September 17, 2013 10:55:57 PM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
SCOOBA - East Mississippi Community College freshman running back Preston Baker has always been drawn to watching Oregon play football.
Under former coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks were known for their high-tempo offense, which resulted in running close to 100 plays per game. New coach Mark Helfrich has upheld that tradition, with the Ducks averaging 62 points per game during a 4-0 start.
Baker feels like he is a part of junior college version of the Oregon football program. Statistically speaking, it would be hard to argue.
"I enjoy watching Oregon play on TV every chance I get," Baker said. "They play up-tempo, they score a lot of points and have a lot of fun with it. Basically, we are the junior college Oregon. We do what they do. We just do it on a different level.
"So far, this has been a blast."
Baker and fifth-ranked EMCC will travel to Mississippi Delta Community College for its North Division opener Thursday night.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Jim Randall Stadium in Moorhead.
Off to a 3-0 start for the fourth time in Buddy Stephens' six seasons as head coach, EMCC is leading the nation by averaging 59 points per game.
"Man, sometimes it is really crazy," said Baker, who helped lead Starkville High School to the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A state championship last season. "You look up and we are having scoring drives in less than a minute. You have to be in shape here or you are going to get tired real quick.
"What we do on offense sometimes is totally insane."
In last Thursday's 69-0 win over Southwest Mississippi Community College, EMCC had eight scoring drives of less than two minutes and five scoring drives of less than a minute. The Lions are averaging 60 players per game, despite playing back-to-back weeks with a running game clock in the game's final half.
On defense, EMCC has already posted two shutouts and only allowed one touchdown. EMCC has punted four times in three games.
"The defense is so great," Baker said. "You can't ever get a rest around here. You know that they are going to get the ball back for you in a couple of plays. When the offense plays great and the defense plays great, we have a chance. You see all of the things that can lead to a national championship."
Sophomore Lakenderic Thomas is EMCC's featured back. With back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, Thomas has a team-high five touchdowns. Despite playing at major rival West Point High School, Thomas has taken Baker under his wings and helped his game translate to the junior college game.
"Preston is eager and wants to learn everything," Thomas said. "He is such a dependable player and has a great future ahead of him. Once he started getting some playing time, he got a little hungrier. He is quickly becoming a play-maker, just like some of the other pieces we have on offense."
Baker scored a touchdown in the closing seconds of a season-opening victory at Pearl River Community College. While it did not seem major in the great scheme of the EMCC season, that play opened the door for Baker to take his game to the next level.
"The first touchdown was great," Baker said. "It made me feel like I belonged for the first time. The next week, I got another touchdown. Then I started thinking about putting up (Thomas') kind of numbers. Even though we came from rival schools, we have become really good friends.
"It is a challenge to keep up with him. For the team, it is all about getting better each week. The same holds true for individual players. I just want to do my part to help us get better."
Through three games, Baker has four of his squad's 22 offensive touchdowns - two by ground and two by air. The ability to make big plays as both a rusher and pass receiver has quickly allowed Baker to become a big part of the EMCC offense.
"You really want two things in a star player," Stephens said. "You want a player who can make plays. You want a player who can change a game on offensive possession. But, you also want a player is coachable, willing to learn and willing to become better. That is what makes Preston a really great fit for what we are trying to do on offense."
Finding the perfect fits is something Stephens had done quite often in his tenure at EMCC. Baker feels like the secret to this successful recruiting is no mystery.
"I played against most of these guys when I was in high school," Baker said. "They were in successful programs and played in big games, just like I did. When I saw the list of players I would be playing with, I knew how good we could become. I saw these players grow and develop in high school, just like I did.
Baker has enjoyed the fit so far. He also likes the fact that his team is considered a favorite to win a fifth division championship in six seasons. That quest begins with the road trip to Delta. No. 9 Itawamba Community College is the only ranked team remaining on the EMCC regular season schedule.
"I knew if we all played as one, we could be successful. As long as we stay focused and concentrate on the prize, we will be fine. It should all add up to a national championship."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter