October 20, 2009 11:15:00 AM
Damian Baker hoped he could make an impact.
A year ago, Baker was a go-to player on the Columbus High School freshman team.
But the step up to the varsity level requires a faster step and a stronger step.
Baker discovered what it takes to contribute at the varsity level and now he is making an impact.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound sophomore rushed for a career-high 224 yards and had two touchdowns Friday night to lead the Columbus to a 12-7 victory against DeSoto Central.
For his accomplishments, Baker is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
"I think I did OK in the early part of the season, but as the season went on I started to get more mature on the field and started to do better all around," Baker said. "You could say (that Friday''s game was a breakout game). I wanted to do my best and to help us get a win. I want to help us try to win the last three regular-season games."
Baker''s efforts helped Columbus (2-6, 1-3 Class 6A, Region 1) snap a six-game losing streak. He scored on a 76-yard run in the third quarter and on a 38-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Last year, he played fullback and outside linebacker on the Falcons'' freshman team that lost only one game (to Tupelo).
This year, Baker knew he would have a chance to be an impact player on offense. That opening was there because the Falcons had to find a replacement for running back Johnny Cockrell, who is now a freshman at East Mississippi Community College.
Columbus coach Bubba Davis said Baker had his best game of the season Friday night. He said he helped set the tone by running hard and making good cuts.
"He just did an excellent job," Davis said. "Right now he is pretty much our offense. If you stop him, you''re going to stop the offense."
David said fullback Jabari Edwards helped Baker with some fine leading blocking. He said the offensive line also did its job in helping Baker break free in the second half.
Davis hopes the performance is just the beginning. He said Baker had an "fair" summer in the weight room and now knows what it will take to compete in the state''s biggest classification and against some of its toughest teams.
"I figure this summer he is really going to make some great strides because he is going to be a whole lot more mature after this season," Davis said. "A year of experience helps them figure out how important the weight room is."
Baker said he wasn''t making big runs in the preseason and early in the season. He said his vision has improved and he is doing a better job of hanging on to the football.
Baker also credited the play of his offensive line, which he said played an integral role in helping him eclipse the 200-yard mark.
"The line did about the best they have blocked all year," Baker said. "I took advantage of it and wasn''t going to let anything stop me."
Baker hopes the performance can help him finish the season with a spark. He said confidence is one of his primary weapons, and he knows he will continue to get bigger, stronger, and faster so he will be able to make a bigger impact.
"I just want to do the best I can," Baker said. "I think everything is going to get better in the long run for me. I am just a strong, confident person. I just have the mind-set that nothing can stop me, and I use that when I get out on the field."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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