trying to cut it down, but it’s just the nature of the game.
“They’re talking, I’m talking; I’m beating up on ‘em and they’re doing whatever they got to do to beat me, and it’s just competition in my eyes. That’s how I look at it.
“If I can get you out of your game, I've already won the battle. I know you're not going to do anything on the field if I'm in your head."
Baxter said his father wasn’t so much a yapper, but his on-field, physical mannerisms were much the same, the cornerback figures.
“My dad said he had a lot of swagger, a lot of confidence in himself, and I bring that into my game,” Baxter said. “I’m following him because he always told me you have to play with confidence, you’ve got to play like that. And I want to play just like my dad played.”
In the August preseason Herd camp, Pollard said if he could pick one of his corners and “put him on an island” to play man coverage, it would be Baxter, because of his speed.
Baxter, 20 and a marketing and business major, had an operation on a shoulder in the offseason. But it wasn’t a physical thing on which he needed surgery the most, he said.
“I wanted to play more as a freshman, and it was tough, but it was a learning experience I needed,” Baxter said. “I think Coach Holliday and Coach Rip just wanted me to learn to become a college football player, because I wasn’t ready to play, getting up, going to workouts, studying playbooks.
“The athletic ability was there and all that, but I had a long way to go. They just didn’t think I was ready mentally, and they were right. Now, I’m a better player for it, in a way, a better player than I was. I’m more confident this year, talking more with my teammates, believing in myself.”
Baxter said he hasn’t ribbed his father about how the son has emerged as a sophomore while the elder Baxter didn’t find his niche until his final MU season … and the son likely won’t.
“He told me I was going to play early; he knew,” Baxter said. “He just told me to stay humble, be a good teammate, listen to the coaches. He said my ability would take over from there.
“He did tell me a lot of things about being here, but I really didn’t understand how the city was, how the people reacted to football players, like the crowd (for the Western Carolina game), the atmosphere. I loved that.
“As far as knowing how college football was, I had no clue. None. I thought it would be the same as high school, thought it would be easy. I didn’t know anything about meetings, getting up at 5 o’clock in the mornings.
“When I came here it was just like a total shock for me, but it got me ready for this season, and I’m glad I went through what I did last year to learn. My dad said that was good for me..”
And Father Knows Best just wasn’t a TV show.
Veteran sports journalist Jack Bogaczyk write “The Word on the Herd” for HerdZone.com and is Editor of the Herd Insider.